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By
AFP
Published
Aug 20, 2013
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Cannes, an “open-air mall” for the super-rich

By
AFP
Published
Aug 20, 2013

CANNES, France - Cannes offers everything needed to attract wealthy summer visitors from Russia and the Gulf, but only if it quickly dispels the sense of risk and insecurity created by the audacious 100 million euro ($136 million) theft of precious jewelry from one of its finest hotels. Chaumet, Chopard, Rolex, Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Dior — 70 major international jewelry, leather goods and clothing brands sit side-by-side facing the sea along an 800-meter stretch of the famous Boulevard de la Croisette, a showcase for the world’s most notable names in luxury.

This “open air mall” (to use the local slogan) keeps not only clients of the city’s 6 five-star and 24 four-star hotels busy, but also villa owners and those whose yachts are anchored in one of the city’s two ports. Even the high-end hotels themselves have taken advantage of this shopping mania. This August, a dazzling new exhibit of fine jewelry from the Parisian designer Waskoll, the precious gem specialist, has been lighting up the lobby of the Carlton, under the watchful gaze of two security guards.

“You have to make them want to buy jewelry. These pieces are within easy reach, not behind a security door,” explained the exhibitor. On July 28, the previous temporary exhibit, by the firm of millionaire Israeli Lev Leviev, was plundered by an armed man who escaped through a set of french doors, carrying record spoils of 100 million euros ($136 million). Several days later, a high-end watchmaker’s store was robbed of watches worth one million euros ($1.36 million). These news items didn't faze Waskoll: its exhibit brought in sales. Massive posters on the façade of the Carlton invited passers-by to come admire a piece set with 327 diamonds. Despite the stifling heat, another poster — translated into Russian — highlighted an exhibit of coats by a Parisian furrier.

Luxury merchants and hotel managers were delighted when Ramadan ended and they could once again welcome visitors from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. “They come in large groups, renting 10 to 50 rooms in luxury hotels,” noted Isabelle Gainche, director of tourism. “They feel at home here, especially since two luxury hotels, the Carlton and the Martinez, are now under Qatari ownership. They moor their yachts somewhere offshore and spend the day at the Saint-Tropez market,” explained Isabelle Gainche.

Cannes is located half-way between Saint-Tropez and Monaco, its competitors for summer visitors, and their clients flit frequently among the three locations. Seasonal Saint-Tropez, with its temporary luxury shops, opens its long Pampelonne beaches to the festive musical atmosphere favored by the jet-set. Cannes, a more serious convention city, wreathed in the prestige of its film festival, stays open year round. The city hoped visitors from the Gulf and Russian-speaking countries would show their enthusiasm in August for the statuesque dancers at Crazy Horse, which brought its show to a local temporary cabaret. The front-row VIP tables welcomed spectators with bottles of champagne to start off an evening in the night clubs or casinos. After a cultural festival in early July celebrating Azerbaijan and attended by the country’s first lady, Cannes welcomed a Russian arts festival in August, highlighting Siberia. The director of tourism has already gone with a delegation to several Russian satellite countries like Kazakhstan, but recently targeted Brazil.

This is because the professionals have noted that the Russians have discovered other destinations, like Greece and Croatia. “In this economic crisis, Cannes, Monaco and Saint Tropez are becoming too expensive. Even the wealthier clients are aware of that,” worried Claudio Ceccherelli, the new manager of the Martinez. “It’s dangerous to focus too much on two markets,” he predicted. Serge Carreira, a luxury specialist, is more optimistic. “A major luxury brand really can’t do without a presence in Cannes or Saint-Tropez. The Cote d’Azur is the second largest customer catchment area after Paris,” he emphasized. The mystique of the Riviera, created by aristocrats at the end of the 19th century, hasn't yet ended in the eyes of the very wealthy.

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