Baby bling is the newest thing as some parents are paying tens of thousands of dirhams on lavish items.
Cutting their teeth on chic
DUBAI // Precious stones, precious metals ... when is it all too much for your little precious? Never, according to parents who are spending tens of thousands of dirhams to doll up their babies. Items available include an 18-carat gold and diamond dummy, or pacifier, priced at Dh18,000 (US$4,900); cheaper versions with Swarovski crystals costing between Dh2,500 and Dh6,500; Dh15,000 gift hampers; and personalised bibs spelling out a baby's name in crystals for Dh1,150.
Sofia Mohebi is barely eight months old but wears Swarovski crystal-encrusted babygros with the logo "VIB - Very Important Baby", gold and diamond jewellery, pink tutus made from yards of frothy tulle and gem-studded hairclips. Her lavish outfits come with equally extravagant price tags. "Obviously it is more for the parent than the child. The child has no clue what is going on but these outfits look so nice," says Sofia's mother, Rasha, a 26-year-old housewife.
"It is very exciting for a parent to ... buy pretty things to make their babies look nice and have them dressed up for photographs to keep forever. "The outfits are not for everyday wear and are mainly for parties and special occasions. Sofia had the pink tutu on at her grandfather's birthday, a baby shower and another baby's birthday. She got lots of compliments at the time. "When there are no parties she wears the VIB babygro - that is for casual wear and trips to the supermarket, but even then people ask where I got it. Sofia outgrows her clothes so quickly that I want her to get as much wear out of them as she can.
"I, myself, like to wear clothes with crystals, although in a more controlled way. I might have some on my shoes or on the collar, but not as many as Sofia. I think it is completely harmless to dress babies up like this, though." Rasha buys her daughter's lavish outfits from Baby Bling, in Jumeirah's Village Mall. The business was founded by UAE-born Camelia Mohebi, Sofia's aunt, who thought there was a market for customised baby outfits in the Emirates.
Miss Mohebi, 29, who has yet to become a mother but has 12 nieces and nephews, says: "I just love babies. I have been surrounded by babies from a young age as I have such a big family. "Part of Emirati culture is to give gold as baby gifts and there was not much out there before I set up, aside from jewellery chains who do the odd baby trinket. "I have sold five of the Dh18,000 dummies in the last year and 15 silver ones, so there is obviously a market.
"People in the Middle East, especially Arabs, love opulence and bling. It has been part of our culture for centuries - and babies are the ultimate fashion accessories. You only have to look at Angelina Jolie to realise that." The idea for the business was sparked by a trend to decorate maternity wards with balloons and ribbons, and to give extravagant presents after the birth. Miss Mohebi, a visual communications graduate who used to work in marketing for Citigroup private bank dealing with wealthy investors, was also inspired by baby couture in Europe and the US.
In the US, the website babyblingcouture.com has proved hugely popular with parents wanting to dress their children like celebrity toddlers such as the actress Jolie's brood of six, and Suri Cruise, who is always dressed in Armani like her mother, the actress Katie Holmes. Most of Miss Mohebi's customers are GCC nationals, particularly Emiratis, while Indians are also big fans. One paid to fly her to Saudi Arabia and bought Dh90,000 worth of products.
"I did some research and found there was nothing like it here," Miss Mohebi says. "In a way I was already dealing in bling, as I was organising parties for people with high net worth in my previous job." She set up a special Facebook page 18 months ago to gauge interest in the idea and was inundated with inquiries. She opened the company, which also decorates maternity suites, a year ago after receiving an interest-free loan from al Tomooh, a government scheme to help Emiratis set up small businesses.
"Once the text goes out to say a baby is born, you can expect up to 200 people visiting over three days, so you want the room to look nice," says Miss Mohebi, adding that competition is fierce to give the most original or exclusive gift to the new mother. "After 40 days there is a mubarakiya, or celebration, ... and there is definitely a competition to have the best one." Khawla al Serkel, a 28-year-old business development manager for Sharjah Ladies Club, says she dresses her 10-month-old daughter Maha in Juicy Couture and Armani and has purchased several items from Miss Mohebi's store.
"I can never pass by without buying something," says Ms al Serkel. "I think the stuff is cute. "It has become a way of life to dress newborns in brands. It shows a certain standard. However, Maha was given a gold pacifier as a gift and I will not let her use it every day - that is too much." Not everyone is a fan of baby bling, however. "Dressing babies and toddlers in extravagant outfits is intended to communicate to the world just how special and different your child is. Instant financial and social status is communicated to the outside world by parents who believe this matters," says Marissa Woods, an image consultant from Image Factor in Dubai.
"Each and every child is special, but having a baby in everything from mink blankets to Swarovski-encrusted sunglasses in the current financial climate, when even P Diddy has announced 'less bling', has got to be an outdated trend." Miss Mohebi acknowledges that to her products "there is an element of showing off, just like every- thing else in life". "But children are the greatest joy after marriage and people spend most of their money on their children", she says.
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