Beirut: All Gucci and no gigabytes

Fri Jul 27, 2012 9:21am EDT
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By Douglas Hamilton

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Chanel, Dior, Brioni, Valentino, Cartier, Bulgari, Longines, Rolex, Panerai, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Tom Ford, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Hermes, Dolce & Gabbana, Louboutin.

You name it, Beirut's got it. These days, however, it seems there are not that many people around who want it, or at least not enough who can afford to buy it.

Although not many are ready to say so, some of the plush, brand-name boutiques of the 21st century Beirut Souk have a dearth of rich clients. Their staff, bored stiff, stand around all suited-up and made-up with hardly anyone to serve.

In normal summers, many of the ultra-wealthy of the Gulf move to Lebanon to escape the stifling heat at home and enjoy a lively, cosmopolitan, Arabic-speaking city that appreciates the art of conspicuous consumption.

This year is different. Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states are urging citizens not to come, citing security concerns in a country shaken by the uprising next door in Syria.

"Business is a bit down for sure," said Walid at Alexander McQueen. "But about 70 percent of our clientele is Lebanese, either from here or living abroad. So we don't depend on Gulf visitors entirely."

"In Lebanon, it's always up and down," he said, in a nod to the 1975-1990 civil war that ripped the capital to bits, and the bouts of violence that have punctuated political life since.

But some luxury vendors maintain they are scare-proof.   Continued...

A woman walks by a Gucci luxury boutique at the IFC Mall in Shanghai June 4, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Barria