Early Arrivals

Every day the world gets a little smaller, and the reach and sway of luxury brands becomes more expansive.

As a part of my job, I travel to various international locales, each in their own right pursuing a piece of the budding retail market. Today I find myself in Azerbaijan.

To be honest, I was unaware this country existed until I was booking travel reservations. Last night, as my plane descended in to the capital of Baku, I became skeptical. Looking down on the nondescript city seated aside the Caspian Sea, I was doubtful that there was any promise of discovering a glittering metropolis-in-the-making. Driving through the dust-filled streets en route to my hotel, I grew increasingly so.

Today, touring the city, I was surprised to see the caliber of international luxury brands littering the streets. Armani. Escada. Ferragamo. MaxMara. Chopard. Lacoste. Hugo Boss.

Cartier reportedly just opened last week to the much buzzed-about fanfare of actress and spokesmodel, Monica Belucci's, coinciding visit.

What impressed me more was the telltale "Coming Soon" signs of the second wave of trailblazers. Valentino, Diesel, Burberry... It is apparent that the city is actively soliciting brands to enter the region.

Aside from the mounting luxury presence, the rumors of a bid for the 2018 Summer Olympics has the city whipped in to a wind storm of construction, what locals have dubbed, "The Year of Construction."

It amazes me how a city's desire for "modernity" often leads it in to the lap of luxury. The country, outside Baku's city center, is still steeped in poverty and entrenched in it's rural roots. The national language is Azerbaijani, but most city-dwellers speak Russian (it seceded from the USSR in 1991) because it is considered provincial to speak in the local tongue.

What is it that really makes a country modern? It is the buildings, with their nouveau-something architecture? Is it the politics or the people? Or is it the commerce? It seems that the new strategy to proving to the world that you are a modern nation is by the means of establishing an enviable list of shopping destinations.

As much as you want to cheer on a developing country, it is hard when all it seems to be doing is emulating the older kids on the play ground. Hopefully the agenda behind the street-front facades of the new commercial and bureaucratic buildings is also future-minded.

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