Desert Oasis

Qatar’s Qela flagship balances a proud heritage and progressive spirit
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Posted February 24, 2014

There’s a new player in the crowded luxury goods market and its targeted competition – heritage brands such as Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton – is paying close attention. Qatar Luxury Group (Doha, Qatar), owned by the oil-rich Gulf Emirate’s Qatar Foundation, has drawn a line in the high-fashion sand with the launch of Qela.

The luxury brand’s ambitions are as bold and boundless as its financial resources. Qela debuted its first boutique at The Pearl – a high-end mixed-use development – in Doha last September, blending the atmosphere of an intimate salon with a contemporary art installation. Its well-heeled clients are invited to explore a continuously changing gallery of crafted luxury products and fine art.

Uxus (Amsterdam) was chosen to lead the emerging brand’s store design, led by Oliver Michell, chief creative officer and architect. On the brand’s boards is a Paris boutique on the prestigious Avenue Montaigne with up to nine more international locations in the pipeline.

“Historically, the region has imported its luxury goods, but with an increasing demand for these goods, Qela was brought to life to capitalize on the region’s luxury know-how and traditional craftsmanship,” Michell relates.

Qela’s home-grown collection includes leather accessories, shoes, fine jewelry and made-to-measure women’s clothing, and strikes a balance between the brand’s cultural heritage and progressive spirit. The store’s design references Qatar’s quiet natural landscapes. Undulating forms and flowing curves echo majestic Qatari vistas, punctuated with rich materials and a palette of subtle desert tones. The intent: understated elegance and welcoming comfort a visitor might experience in a fine Qatari home.

“We wanted the design to have a very strong form language. It was about creating a brand and a retail experience that is rooted in the region but with an international perspective,” Michell says.

“[The client] directed us to look at this as more of a salon, or a domestic interior,” Michell relates. “The store doesn't have a lot of product on the floor; it’s carefully curated with a very high service model, so the design followed cues from that customer service ritual.”

And therein lay the biggest design challenge: conforming to the client’s unexpected brief. Says Michell: “When we started the project, we went with our instincts and planned for a relatively high density, making sure there was space for lots of product. And then the client came back and said ‘Actually, we’d like a very small amount of product and be sure there’s plenty of space for the product to breathe and for the art to speak.’ It was a refreshing way to approach retail design.”

The customer service ritual involves one-on-one consultation from staff trained to guide the customer through the collection, as an art advisor might guide a client through a gallery. Clothing isn’t simply plucked off a rack; it’s custom fitted like couture, Michell says. Hence, the upper-level dressing rooms are expansive and appointed with plush furnishings and exquisite finishes. And, as female modesty is a cultural hallmark, privacy is paramount. Sightlines were carefully considered to avoid any customer exposure as was sufficient space for live models to demonstrate styles.

Celebrating the brand’s Arabic roots, the store features a signature moucharabieh pattern which forms the store’s façade and, through freestanding laser-cut moucharabieh bronze screens inspired by the sails of Arabian dhow ships, defines spaces within the store. A high-tech video display at the store’s entrance replaces traditional window presentations.

Merchandise is displayed on solid wood and stone plinths, again, like pieces of fine art, while the walls are reserved for hanging or projection of art works, highlighted by LED fixtures that can be remotely positioned and controlled.

“Qela is primarily a store but the brand is presenting, in a wider approach, a cultural diplomacy,” Michell says. “It’s been interesting exploring how you create space for an emerging brand that is finding its way in the world but is also very confident. It’s a positioning of craft, art and customer service rather than a mass retail approach.”

PROJECT SUPPLIERS
Retailer and Design
Qatar Luxury Group, Doha, Qatar: Caroline Guillon; vp marketing & pr; Vincent Ragot; vp retail division; Maelle Foucault, visual merchandising manager; Gregory Couillard, ceo

Design and Architecture
UXUS, Amsterdam: Oliver Michell, chief creative officer and architect; George Gottl, chief creative officer

Mannequins/Forms
Bonaveri, Renazzo di Cento, Italy

Fixtures and Furniture
The Set Company, Amsterdam

Lighting
Old Church Studios, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

Signage/Graphics
Lead Construction Qatar W.L.L., Doha, Qatar

Contractor
Lead Construction Qatar W.L.L, Doha, Qatar

Photography
Adrian Haddad, Doha, Qatar