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March 30, 2010

On the Road to Damascus NOW

In the most miraculous transformation since Saul became Paul—and certainly the most stylish—Villa Moda has punctured Syria’s decades-long embargo on luxury imports and saved Damascenes from having to travel to Beirut for sophisticated shopping. A shabby street in the Old City may not be an obvious spot for a boutique, but Kuwaiti sheikh Majed Al-Sabah, the man behind the Villa Moda empire, enjoys playing with expectations. "It’s more exciting to be with the brassmakers, pistachio vendors, and carpet merchants," he says. "There’s something very glamorous about that." The shop’s restored 17th-century stone walls and candy-striped archways have been updated with a polished-resin floor, a glass roof, and a bloodred chandelier. Selling sumptuous local brocades, silks, and jewelry alongside Prada and Dior, Villa Moda is a reminder in these unstable times that Syria was once the world’s favorite bazaar.