Saudi Summer Vacation In L.A.: The $7.5 Million Lamborghinis, $3,000 Fur Toys and Yeezy Sneakers on Shopping Lists
When it's 110 degrees in Riyadh, the Gulf crowd flocks to L.A. A field guide to the hot spots.
It's August, and the jet-setting Gulf crowd has taken over L.A., spending like only they can.
Driveways at the Montage Beverly Hills, Beverly Wilshire and Hotel Bel-Air are overflowing with Ferraris with Arabic plates, flown over to drive during the summer sojourn. Tea houses and coffee shops, such as Urth Caffé and Nespresso in Beverly Hills, are packed into the evening. And boutiques on Rodeo Drive are in overdrive.
L.A. is increasingly becoming the August vacation destination for travelers from Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states, who are attracted by the laid-back lifestyle, and possibility of rubbing elbows with celebrities they see on TV and social media.
Last weekend, a certain Saudi princess contacted personal shopper Nicole Pollard Bayme of LalaLuxe for help dispatching two children's gift baskets valued at $50,000 to a friend.
By Monday, Kim Kardashian was displaying the pink toy car, blue toy plane and $10,000 worth of Loro Piana fur toy animals on her SnapChat, with no mention of the discreet royal giver. "How cute is this gift for North and Saint, you guys? The best gifts ever! They're gonna die when they wake up in the morning."
Saudi Arabian Airlines now offers four weekly nonstop flights from Saudi Arabia to Los Angeles, with 61,300 total seats per year, up 22.1 percent from 2015. And in January, Qatar Airways added a new nonstop route seven days a week from Doha to Los Angeles, bringing in an additional 94,946 seats/year in 2016. (First-class amenities include flat beds, said to be the widest in the skies, Frette linens and Missoni sleep suits and slippers.)
According to the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board's most recent data from 2014, visitors from Saudia Arabia had "the highest per-trip spend of any international market in Los Angeles, with an average trip expenditure of $4,550 per person and a collective spend of $259.3 million."
Bayme, the personal shopper, says August is her biggest month, and attributes the popularity of L.A. with Gulf guests to the celebrity culture (here, one with an unlimited budget can possibly buy in-person time with the likes of Justin Bieber or rent out Dodger stadium) and an increasingly cosmopolitan, yet casual, atmosphere that’s a contrast to London and Paris, where many of these families own homes and send their children to school.
Coveted items on women's shopping lists this August include Hermès crocodile Birkin bags and the latest Yeezy sneakers, and Bayme regularly calls on designers for gowns that ring in at well over $100,000 each, along with gowns for children (about $50,000) and babies (about $30,000).
"I have clients who book extra hotel rooms just for their clothes," says Bayme.
When it comes to beauty, many Gulf clients head to Ramirez Tran salon (where hair cuts are $200 to $400), where they can discreetly unveil in the private rooms. Vanessa Hernandez, who counts Gwyneth Paltrow as a customer, is a top pick for "medical-grade facials" ($375).
"Clients look to social media to find out who the best experts are and then ask for them," says Bayme. "They literally go on to Kim Kardashian’s Instagram page and see who is cutting her hair. It’s a culture on the pulse of what’s in — where celebrities are eating, what Gigi Hadid is wearing today."
Spa Connections, a mobile company that brings beauty and wellness services to hotels, homes, and on tour with the likes of Justin Bieber and Amy Schumer, tends to many royal visitors from the Gulf region, according to owner Allison Stein. Top services are massage therapy (starting at $200), manicure-pedicures (starting at $250) and brow or facial threading (from $300).
"We are doing appointments until 1 or 2 a.m.," says Stein. "A royal client visiting from Saudi Arabia wasn’t allowed to be seen in gym clothes, so she ended up working out with a trainer in a large hotel closet."
For dining, Mama's Secret Bakery & Cafe on Third Street is a popular spot for brunch.
"We have a lot of customers from the Gulf area," says owner Alican Bayar. "Their [favorite] items [on the menu] are the Turkish Breakfast, gozleme (Turkish flatbreads similar to quesadillas), hummus, halloumi cheese, and menemen (similar to shakshouka)."
If they don't bring cars from home (shipping costs run about $30,000), they buy new ones, and lavishly customize them.
"We do 24-karat gold wheels, platinum interiors, hand-stitched leather interiors and Swarovski headlights," says Allen Klevens, vp business development for L.A. Car Connection. "We even did a $7.5 million solid gold Lamborghini Aventador. Everything for these clients has gold involved."