By: Moniza Khokhar
Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah is a fashion icon and a spokesperson, of sorts, for the Middle Eastern fashion consumer. Sheikh Majed is the founder of Villa Moda, a Kuwaiti luxury department store, and pushes for the ultimate shopping experience for the customer. His new project, The Fragrance Kitchen (TFK), is an innovative perfume house inspired by the “East meets West” philosophy. The Sheikh credits Tom Ford, as an inspirational force behind TFK. We got a chance to speak with him.
Elan: How did you become interested in fashion and what was it about the fashion business that intrigued you?
Sheikh Majed Al-Sabah: Well, it’s something that was kind of like you’re born with it. It is something that I gathered from my childhood because I was a bit overweight and I couldn’t find something that would fit me and match my taste, so I used to travel abroad to get something. When I lost weight, I had this challenge of finding something that was very interesting for me to find in Kuwait, so this is the reason why I started to develop my own business. I wanted to introduce a new form of retail which was very innovative, very new to capture the attention of the country and the region as well.
Elan: Your company was one of the first that brought global brands to the Middle East. Why was it important to make that connection?
SM: It’s something that is very important to capture fashion in this part of the world. You have to have people traveling to buy what they wanted so we wanted to make it easier by introducing the brand in a very unique way, in this part of the world, and this is something that we try to do.
Elan: You are known as an innovator. How do you judge if the market is ready for your ideas?
SM: Kuwait’s market is very much welcoming, it embraces new ideas, new talent because it’s something which is in the blood of the people here. The people are very outgoing, they’re travelers, they travel all around the world, they are very much attentive to what’s happening around the world in terms of fashion, in terms of trends; so it’s much easier for me to launch something in Kuwait rather than anywhere else but you can see now the whole market in the Middle East is very developed as well. So it’s not only Kuwait, the Middle East is one of the regions that everyone is sort of looking at to develop their own business.
Elan: What has been your greatest challenge in your career?
SM: The greatest challenge was the fact that being who I am, a nephew of the Amir of Kuwait, to start a fashion business was a bit challenging. It wasn’t looked at as a business that a member of the Royal family can do or can develop because it wasn’t in the nature of the family. But it started with a lot of criticism among the community and even some family members but then everything developed and whoever criticized became a client.
Elan: You’ve earned the title “Sheikh of Chic.” How important is your personal image for developing your brand and for representing the fashion scene in the Middle East?
SM: I think it’s something that goes with the nature of the business. I mean I do need to be who I am, so you know this is just a reflection of my personality and who I am.
SM: It is important because shopping is part of the lifestyle. I think everybody needs to be entertained to be having the experience of shopping otherwise people are not gonna come to your store only for the factor of buying something. They need to be entertained as well.
Elan: You’ve also become increasingly involved with art. And the art scene is developing rapidly in the Middle East. How are you planning on encouraging that art scene?
SM: Well I feel that we embrace a lot of young talent in Kuwait and in the region not only in art but in photography, in film. We started seeing a lot of talented people are very much in hiding so we started this art initiative. People are starting to come up and be more exposed and be daring with their art and their creativity.
Elan: Now we’ve talked about this in detail before in our own publication where the next generation may not be choosing traditional professions like doctors or engineers and lawyers. You just mentioned this too. Did you face that similar kind of tension with your family and how did you overcome it?
SM: I took it seriously as a business. I did not even take it like a hobby that I wanted to develop. Because I started being successful with it and there was a lot of income, that’s the reason why it was accepted among everybody.
Elan: If there is one message that you would like to relate to the Middle East youth, what would it be?
SM: I think it’s going to be just to dare. Dare to pick what you want to do and don’t even have any issue with family or culture because again this region is a very much male oriented region. I’m just supporting female initiatives. Just open up and be who they want and do what they want.