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November 18th

Stabilimenti Ferrari

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Sheikh Majed J. Hamoud AL-SABAH

Chairman of the Board, President & Ceo, Villa Moda Lifestyle

Being the nephew to his Highness the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber al-Sabah, is perhaps not the most conventional background for a luxury
fashion retailer. The Al-Sabah family has reigned Kuwait for over 40 years, and in
general they behave much in the way you would expect Middle Eastern royals to
behave – respectable values, religious piety and family loyalty are important chapters
in the Al-Sabah life book. So it comes as no surprise that certain factions of the
family raised an eyebrow at the young princès 'outlandish' vocation. Al-Sabah
muses,"It would be like Prince Charles starting Agent Provocateur," before adding,
"but it's not like I'm selling drugs or alcohol!" It was as a teenager that Sheikh Majed
Al-Sabah first became interested in fashion. Hard as it might be to believe for those
who know him now, he was not a skinny boy, and the discovery of the tailoring
genius of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto formed something of an
epiphanous moment. The first flames of interest in what superb design can do ignited
what was to become a lifelong passion. Those flames were fanned growing up
surrounded by glamorous sisters with an instinctive sense of style and an appetite for
designer clothes, and by meeting his future wife, the beautiful Sheikha Samah Al-
Sabah.With such women in his life as muses, and it is no co-incidence that he can
empathise with women and their love of exquisite clothes that reflect their individuality.
1991 saw Al-Sabah return to Kuwait in the wake of the Gulf war after a stint in
exile. London had been his adopted home for seven months, and it seems expatriation
stoked the creative flame, encouraging the 20-year-old entrepreneur to fulfil a
few dreams. Cue the first Villa Moda. He spent countless weeks drumming up business
around the world, tirelessly knocking on fashion house doors and swinging through
the receptions of fashion magazines. It was no easy task.What began as a simple
intention to provide his compatriots with a frivolous escape from post-war drear,
became a mission to educate the West about his home, quashing myths spawned
from ignorance. He remembers, "My task was to seduce the fashion industry and
encourage acceptance of something alien to them – Kuwait." He began by introducing
American labels to Kuwait in the early nineties. They were the first to do business
with him, and his reputation as an innovator began, introducing New York minimalism
to an audience brought up on old-school European brands. But it was persuading
Domenico de Sole, Gucci's chief executive, to open the first Gucci store in
partnership with him in 1997 that put Al-Sabah on the map. It was only a matter of
time until the 2002 re-launch of Villa Moda, this time housed in a glittering glass box in
Kuwait's industrial port district, which has set the fashion world alight with the sheer
audacity of his vision.With the next incarnations opening in Dubai, Quatar and
Mumbai and plans for other Far East capitals such as Singapore and Ho Chi Minh
City, the Villa Moda brand has blossomed into an international phenomenon, its success
owing to the efforts of its creator and his unflagging drive. Al-Sabah intends that
through his efforts the notion of 'Gulf' will enter the vernacular as a style adjective
denoting sexy, modern luxury with a twist – 'Those shoes are so Gulf!'– and hopes he is
judged as retailer rather than royal, entrepreneur rather than prince. The Kuwaiti
people, hèll happily point out, are patriotic, well educated and
discerning. Although dishdashas still take pride of place in Kuwaiti wardrobes,
therès always more than enough hanger space for haute
couture. And Kuwaitis favour an avant-garde approach to fashion, and
are quick to experiment. His country, Al-Sabah emphasises, is the 'first destination
for inspiration'. Majed Al-Sabah has dedicated his life to fashion
and challenging preconceptions in general.As Villa Moda prepares itself
for its global adventure, Al-Sabah takes the challenge coolly in his stride.