Fighting Fakes and Building Luxury Confidence in Dubai

Louis Vuitton has partnered with Dubai’s Department of Economic Development in an effort to curb the manufacture and sale of counterfeit goods in Dubai and the greater United Arab Emirates. The parties have signed a memorandum of understanding to co-operate on protecting the Paris-based design house’s intellectual property rights and combatting counterfeiting both online and physical markets. Louis Vuitton Malletier is the first luxury fashion brand to sign such an agreement in the course of partnerships developed by the Department of Economic Development, but it is not a surprising move. 

The two sides will organize joint actions to eliminate counterfeit goods in accordance with applicable laws and regulations in Dubai. According to Abdulla Al Kaabi, Deputy Executive Director of the Commercial Compliance & Consumer Protection sector in the Department of Economic Development, “Along with cracking down on counterfeit products entering the local market major focus of our IP protection efforts now is on creating partnerships with businesses and brand owners to launch joint initiatives to raise awareness among our employees and consumers on the importance of trademarks and ways to combat counterfeiting.” Valerie Sonnier, Intellectual Property Global Director at Louis Vuitton, noted: “The fight has no frontiers, has to be constant without ever letting off the pressure.”

But Dubai is not just fighting fakes for the fun of it; there is something else going on here. Something much bigger. The partnership with Louis Vuitton, for instance, is "reportedly part of the Department of Economic Development’s efforts to strengthen the position of Dubai as a premier shopping destination and a competitive business hub" and its close collaboration with a number of high fashion brands, such as LVMH-owned Louis Vuitton, is indicative of that. The Middle Eastern locale is not just striving to ward of intellectual property violations. No. It is working to position itself as a full-fledged fashion capital. And the signs are anything but nonexistent.

Just this past weekend, for instance, the city played host to the third annual Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience, which consists of a runway show hosted by Vogue Italia and Emaar (developer of the Downtown Dubai Project) that aims to help put regional brands on the international radar, and support and mentor local emerging designers. Eight designers, including Parsons graduate Melitta Baumeister and buzzy young Austrian designer Arthur Arbesser, were chosen by Vogue Italia to show their latest designs in a runway show, where Vogue Italia editor's Franca Sozzani, famed footwear designer Christian Louboutin, and blogger Bryanboy, were in attendance. Also on the weekend's schedule: the Dubai Experience Gala, which attracted the likes of supermodels Eva Herzigova, Malgosia Bela, and Mariacarla Boscono; Peter Dundas, the newly appointed creative director of Roberto Cavalli; Carla Bruni, former model and wife of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy; CEO of Condé Nast International, Jonathan Newhouse; and industry "it" girls Eugenie Niarchos, Bianca Brandolini and Miroslava Duma, among others.

The city is also home to Fashion Forward, a similar showcase for emerging designers in the Middle East, and the newly established Dubai Design & Fashion Council, an organization that that comes with government-funded initiatives in order to foster domestic design capabilities.

You may recall that high fashion is taking notice of the city, as well. Karl Lagerfeld and his Chanel team (think: supermodels, actresses, musicians, and everyone in between) descended upon Dubai to stage the Paris-based design house's 2015 Cruise collection. Maybe more importantly though, is the fact that high fashion brands are turning up with increasing frequency in Dubai. Chanel and Louis Vuitton, for example, each have three self-operated outposts there. Hermès has two, not including its shop in the Dubai International Airport. The same goes for Gucci. Saint Laurent has a presence there, as does Givenchy. Miu Miu, Prada, Céline, and Fendi also maintain Dubai retail spaces, too. Note: New York City did not even have a Givenchy store until this past September! 

With that list in mind, Dubai, rather unsurprisingly, has nabbed a spot on the list of the top retail destinations in the world. More than 2,000 brands are on a waiting list for retail space in the Dubai Mall, which is now being extended to accommodate an additional 160 stores. Based on the fact that the mall itself attracted 80 million shoppers last year alone and the daily average of $1800 in sales per square foot for its resident stores, it is hardly a surprise that luxury brands want in. 

Interestingly, amidst the building up of this city in terms of the brands situated in the upper echelon of fashion, the Louis Vuitton agreement sheds light on what Dubai is looking to overcome. Equipped with the region's largest port and the title of the Middle East's tourism capital, it is only fitting that the city has been struggling with an influx of counterfeit goods.  In fact, just yesterday, nearly 40,000 fake Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Adidas and Nike goods were confiscated in a raid at Warsan Port in Dubai. While cheap "Louis Vuitton" bags or other fake luxury goods might be a lure for some travelers, they are certainly not appealing to bona fide luxury shoppers or to the luxury brands that are expanding their operations in Dubai. As such, the motivation behind the Department of Economic Development's efforts to cut down on fakes is not purely legal in nature but is likely meant to serve as a form of reassurance to these luxury brands and consumers like.

Because tourism serves as an integral part of the Dubai government's strategy to maintain the flow of foreign cash into the emirate, Dubai's reputation as an internationally-renowned hot spot for shopping is important. As such, it is in its best interest to work with brands to keep counterfeits out of legitimate retail spaces, and to instill confidence in consumers that its retail environment is one of both luxury AND authenticity.

With efforts being placed simultaneously on fostering domestic design talent and building sustainable relationships with the fashion industry's most well-heeled brands, and the near constant presence of deep-pocketed residents and tourists, it is only a matter of time until Dubai emerges as a truly formidable fashion center. Moreover, with the World Expo set to take place in Dubai in 2020, its hard to see the city becoming anything but more and more luxury friendly in the near future.