Style is not necessarily the first word that comes to mind of when you think of Qatar, but that might be about to change.
When The New York Times launched T magazine in the autumn of 2004 it was something of a revelation for the oft-stodgy daily. A hundred-plus pages of rich, seductive photography and articles focused on the hip and stylish: a look at the “under-the-radar cool” of Brussels, the style choices of Lenny Kravitz and his daughter Zoe, and Pedro Almodóvar’s favourite red carpets, to name a few.
The European demimonde gave its official seal of approval a few years later. At a lavish and ultra-exclusive gala for the launch of T’s International Herald Tribune edition, held in a cavernous Milan exhibition space, editors, designers and contributors mingled with the likes of Domenico Dolce, Stefano Gabbana, Donatella Versace, the Oscar-winning Rachel Weisz and the ubiquitous Mischa Barton.
The old grey mare of American journalism – with its black and white graphics and substance-heavy content – had become the belle of the ball.
Now that same smart style has come to the Gulf, in the form of T Qatar, a partnership between The New York Times and the Doha-based Oryx Advertising, which will publish the local edition. Time will tell whether the new publication will give Doha the same sort of makeover, but inside sources say the idea took root fast.
“They were looking to deploy in the Middle East, scouting the market, and came across us,” says Ravi Raman, the vice president of Oryx, talking about his company’s first meeting with the Times last April. “Both sides were immediately on board.”
The pairing is not a complete shock. T Qatar represents the second major New York-Doha cultural tie-up in the past year. The Doha Tribeca Film Festival imported Big Apple buzz, cinema and celebrity with its inaugural event last October. And T magazine’s raison d’être has always been the advertisements – glossy appeals for the latest Ferrari sunglasses, Yves Saint Laurent fragrance or Girard-Perregaux watches.
With Qatar on the cusp of a great boom – the IMF estimates GDP growth of 18.5 per cent in 2010, the world’s fastest – and top-of-the-line property and retail developments such as the Pearl and Lusail coming online in the coming months and years, the greater Doha area will soon be a high-end marketer’s paradise.
No surprise, then, that T Qatar previewed its first issue at this week’s much-hyped watches and jewellery exhibition and on the boardwalk of the Pearl. At first glance, it’s much like an issue of the original magazine, with gorgeous design, sumptuous images and dozens of luxury ads.
Upon closer inspection, it is in many ways an old issue of T; all but a few of the stories are reprints from earlier issues of the New York version. The cover story, on the British actor Michael Fassbender, for instance, is lifted from an issue of T published last autumn.
Mr Raman says that even when T Qatar hits its stride next year – the magazine will be every two months in 2010, monthly in 2011 – only about a third of the content will be original.
Those stories will focus on Qatar and the region and also run in Arabic towards the back of the magazine.
In the first issue, the original stories were a profile of a Doha expatriate artist, an assessment of the Museum of Islamic Art, and a look at the Pearl.
“This is about not just fashion, not just style, but with a culture and art focus,” says Raman. “Basically we’re looking at a person who is stylish and appreciates quality, quality of design, quality of life.”
Will those quality-seekers spend 20 Qatari riyals for travel, design and style insights that have been available free at the T website for months? That might feel like arriving at a fabulous party just as it’s winding down, the buzz evaporating.
Yet Oryx is sure to highlight the fresher, local content. Even slightly dated, this intelligent and locally flavoured ode to consumerism, style and the high-end zeitgeist will, for wealthy Gulf denizens, probably become the sort of status symbol advertised in its pages.
With any luck, T Qatar will in a few years throw a coronation party that outdoes T magazine’s Milan shindig. It will coincide with some anniversary or product launch. It will be held at the Museum of Islamic Art, perhaps during the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. And Mischa Barton will be there.
originally appeared in Feb 21 The National, www.thenational.ae