VILNIUS, Lithuania – Empowering blondes or stereotyping them?
The jury is out on a Lithuanian company that plans to build a "fantasy resort" staffed only by blondes in the Maldives.
Olialia (pronounced Oh-la-LA) has created a business empire in Lithuania, using its troupe of glitzy models with platinum hair to market just about anything from potato chips to pop music. There's Olialia pizza and Olialia cola, even Olialia computers.
With the Maldives resort — and plans for an airline linking it to the Baltic republic — Olialia is taking its blond ambition to a new level.
"Blond is light. It attracts people like sunshine," brand manager Lauryna Anuseviciute, a 24-year-old former model, explained at the Olialia office in downtown Vilnius.
In Lithuania, where a big chunk of the population shares Anuseviciute's light hair color — naturally or aided by peroxide — such unabashed glorification of blond beauty doesn't raise many eyebrows.
It remains to be seen how the Olialia concept will be received in the Maldives, a more ethnically diverse archipelago in the Indian Ocean, which requires foreign developers to hire at least 50 percent local staff.
Maldives tourism officials said they had not received any details about Olialia's plans and had not issued any permits.
"We welcome any serious innovations and investment for discussions so long as it is backed by serious finance with a robust and realistic business plan," Simon Hawkins, director of the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation, wrote in an e-mail. He underlined "realistic."
However, he didn't appear to see the blond requirement as a major hurdle for employees from the Maldives, saying "perhaps they could work behind the scenes, or die their hair?"
No need, according to Anuseviciute. "Staff who are not blond will wear a blond wig to make everyone look similar," she said. The wig will be considered part of their uniform.
Approximately 65 percent of the staff will be women, she said.
The resort plans are still in their infancy — the tentative launch date is 2015 — but Anuseviciute insisted Olialia already has secured financing.
Still, it won't miss a good chance to promote the project, like at next month's international real estate fair in Cannes, France. Olialia plans to arrive in style, with 130 blondes flying in from Lithuania on a chartered plane.
Back home, the small women's rights movement is cringing in disgust. Not only is the "blond island" idea demeaning to women, but borderline racist, said Margarita Jankauskaite, director of the Lithuanian Center for Equality Advancement.
"I am ashamed that this initiative came from my country. This only sends a message to the world that Lithuania is a country of cheap beer and cheap blond women," Jankauskaite said.
Anuseviciute dismissed such concerns. "It is not discrimination," she said. "For example, if a ballet is casting for a male-only dance performance, is it discrimination against women when they only hire men?
"The same with our resort — everyone will be welcome to work but will have to wear this uniform," Anuseviciute said.