As the world moves towards multimediality, screens become the new shopping windows – the language of fashion retail must follow
The multi-brand concept store VAO is a project of Opera Trading Co., a fashion retail company based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Located in the heart of the City Walk – a leisure hub and entertainment space – VAO hosts sixty high-end and ready-to-wear fashion brands. Besides apparel, the store offers accessories, footwear, lifestyle items, and perfumery. The idea behind the project lies in the name – Lama Awada, entrepreneur and co-founder of Opera Trading Co., explains it as a play on words on the verb ‘to vow’, or ‘to promise’. One of the modes of keeping the promise of authenticity made to customers that the store implements is shaping each product with a story tailored around it.
Following the influence of the pandemic on business operations, on September 16th VAO incorporated a smart-working model and launched an e-commerce platform as a virtual link with its customers. To announce this news, the store posted a six-chapter story on social media in collaboration with Marta Bianchi, an Italian illustrator based in Milan. This story featuring the artist herself with the hashtag #VAOGoesOnline was the store’s marketing strategy to introduce VAO’s e-commerce platform. The story reads as follows: «Meet Marta, a young Italian illustrator who lives in Milan. One day she was browsing through a magazine but couldn’t find the products available anywhere! It’s really frustrating not to find something you like… can you relate? Then suddenly you come across…». And here VAO leaves the intrigue of guessing what the next chapter will carry. In the last chapter, as the protagonist discovers the VAO concept store delivery, the look she orders turns out to be composed of items that the concept store sells in reality as well. Content creation such as this capitalizes on the value of storytelling in managing customer perception regarding high-end products. «Every touchpoint that we have with our clients must fall in line with VAO’s vision,» says Bassel Awada, co-owner and managing member of the VAO Concept Store.
With its eight hundred square meters, VAO targets millennials, for example by tending to its aesthetics as well as advertising its services on social platforms. VAO focuses on reaching the wider public – for instance, it offers worldwide free shipping and private styling services. According to Luma Awada, since the initiative started out as a family business, they managed to build loyalty in the customer base. In December 2019, the store held its first event, organizing a fashion show for haute couture designer Alexandre Vauthier, who presented his SS20 collection. VAO allowed customers to have a one-to-one session with the designer as well as to pre-order outfits. «We are currently in the launch of the FW20 on our social media with our new campaign, THE FREE ROAD» says Bassel Awada, referring to the work of their creative director, Mixalis Khoury. Because of the pandemic, the format of events moved to virtual space, and now the VAO team plans to livestream the FW20 collection and to set up an online collaboration with another brand, the name soon to be revealed.
VAO is not the only project of the entrepreneur family composed of Luma Awada, husband Mohamad Awada and son Bassel. In 1995, Opera Trading Co. launched the Opera Flagship footwear boutique with a head-store located on Jumeira Beach Residence, which draws inspiration from the Miami coast landscape. Nowadays, the chain has spread its operation across Dubai and is present in locations such as the Mall of the Emirates, Wafi, Dubai Mall, and the Outlet Village. Another footwear boutique was founded in 2005 as a result of a franchise agreement with Italian fashion designer René Caovilla to open the brand’s first store in the Middle East in Dubai. VAO completes the list of the projects under Opera Trading Co. using the same business model as the Opera Flagship boutique.