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SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Luxury fashion brands are wafting into Singapore in droves, betting on the city-state's ambitions of becoming a playground for Asia's super-rich as it recovers from its worst-ever recession.
Defying the global economic downturn, several high-end stores have opened, or shortly will, in the Southeast Asian financial center, home to the world's highest density of millionaires and which is positioning itself as a center for luxury living, with apartments with yacht berths and six star hotels.
A string of new malls is giving Singapore's main shopping belt, Orchard Road, a facelift, and retailers are also expecting a boost from the opening of the country's first two casino resorts next year.
"Singapore offers flagship-style stores and strong facades, so it is a good opportunity to present a brand in an important street that hasn't seen that much new luxury retailers for some years," said Paul Husband, managing director of Husband Retail Consulting and author of a book on luxury trends in Asia.
Orchard Road, which already has over 20 malls, opened its latest offering, the Ion Orchard, in July with retailers such as jeweler Harry Winston and designer Diane von Furstenberg, as well as larger outlets for brands, including Louis Vuitton, that already have boutiques in the area.
Visitors to another mall, the Mandarin Gallery which opens in October, will see stores from designers such as Marc Jacobs and Giorgio Armani, while its neighbor, Knightsbridge, will host 8 to 10 luxury tenants when it opens in May next year.
Add to that a raft of new outlets at the Marina Bay Sands casino resort, opening in 2010, as well as rival Resorts World Sentosa, which will house almost half a football field's worth of luxury retail space.
And it's not just Singapore. Luxury brands are making inroads into other countries in Asia such as Vietnam and India as firms look to escape a gloomy landscape in the West by heading East.
From a retailing point of view, Singapore's got, and attracts, more than enough local and Asian shoppers willing to spend on luxury goods.
Economist Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, in his latest book "Succeeding Like Success: The Affluent Consumers of Asia," predicts the number of rich households in Singapore to rise to 31,700 or 2.5 percent of total households by 2015, with each estimated to spend close to $150,000 on discretionary, or non-essential, items.
Singapore's is also a magnet for wealthy Malaysians, Thais and Indonesians, whose ranks are increasing.
"This is creating a bigger mass affluent market, dominated by well-educated and therefore more technologically savvy and sophisticated consumers," Hedrick-Wong wrote in the book.
"Make no mistake however, there will be a lot of nouveaux riches in Southeast Asia in the next 10 years. Like nouveaux riches elsewhere, they will be loud and they will be conspicuous. And they will want attention."
Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Miral Fahmy