Step inside a sneak peek at an all-Versace interior
"How do you change a box that people live in into something more?" asks Niall McLoughlin, the senior vice president of corporate communications for Damac Properties. It's the question facing all developers. And
in an increasingly competitive market driven by an increasingly discerning client base, the need to come up with new and original answers has never been so acute.
Damac's answer has been to partner with the Italian fashion and homeware brand Versace on two of its projects, Damac Tower in Beirut and Al Jawharah in Jeddah (or, as they are officially known, Damac Tower with Versace Home Interiors in Beirut and Damac Residences with Versace Home Interiors in Jeddah). In both cases, common spaces, including lobbies, reception areas, swimming pools and spas, will be designed by Versace. Within individual apartments, all flooring, skirting, cabinetry and fixtures will be Versace, and owners can then opt to acquire additional soft furnishing items by the brand.
The two companies have co-operated closely to develop the designs, in a process that has included "workshops, creative teams, hair being pulled out, and things being thrown", McLoughlin jokes.
The two projects are currently under construction and not due for completion until 2013. But in an effort to give the general public a sneak peak at what they might look like, Damac unveiled a Versace show apartment on the ground floor of its Ocean Heights building in Dubai Marina last month.
The apartment is Versace through and through. The entrance is flanked by two white columns, and staring up at you from the marble floor is an oversized Medusa head, Versace's slightly disconcerting emblem. It's one of many. Bright yellow curtains set the tone and are complemented by eight silver, yellow and pink Vanitas II armchairs, set around an immaculately laid dining table, also in silver. An intricate crystal chandelier hangs overhead. Crockery and cutlery - or "art de la table" as it is referred to in the world of Versace - is in gold and pink and is coupled with delicate glassware with stems in the shape of Medusa heads.
Just when the design comes dangerously close to the "too much" mark, it reigns itself in. A monochromatic living room area offers welcome contrast to the brightness elsewhere. An embossed black leather sofa sits across from two Normandie armchairs upholstered in a delicate black and white jacquard. A matching monochrome carpet sits underfoot.
The bedroom, too, is surprisingly muted. A predominantly white palette is broken up by bursts of blue bed linen and curtains adorned with Versace's customary baroque and Greco-Roman patterning. And with its jacuzzi, mini sauna and oversized shower area, the en suite bathroom reiterates Damac's luxury approach.
"This is not exactly how your apartment would look," McLoughlin explains. "A show apartment is never meant to do that. What a show apartment tries to do is recreate the lifestyle and emotional response that people will get while living there. It provides a flavour of the textures, the finish and the feel. It's about how the fabrics and fixtures are mixed; it's about colours, tones and textures. It is indicative of the vision of Versace."
Unashamedly gaudy in parts and surprisingly restrained in others, the show apartment won't be to everybody's tastes - but McLoughlin knows that. "That's the wonderful thing about interior design," he says. "It cannot be objective. It is purely subjective. That's what makes it exciting."
And for those who can think of nothing worse than a flat overflowing with Medusa heads? "We have other options for them. It's not going to be a situation where every Damac product is Versace. This is a premium product by the developer, but if people like Damac but don't like the Versace proposition there are other developments for them.
"This is a niche market. There will never be 20 Versace buildings in every town. It would literally be exclusive, maybe one high rise in any city. I wouldn't see us putting up five Versace Towers in Beirut," says McLoughlin.
Ultimately, the Damac-Versace synergy is one that makes a lot of sense, he adds. "We wanted to add value to our product. And our product is very high end. We took a standard Damac product and said, 'What would add value to that? What do our customers want?' And brand consciousness is very high in this part of the world. Versace could bring to the table a brand and a lifestyle proposition that people wanted."
The affiliation was helped by the fact that Damac Luxury Interiors is the official franchisee of Versace Home in the UAE. "We understand Versace; we understand their product and what they are about. We realised very early on that there was a synergy between their values and our values.
"We were never in affordable housing. Damac Properties is about a luxury finish. And with that drive to develop top end luxury, Versace was a natural progression."
The two brands share an ethos, particularly when it comes to design, and it's one that happens to strike a chord in this part of the world.
"It's not minimalistic. It's a little bit flamboyant, a little bit colourful. But we find that for the people in this region, that's what appeals to them," says McLoughlin. "You will never walk into a residential building by Damac and be bored. That's not who we are."