Traditional Vienna goes brand crazy in luxury facelift

Traditional Vienna goes brand crazy in luxury facelift

VIENNA - Half a dozen new five-star hotels, flagship stores for Louis Vuitton, Prada and Emporio Armani: Vienna is undergoing a luxury facelift that is delighting Arab, Asian and Russian tourists, as well as locals.

Always the epitome of elegance and culture, the Austrian capital was long set on tradition.

Grand hotels like the famous Sacher, Bristol and Imperial dated back to the Austro-Hungarian empire and on the limited luxury shopping mile - the Kohlmarkt - internationally recognisable brand names jostled for space with local businesses.

But walk through the city centre now and sleek window displays boast the latest Miu Miu handbag or Vivienne Westwood fashion.

A new bloc called the Golden Quarter houses a three-storey Vuitton shop as well as Roberto Cavalli and Mulberry, and will soon welcome the first Yves Saint Laurent store in Austria.

Three five-star hotels - including a Ritz Carlton and a Kempinski - have also opened their doors in the last nine months. A Four Seasons, a Park Hyatt and a third top-ranked hotel are to follow by next year.

"There is hardly a brand that isn't present in Vienna... there is no reason to go anywhere else anymore for high-end shopping," Helmut Schramm, head of the Vienna Economic Chamber's fashion division, told AFP.

The growing number of high-spending tourists from Russia, Asia and the Gulf - including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar - certainly contributed to this trend.

"For them, it's very much about prestige, about brands. So we're working in that direction," said Vienna Tourist Board director Norbert Kettner.

Those most often seen toting large Chanel or Gucci shopping bags around the city centre are indeed Asian couples or Arab families.

Chinese tourists are the second biggest spenders in the Austrian capital, dropping an average 623 euros ($833) per day, just behind the Thai visitors, according to Tourist Board figures.

But locals are also rejoicing in the opportunity to buy the latest designs from Milan or Paris right here at home.

"Salespeople in the shops say they have the feeling Austrians were only waiting for the chance to buy colourful fashion," Daniela Steurer from Signa Holding, the group behind the Golden Quarter luxury bloc, told AFP.

With some 77,600 millionaires, according to Liechtenstein-based investment firm Valluga, Austria has plenty of wealthy locals able to splurge.

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