The latest bling trend to hit the Emirates’ highways: foil wrapping
Have you spotted a hot-pink Mercedes G63 cruising down Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Road lately? Naively referred to as the “box car” by those of us who are less savvy when it comes to luxurycar lingo, this one is an unusually distinctive sight – it’s covered completely in a pink camouflage pattern, has “eyelashes” around its headlights, and is often lurking in the car park of Sunset Mall. If you haven’t managed to catch sight of the vehicle in question, you undoubtedly witnessed those decked-out in patriotic flags and images of the country’s sheikhs during last month’s National Day celebrations. While some drivers pasted printed decals onto their rides, others opted for a more sophisticated form of decor – one that’s professionally fixed onto their cars, and lasts much longer than a mere sticker.
The kind of car you drive makes as much of a fashion statement as the clothes you wear. Indeed, in some social circles in the Emirates, your wheels hold more importance than what brand of shoes you wear. And if your car sports a customised, one-of-a-kind design, your lifestyle becomes all the more enviable. For this elite class of drivers, standard in-shop colours are unexciting, and don’t help maintain an image of exclusivity. Thus they turn to car wrapping, a trend that has become increasingly popular in the region, especially among Gulf Arabs. “People who come in want to have something new that no one has ever done before,” says Ata El Kotob, the operations manager at the Dubai-based car-wrap workshop Foilx.
After a series of turns on sandy roads lined with monstrous lorries in Al Quoz lies a long alleyway. A matte-black Lamborghini and a bright-red Hummer sit at the end of the lane, marking the entry to Foilx’s workshop. Inside, the walls are plastered with chaotic graffiti murals. The office upstairs contains black leather sofas, colourful beanbags and a PlayStation 4.
El Kotob, who has been with Foilx since it was founded in 2007, takes a few minutes to discuss the three main car procedures on offer, while keeping a careful eye on the window, through which he can watch the staff working on a Maserati in the garage downstairs. “We can paint over the car to change its colour, we can keep the original colour and protect it with PPF [paint-protection film] to avoid scratching, or we can do foiling with solid colours or graphics,” he says. For the foiling, Foilx uses cast material, which is stretched from the bumper to the flanks and over the roof, taking the full shape of the car. “We order the material from Germany, France or Belgium,” says El Kotob.
He says that the most popular style of coverings right now is metallic or glittered. “You don’t have to be a girl to pick these; some people just like to be showy,” he says. Single-colour foil jobs cost from Dh10,000 at Foilx, and while fluorescent, neon shades were popular last year, camouflage prints, sporty stripes, two-tone colours and matte effects – not to mention the pricey chrome finishings, are some current car trends. In El Kotob’s opinion, the craziest requests are those for gold chrome. “It’s not really allowed, because it reflects the sun and can disturb other drivers,” he says. It’s the most expensive foil job at Foilx, costing from Dh20,000.
Gold-chrome effects are also one of the most popular services at Foilack – an Abu Dhabi-based car-wrap company in Muroor and at Yas Marina Circuit. Mohammad Amro, the sales associate at Foilack, says camouflage is currently the trendiest pattern here. The company recently recreated an illustration by the Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto on a Nissan off-roader, and also covered the roof of a red Mini Cooper with a Union Jack. Customers can either pick from previous Foilack designs or customise their own.
At Foilx, designs are prepared in-house, and demos are made for the customer’s approval, before being painted onto the car. “This needs to be by airbrush,” says El Kotob. “It’s not only for cars – you can do your helmet for motorbikes or for horse riding. Some people ask for the UAE flag on their helmet. Some ask for tribal designs, skulls or dragons. Everybody has their own taste.”
However, customers can sometimes get carried away with their requests, and El Kotob has to come up with proposals that give the customer what they want while complying with legal safety rules. He has to ensure top-quality materials and add-ons are used, even if the client requests something in a lower budget range. “If they want to put fake rims on their car, which is not safe, imagine what could happen if they are driving at 160kph or 180 kph with fake rims – it’s dangerous and puts their life at risk,” he says. “Also we don’t prefer to put anything on the glass; it’s not legal and the view for [the driver] will be very weak, especially in the night. It’s OK for special events, but not for on the streets.”
Foilx also gives extreme makeovers to some cars by giving them carbon-fibre spoiler kits. El Kotob explains how this works. “You put spoilers around the car, and lower them. You can install [carbon fibre] on the car with special chemicals so it will make the car more lightweight, easy and fast. This special aerodynamic kit gives it stability when you drive at high speeds, and is especially popular with sports cars,” he says.
The most expensive – not to mention difficult – job that Foilx has done to date, says El Kotob, was giving a Bugatti a full outer-body carbon-fibre conversion and gold-chrome-foil exterior. “It cost something like Dh200,000,” he says. Carbon-fibre spoiler kits cost from Dh6,000 at Foilx, but pricing varies depending on the type of kit requested.
The car-wrapping industry is about to embark on its busiest season of the year. “From January to June, our clients work on preparing their cars for the summer. Many of them transport their cars to the United Kingdom or Cannes,” El Kotob says.
If you have ever been to London during the summer, you’ll know that there’s a lot of hype around cars temporarily imported from the Middle East, with photographers often camping outside ritzy hotels to catch sight of vacationing drivers’ swanky sports cars. According to El Kotob, many of the photographs that go viral are of cars that were wrapped at Foilx.
While approximately 90 per cent of clients at Dubai’s Foilx and 85 per cent of clients at Abu Dhabi’s Foilack are male, car wrapping is certainly not a boys-only game. The popular pink camouflage G63 was for a female client.
One thing’s for sure, the foil trend is sticking, and no matter how animated a design may be, car wrapping can hardly be considered child’s play. Drivers take their rides very seriously, and for some, dropping tens or even hundreds of thousands of dirhams on a foil job is a worthwhile investment, especially if it cements their social status on the road.
Take your car customisation to the next level
Foil wrapping may be the latest trend in car bling, but why stop there? Foilx’s business strategy manager Mohamed Ali Atish and operations manager Ata El Kotob spill the beans on other neat ways to personalise your ride – and set fellow drivers’ tongues wagging.
Glitter your car with Swarovski crystals
When a Saudi customer entered Foilx’s workshop one day last year and asked for her Corvette to be covered in thousands of pink Swarovski crystals, the job was a tall order for Foilx staff. The car was wrapped in pink glitter foil first to protect the original paintwork, before the crystals were added. “Even a simple car takes three to five days to foil, because you have to take the body apart, and this job was so detailed it took three weeks to put the crystals on one by one,” says Atish. The price of adding Swarovski crystals to a car varies from Dh3,000 to Dh50,000, depending on the size of the crystals and how many are used.
El Kotob says: “Some people ask for crystals around their grills or mirrors. I’ve replaced all the wood inside cars before with Swarovski crystals and installed LED-effect lighting inside, as the crystals reflect the light in different colours.” He says that decorating car logos with the crystals is a common request. “It’s always the ladies, and often it’s a Porsche. Actors and singers come from overseas and ask for such things.”
Custom-made bumpers for dune bashing
For hardcore dune bashers, customised bumpers can be made to protect your wagon when it hits the sand at full throttle. “Bumpers on four-wheel-drive cars such as Nissan Patrols, Lexuses and Toyota Land Cruisers are very low,” explains Atish, “so the bumper will come off when it goes over the dunes – not the first time, but most likely the second time you go out on the dunes. We make fibreglass bumpers from scratch that are slightly higher and stronger, with a steel plate in the body, to protect the car.”
LED lights on bumpers
Foilx’s bumpers contain a special slot for LED lights, which can be inserted for an extra Dh2,000 to Dh5,000. According to Atish, there’s a “huge market” for LED lights in cars in the United States, and now also in the UAE. “In America, LED lights are added to the roof of the car. But it doesn’t look so nice – driving around Dubai with a car like that would look weird. With an LED in the front bumper, the design still looks good.” So why are LED bumper lights becoming so popular? Could it be that tailgaters are using them to send a dazzling message to the car in front? “I think people like them when they’re out in the desert at night,” says Atish, “because the light that comes with the car is not enough.”
Replacing vehicle parts with carbon-fibre
Formula One cars are made from carbon fibre because it weighs so little, enabling the cars to go faster. For this reason, Foilx is getting requests from clients to replace parts of their vehicles with specially made carbon-fibre ones. “The craziest job we had was to take every single part off a motorbike and put on carbon-fibre parts instead,” says Atish. Prices for each carbon kit piece range from Dh2,500 to Dh8,000.
Stand-out exteriors with matching interiors
The most drastic aesthetic work Atish recalls being asked to do was for a complete Hello Kitty-themed revamp of a car, both inside and out. This “massive Hello Kitty fan” still brings her Camaro into Foilx occasionally for new cartoon-feline touches. “When you personalise your car, you get bored of the same thing, so you keep coming back,” says Atish. “It’s more of a lifestyle thing, and the customers like to ask us for our ideas.”
The team also receives regular requests for coloured foil on car dashboards and consoles. “But when they’re made of leather, the foil won’t stick, so sometimes we have to replace the leather with carbon fibre,” says Atish. One car was decked out in “crocodile skin” foil, inside and out.
Decorative effects can also be stitched onto interior seats, and artistic details can be airbrushed onto surfaces.
But there are some extremes that Foilx staff will not go to. Recently, they politely turned down a request to replace all of the leather interior in a new black 2015 Bentley Continental GT convertible (worth an estimated US$236,420 [Dh868,406]), and make it red instead. “We would have done it if the lady owner had insisted, but we convinced her not to because it would devalue the car so much,” says Atish. “If it was a case of putting new covers on top of the existing ones that would be different, but she wanted us to remove them completely and change all of the inside.”
Seen any eye-catching yachts on the ocean lately? Foiling can also be done on vehicles of the floating variety, but special waterproofing needs to be done first. “We have done full coloured designs on the outer body of yachts and slight tweaks on the interiors, too – such as changing the seats, and putting in a music system,” says Atish.
Twinkling fibre-optic lights can be added to interior roofs to create a more sultry mood. Rolls-Royce buyers receive star treatment when making their new purchase, but El Kotob explains that Foilx offers the same makeover to any car. Starlights come in an array of colours – green, red, blue, pink, as well as white.
“For one armoured [bulletproof] Land Cruiser, the whole interior area was customised with not only a star-studded roof, but also large, separated seats, and a mirror attached to the side,” says El Kotob.
* Jessica Hill
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Updated: January 7, 2016 04:00 AM