beirut: aïshti foundation opening

© aïshti foundation / photography: guillaume ziccarelli

his company is synonymous to luxury brands and high-end lifestyle across the middle east, but now the founder himself has gained the global spotlight with a much anticipated and audacious new project in his hometown of beirut. tony salamé founded aïshti in 1989 in the aftermath of a civil war that had laid much of the lebanese capital in ruins, and along its reputation as the region's most glamourous meeting place. what started with a modest warehouse store stocking last season's collections has grown into an impressive network of luxury department stores and monobrand boutiques, and not only in beirut, but also in neighbouring shopping destinations amman, kuwait and dubai.

not surprisingly, the trajectory of salamé's success in retail runs closely parallel to the remarkable rise of post-war beirut as a leading destination of sophisticated lifestyle. anyone with a discerning fashion palate venturing into the city's redeveloped and glitzy downtown area, ends up either at aïshti's mothership emporium or one of its countless luxury monobrand boutiques. but now, salamé has taken a bold new step amidst political circumstances that don't seem to be in his favour, but on the other hand, should also be seen as nothing less than admirable vote of confidence. an avid collector of contemporary art for many years, the aïshti founder has amassed around 2,000 works by various leading artists from around the planet.

known as the aïshti foundation, it has become one of the most prominent – or should we say dynamic, given its accelerated expansion of late – modern art collections in the middle east. salamé's vote of confidence takes shape in a remarkable four-storey structure on the northern outskirts of beirut, built by london-based starchitect david adjaye. overlooking the mediterranean sea, the building stands out from its surroundings, not only because of its volume, but also due to a striking outer shell made of multiple layers of latticed red aluminum in geometric patterns. the design intentionally mimics mashrabiya, the intricately perforated woodwork that often adorns traditional arabic architecture.

from the inside, large windows open onto the sea and the city behind, and generates a compelling visual dialogue between its skyline and the elegant spaces of the galleries. aïshti foundation's stellar new premises encompass no less than 4,000 sqm. [43,056 sq.ft.] of exhibition space spread over various floors. the venue's inaugural show, aptly entitled new skin, is curated by massimiliano gioni – artistic director at the new museum in new york city – and presents over 200 works by international contemporary artists, including ziad antar, daniel buren, rayyane tabet, gerhard richter and akram zaatari [on through jan 4]..

and that's not all, folks. allowing for a hybrid fusion of happening art and lifestyle that'll indulge a demographic of savvy beirutis and foreign equivalents alike, the aïshti foundation building is actually embedded in a larger, 40,000 sqm. [430,556 sq.ft.] complex that's home to a range of swanky new fashion boutiques, a curated bookshop, restaurants and cafés, a spa, and last but not least, a cool rooftop bar where to sit back, sip a glass of bubbly, and take in the gorgeous views among kindred spirits. location: jal el dib seaside highway [jal el dib].

© aïshti foundation / photography: guillaume ziccarelli