Denying the recession in Dubai. Can Sheiks embrace cheap chic?
March 12, 2009
“Sahib, you might want to fly commercial.”
A client of Euro RSCG in Dubai asked my opinion about advertising luxury goods. I answered by suggesting we reexamine luxury shopping in the face of global economic crisis. I told her that right now in America people of means (or former means) are downplaying, if not eliminating, many unnecessary costs, especially luxury items. We either don’t buy the Rolex or are putting it in safekeeping (i.e. out of sight), if not selling the damn thing on EBay. I warned her that wearing bling might now come across as vulgar.
She disregarded the thought. “Arabs are not worried about appearing vulgar. They like to flaunt their success.”
Many of the outlandish towers in Dubai give credence to this view. Opulence and public displays of wealth are commonplace here. Fascinating then, and somewhat disturbing, how certain Arab nations can view American consumer culture with such disdain.
Bearing in mind each emirate is wildly different, it seems like Dubai is in a bit of denial –about both the recession and the war a few doors down. With a whopping 80 percent of the population comprised of ex-pats (mostly Indian, French & English), this creates several existing realities: one that the Arab papers report and another on CNN.
Back to the question about luxury goods. Clearly, there is still plenty of money in the region. Oil and real estate represent crazy sums of it, even in recessed times. But if the bubble has not burst, there is no question it is leaking. Many of Dubai’s glitzy towers remain vacant, while countless others have halted construction. How long can the wealthy Arab owners maintain their grandiose demeanor before even they become embarrassed by it?
Probably a while longer. I’ve been told that the modern Arab world has not ever experienced a recession. Owning up to one is unlikely in the near term.
Still, look at the front page of today’s Herald Tribune. The headline reads: “New face of homeless in America.” The story is about members of our middle class losing everything. On the other side of the page is an ad for a gold and platinum Gucci watch. The bitter irony seems hard to avoid, even for a sheik.