LV's grand opening in Downtown Beirut

BEIRUT: The prestigious French fashion house Louis Vuitton has opened a branch in Downtown Beirut because it’s “almost bizarre” to not have a foothold in one of the Middle East’s leading fashion-conscious markets.

Chairman and CEO Yves Carcelle was joined by Premier Saad Hariri for the opening ceremony on Thursday.

The Beirut opening is Louis Vuitton’s only such endeavor in the Middle East in 2010.

Damien Vernet, the general manager for the luxury brand’s Middle East and India operation, called the firm’s connection to Lebanon “lateral,” in the sense that the French firm has already built up a customer base of Lebanese abroad.

Louis Vuitton specializes in luxurious leather goods and luggage and has been exploring the Lebanese market for the last 13 years, following a visit by Carcelle.

Vernet, who joined the company four years ago and was responsible for exploring the potential for expansion in Beirut, said the company was confident about the brand’s sustainability in Lebanon.

“We began exploring [the coastal region of] Lebanon after the [1975-90 Civil] War,” he said. “Here, the market is cultural and historically strong. It is almost bizarre not to have a store here.”

Vernet described Lebanese consumers as “brand conscious” and since they exist in a cultural crossroads, they’re highly representative of consumer tastes.

Asked about the danger of political instability in Lebanon, which the firm has chosen for its sole opening this year, Vernet was upbeat.

“There will be political instability,” Vernet said, “but the Lebanese are resilient. This is the strength in the market.”

Vernet cited booming activity in the local real-estate sector, continuing reconstruction work in Beirut and a huge influx of tourists to Lebanon as factors aiding the company’s decision.

He noted the Lebanese market was fairly well-insulated from the consequences of the global economic downturn.

“Lebanon has proven to resist financial crisis better [than other countries],” he said.

The company is also intent on reinforcing what it calls its “zero-counterfeiting policy,” as it employs an active team in Lebanon to work with the Customs Authority and other bodies to ensure its world-famous label isn’t taken advantage of.

In a bid to distinguish its new premises, the firm commissioned local artist Marwan Rechmaoui to construct a special installation depicting images of Beirut for its storefronts.

As for the interior, Louis Vuitton’s new Beirut branch features a “malle bobine,” a cowhide trunk designed to contain the original reels of Nadine Labaki’s film “Caramel.”

At the opening, CEO Carcalle was asked about the identity of Louis Vuitton’s competitors.

“We compete with luxury hotels … maybe champagne,” Carcalle said, deciding to end the news conference. “It’s time for champagne.”

Link to article on Daily Star’s website