To say Giorgio Armani has built an empire for himself would be a bit of an understatement. The design veteran is a household name the world over, known for his fashion lines for men and women, accessories and home products, and lending his name to beauty products, fragrances and watches.
One of the more recent ventures for the designer is residential properties. "I always had a broad vision of aesthetics and I decorated my home, my stores and my work spaces to my own taste," Armani says.
Now, fans of the designer and the brand can appreciate his elegant and sophisticated style in their own homes.
Armani is working on Century Spire in the Philippines, set to be completed in 2018. The brand also recently announced a partnership with Smart Hero Group for a real estate project in Beijing. Armani will design the residential units, common areas and amenities for one of the "Top 10 Contemporary Buildings in China". The project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2017.
Many other brands have also tapped into the residential property market and these luxury residences are popping up across the globe. Versace, for example, recently launched its AYKON Nine Elms project in London, set to be completed in 2020. The brand is also about to complete projects in Beirut and Jeddah.
Bottega Veneta is also working on its first residential design project. Eisenzahn 1 in Berlin will feature the lobby, common areas and a showroom apartment designed by creative director Tomas Maier and furnished by the luxury brand's home collections.
The added value of a globally-recognised brand being tied to a property is clear. Brands such as Armani, Versace and Bottega Veneta bring a dedicated fan-base to the table and offer a major talking point for property developers - even before the property is completed.
But it's not as simple as just slapping a name onto a property. "Branded developments can only work if the brand in question offers real added value," says Niall McLoughlin, senior vice-president of DAMAC Properties.
DAMAC is the property developer of AYKON Nine Elms and has also collaborated with brands such as Fendi and Bugatti. For DAMAC, the added value of working with luxury brands is that they serve as a benchmark for the level of refinement prospective buyers can expect from the brands.
It should come as no surprise that this is attractive to customers who are looking to invest. "Branded homes provide the perfect blend of an attractive investment and a desirable lifestyle and carry the distinct merit of confidence particularly in markets where buyers don't know who to trust for their investment," says Giles Hannah, senior vice-president at Christie's International Real Estate.
This reassurance, however, comes with a hefty price tag. According to a report by Knight Frank conducted in 2012, "branded residences command an average uplift of 31 per cent compared to equivalent non-branded schemes," wrote Liam Bailey, global head of research at Knight Frank and the lead researcher of the report. This figure is likely to have risen since Bailey's research was conducted. A 500 sq ft studio at AYKON Nine Elms reportedly started at £711,000 (HK$8.51 million) during the July presales. A quick search online, at time of print, indicates the asking price of a 484 sq ft studio at a nearby development, Keybridge, set to be completed in 2017, is £595,000.
The hefty price tags for branded residences have done little to deter sales. According to DAMAC's McLoughlin, all units of AYKON Nine Elms offered in phase one have sold out.
Further, the price is well warranted, Bailey says. Branded developments offer a plethora of advantages for buyers, investors and occupants alike.
"Branded developments sit at the most competitive and innovative edge of the market," he says. "This is the sector where developers are attempting to reinvent the concept of the residential development, by fusing the best of hotel and other services into a residential template - this innovation attracts buyers who are looking to buy into the latest trends."
That said, the most important selling point for a residential property built in conjunction with a luxury brand is the "trust associated with buying a known brand", Bailey says.
He adds: "For many buyers their purchase of a branded residence is their first step into international property ownership. This often involves dealing with an unfamiliar legal system, and buying a considerable distance from their main home. The ability to identify with a known brand gives confidence in the delivery of the development and its ongoing management."
For others, the design aesthetic of a branded luxury development is the main appeal. There is a draw in being associated with the designer or architect involved with the project. On a similar vein, from the brand's perspective, the goal is to curate and bring their customers a refined lifestyle.
"We want to convey Versace's style in everyday living," says Gian Giacomo Ferrais, CEO of Versace. "Residential projects are the perfect way to do [this] and to meet our demanding clients' needs."
Giorgio Armani agrees. The designer translates his vision and aesthetics into each home and space he fits. "I think that your home … should be intimate, sophisticated and unique, with an atmosphere of comfort and harmony," he says. He is also keen to integrate local and Western culture in his projects to combine traditional style with the Armani/Casa style. Those who purchase residential space developed with the brands can also bathe in the joy that fashion powerhouses Giorgio Armani and Donatella Versace themselves helmed the design project for their homes.
For different projects and different brands, the degree of involvement from the luxury brand may vary. At the pinnacle of the collaborations, the maison will have a hand in designing the common spaces and individual units within the buildings.
At Versace's AYKON Nine Elms, the interior design team will work on common spaces and amenities. Clients investing in top-tier residences will receive personal consultations to create a bespoke interior feel to their home.
Similarly, residential apartments in the Century Spire project in Philippines can be delivered with full Armani/Casa interior design, finish and furniture at a special commission.
Armani adds: "Usually, customers can make any changes to their homes, as the Armani/Casa interior design studio offers the option to customise any detail of each room."
Those less inclined to commit to purchasing a residential project by luxury brands can stay at a hotel endorsed by luxury brands.
According to Ferrais, there are subtle but significant differences in the two. "Residential projects are a way to convey Versace's style into everyday living, while a branded hotel is the perfect way to fulfil a 360-degree experience of Versace's lifestyle. There, we take care of not only the development of the design, but also guarantee the utmost standards for the management."
From a design perspective, Armani says the difference is not significant. He designs hotels and residential spaces with the same philosophy: to create "pure luxury".
For those truly looking to own a property branded by a luxury fashion house, the market is filled with options. It's a win-win situation, serving as a solid investment opportunity and allowing buyers to own a piece of property designed by world-class designers.
Perhaps DAMAC's McLoughlin puts it best when he says: "[Such collaborations] are the perfect synergy between two visionary companies looking to reach the pinnacle of luxury living."
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