Why big fashion brands are building houses in Marbella

24 September 2023: On the seafront terrace belonging to the swanky Marbella beach club La Cabane, the scene for one night only is wall-to-wall Dolce & Gabbana. From the supersized sofas and poolside beds to the attire of many of the conspicuously wealthy guests, it’s a busy vision in what lovers of the fashion brand will recognise as “Maiolica”, its distinctive patterned design.

These ultra-high-net-worths aren’t here to buy clothes, though. They are waiting to put their name down for Europe’s first Dolce & Gabbana residences, which are due to be completed in 2026. “This very special project, this very special experience, is the new Dolce & Gabbana lifestyle in Marbella,” says Domenico Dolce, one half of the world-famous fashion duo. A diminutive, bespectacled and soft-spoken figure dressed entirely in black, he is swamped by prospective buyers.

Several of them reserve apartments on the night — some get two — ranging from one-bedroom properties of about 140 square metres from £2.6 million, up to a 900 sq m penthouse with 1,000 sq m of private terraces. Its price is undisclosed but it’s likely to be close to £34 million, making it one of the most expensive new-build apartments in Spain. And at least one buyer is already interested.

Design Hills Dolce & Gabbana Marbella is one of just two residential schemes planned by the Italian fashion designers (the other, in Miami, launches next month), stretching across a third of a mile of hillside near Marbella’s super-prime Golden Mile.

Buyers can dial up the Dolce & Gabbana interior design quotient to the max if they like. Early renders suggest you can have its famous floral Maiolica design on your kitchen floor, wall and even ceiling if you want, and there’s the new Dolce & Gabbana Casa store in nearby Puerto Banus for all your soft furnishings. But it’s the uninterrupted sea views across to Gibraltar and Morocco from every residence’s huge terrace (with private pools) that will steal the gaze.

The properties will have massage and make-up rooms, staff quarters, entertainment spaces . . . Set in 22 acres of landscaped grounds, there will be every conceivable five-star service and wellness, leisure and luxury amenity on offer to residents, including a run of swimming pools as long as the development itself, to mirror the sea in front, and a D&G-branded beach club. Amenities open to the public will include a boulevard with restaurants and shops, parks and an art museum. “We’ve tried to think of every possible experience and we’ve catered to it,” says Carlos Rodriguez, chief executive of Sierra Blanca Estates, the developers behind the project.

Buyers may not know their spring/summer 2023 from their autumn/winter 2022 collections, but they can see the value in investing in one of a finite number of ultra-luxury homes designed by a £3.3 billion fashion brand.

“I’m going to buy there. I’m just waiting for the floor plans to be finished,” says Andrew Young, 53, a developer in the leisure sector from Aberdeen who is at the launch party. “I travel a lot and I think a brand is a safe bet — like a watch, car or boat, the resale value will always stay strong. You know you have purchased something you can’t get anywhere else. With brands like this the cut of everything is the best, and I like the touches — the quality and the finishes.”

Young has already bought a four-bedroom apartment in the neighbouring Fendi Casa-branded Epic development, which completes soon and has five remaining apartments starting at £3.9 million. Alongside five villas designed by Karl Lagerfeld — the German fashion brand’s only residential project in the world, with three of them having sold off-plan for about £13 million each — the three projects, all developed by Sierra Blanca Estates, form a new fashion-branded neighbourhood of Marbella.

The concept of big fashion names partnering with property projects — already well established in Miami and Dubai — is new to Marbella, but it appears to have found its natural habitat. “They’re a natural fit for Marbella, 100 per cent. Marbella is synonymous with all things luxury — lifestyle, shopping and real estate,” says Alfredo Bloy Dawson, a real estate marketing consultant based on the Costa del Sol.

Joining the fashion-branded property set on the coast is the Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab, who has launched his first residential project in Spain, with five villas in Marbella costing from £7.28 million through Savills.



The developers Dar Global — known for its collaborations with high-profile brands in the UAE — also has two branded projects nearby. Marea by Missoni, within the five-star Finca Cortesin resort in Casares, has apartments from £771,000 through Cloud Nine Spain. And the 53 villas at Tierra Viva in Benahavis, a Lamborghini-branded and co-designed project, start at £3.1 million through Dar Global, whose chief executive, Ziad El Chaar, talks of Missoni’s involvement in “envisioning” the interiors at Marea, and how the Lamborghini properties “embody the core and power” of the supercar brand.

Basic economics are driving most buyers — many of whom are repeat customers drawn to such “limited edition” real estate. “It’s a supply and demand formula,” El Chaar says. “The co-branded units are always low in supply and high in demand, thus presenting a higher than market return on investment — and a high return on ego.”

Given the global average premium of 30 per cent that the world’s best branded residences command over comparable nonbranded schemes, according to Savills research, buyers should always ask, however, just how involved the brand really is.

Some merely lend its logo and name to the project — and Sean Woolley, managing director at Cloud Nine estate agency, wonders whether their involvement is a sneaky way of trying to upsell a secondary location. “I will be intrigued to see if the association with a big luxury design brand can help to sell five-star properties in four-star areas,” he says.

Others brands roll up their designer sleeves and get stuck in. “Domenico [Dolce] was interested from day one,” Rodriguez says of the D&G scheme. “Buyers can see there are two real people behind this project, Domenico and Stefano [Gabbana], and they can see they are personally involved — which is something that buyers are willing to pay for.”

From the brand’s point of view, entrusting a property developer to turn the essence of its multibillion-pound company, whose reputation has been honed over decades, into bricks and mortar comes at a risk.

“The location is crucial and this is one of the best areas in Spain. But we made sure we didn’t rush into choosing a developer. We need to be very careful as we need to protect the asset,” says Alfonso Dolce, Domenico’s younger brother and the company’s chief executive, who has been visiting Marbella for 23 years.

Alfonso adds that D&G and Sierra Blanca Estates, which has been building on the coast since 1985 (the same year, coincidentally, that the fashion house launched), share a deep bond. “We are both family-run companies, and we share two important things: family and passion,” he says. With the Marbella project, he adds, “we are giving a whole lifestyle, not just a building. We don’t need to sell fast.”

For the super-rich keen for the ego boost — and potential profit — that comes with being one of the first buyers, that message may fall on deaf ears.

Source: The Sunday Times, Sunday 24 September 2023, Zoe Dare Hall. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/why-big-fashion-brands-are-building-houses-in-marbella-jzmt8935c  


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