When you think of the world’s most famed shopping lanes – Fifth Avenue in New York City, London’s Bond Street, the Parisian Avenue Montaigne, Tokyo’s Ginza district – gargantuan shopping centres don’t generally spring to mind. But Dubai, with months of sweltering Arabian sun that simply doesn’t allow for outdoor window shopping, was stuck with the stigmatised (air-conditioned) shopping mall. And for many, it’s the fantastical tourist-grabbing attractions – Indoor skiing in the desert! A 10-million-litre aquarium! An indoor theme park! – that put these malls on the map, but if you’ve got deep enough pockets, the emirate’s shopping centres offer experiences and coddling above and beyond what can be found on Madison Avenue’s weathered pavement.
As the emirate becomes a destination for the ultimate in luxury shopping, it’s also building a foundation of passionate designers and individual boutiques that are helping to propel the city into a more diverse future; a place that’s walking fresh ideas down the catwalk to introduce to the rest of the world, too. One such designer is Furne One (pronounced “oh-nay”) of Amato Haute Couture whose fanciful pieces have been worn by none other than the likes of Heidi Klum, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. “Dubai is a city of wonders,” he says. “Whatever you imagine, however extravagant or out of this world it may be, Dubai can make it happen. It’s the type of thinking that doesn’t limit designers’ creativity or imagination – and the possibilities are endless.”
Beyond the velvet rope
Endless possibilities are also a cornerstone of Dubai’s shopping giants. Mall of the Emirates (Al Barsha 1; +971 4 409 9000) may have opened more than a decade ago, but has worked hard to hold shoppers’ attention with expansions, additions and renovations – no small task in a city as dynamic and prodigal as Dubai. Many of these changes have been to cater to the ever-increasing demand for luxury and exclusivity in the emirate. In 2010 the mall launched the upmarket Fashion Dome with the likes of Christian Louboutin, Dior Homme and Bottega Veneta, and just months ago unveiled a massive expansion that includes hip, high street names making their debut in the region such as AllSaints and Lululemon.
A new cinema features not only 3D, 4D and IMAX screens, but a premium option helmed by Michelin-starred-chef Gary Rhodes, called ThEATre, where cinema-goers lounge in oversized leather seats with satin pillows and blankets, dining on gourmet offerings that include truffle and parmesan popcorn, foie gras paninis and afternoon tea. Here, even the typical bulky 3D glasses have been redesigned into something more fashionable, resembling trendy Ray-Ban aviators.
But all the attention on the mall’s expansion doesn’t mean that the six-year-old Fashion Dome has been forgotten like an old toy. New features have been consistently added over the years, such as VIP valet parking: A glossy, marble driveway backed by glowing water features and inhabited by profligate spenders’ convertible Maseratis and kitted-out Mercedes G-Wagons. The entrance leads directly into the Fashion Dome, with Chanel, Cartier and a soon-to-open Dolce & Gabbana serving as veritable VIP greeters.
Even the mundanity of standing around waiting for the car’s retrieval is
a thing of the past here: Enter a VIP lounge replete with soft
carpeting and leather seats, where complimentary nibbles such as
espressos, cookies, dates and teas are ordered from menus and quickly
served up. As the luxury section grows, less-upmarket brands have been
replaced by Burberry, an Emporio Armani Caffe and a sleek Apple store
(the region’s first). And there’s more to come: Throughout this year the
Fashion Dome will expand even further, taking over an older section of
the mall that is currently being redesigned with high-end materials to
house designer names such as Alexander McQueen, Jimmy Choo and YSL.
Further down Sheikh Zayed Road, under the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, lies Dubai’s other shopping behemoth, The Dubai Mall (Downtown Dubai; +971 4 362 7500). The largest of its kind in the world, it includes the 40,877-sqm Fashion Avenue, where modelesque ladies in flowing abayas trod down a plush carpet lane flanked by Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chloé, Oscar de la Renta and more than six dozen other prestigious names. Then there’s the vast Level Shoe District, encompassing 40 well-heeled boutiques. It’s a favourite of One’s, who admits, “I have a penchant for collecting statement shoes and Level is like heaven on Earth.” And lest it be outdone by the ever-growing Mall of the Emirates, The Dubai Mall is currently undergoing its own transformation with an extension that will see Fashion Avenue add even more high-end names and flagship shops to its already-impressive retinue.
For the most prolific of shoppers, a programme called The List offers privileges and insider action. In addition to invitations to store openings and previews of sales at its luxury boutiques, The List opens doors to The Lounge – so long as you can quite literally show the receipts for your mall purchases adding up to no less than AED100,000 (US$27,230) per month (easily achieved in mere moments at Cartier or Hermès). Here, you can hold your own private occasions, attend VIP fashion events and dine on complimentary food. “Shop ‘til you drop” isn’t something members of The List need to concern themselves about either, what with the programme’s valet parking, in-mall buggy transport and porter service.
En (avant-) garde
The malls are undeniably colossal, but that’s certainly not where all the fashionable action is limited. The home-grown fashion and design industry in Dubai has been aflurry in recent years with the launch of d3 (Dubai Design District), a place for creatives across various industries to convene, and Fashion Forward, the city’s biannual fashion week that, according to up-and-coming designer Andraya Farrag of Bedouin, includes “a fantastic team that really pushes to be creative each season, and shows a lot of support for Dubai participants”.
And while regional fashionistas are surely thrilled to have more and more opportunities to get their hands on innovative, locally made items, it’s the local designers and boutique owners themselves who are revelling in the city’s growth and increasingly nurturing nature of the new, exciting and experimental. Farrag feels there’s no time like the present to be part of the city’s fashion scene. “Year on year the industry is growing and it has been incredible to watch and now be part of,” she says. “As the industry is so young here, there is a great community of really excited designers and I love being a part of that.”
It’s not just designers that are trying to push boundaries here, and The cARTel (6 Al Serkal Avenue; +971 4 388 4341), in gallery-laden Al Serkal Avenue, is one boutique that certainly stands out from the rest with cutting-edge clothing from the likes of Maison Margiela and Gareth Pugh displayed in a conceptual boutique-gallery warehouse space. Co-founder and managing partner May Barber says the avant-garde idea did initially cause some confusion. “It was difficult at first but we knew from the start we were catering to the niche,” she says. “We got questions like, ‘Is it a gallery or a store? Are these things for sale or just showcasing?’, and we had to work hard in the beginning to accurately communicate our mission statement as a new way of retailing and showcasing fashion along with an active agenda of exhibitions and events – we wanted to build an experience rather than just a place."
Barber’s hard work seems to have paid off, with the boutique now a must-shop for those with more adventurous tastes, and she hopes that The cARTel will help push Dubai in new directions. “I’d like to think that The cARTel has established a cultural movement in fashion here, and I hope we see an emergence of more unique concepts – but there are still things we need to attend to,” she admits. “I think we still need to attend to menswear and I hope Dubai will move away from the typical brands that you see everywhere; we need to look at the layer in-between the high street and luxury labels that involves interesting emerging designers both internationally and locally.”
Local designers see Dubai as on its way to becoming a fashionable force to be reckoned with on an international level, thanks to its exotic eye for aesthetics. Says Farrag, “In addition to Fashion Forward becoming more recognised in the global market – especially with Style.com/Arabia as a sponsor – UAE-based fashion designers hold a special edge with a mix of traditional simplicity and contemporary, which I believe gains us traction globally.” One, too, sees it as a region with unique, wide-reaching charm: “New and fresh ideas are being served to the table that appeal to a lot of audiences. There’s just a certain touch of exotic opulence meeting organic artistry that has become the signature of the region’s community.”
Rise & shop
Dubai is riddled with sumptuous accommodation, but for those guests on a single-minded shopping break, five-star stays linked to the city’s biggest shopping destinations make for the most ideal bases. Take, for instance, Sheraton Dubai Mall of the Emirates Hotel, with a glossy entrance that leads directly into Mall of the Emirates’ brand-new extension. To make like a monarch, a stay in a Royal Suite, loftily located on a top floor with near-panoramic views of Dubai, offers 153 square metres of space to stash all your shopping bags.
A regal-looking living and dining room is lit with ample windows, and a vast bedroom – with an equally vast marble bathroom – is crowned by a fairy-tale-esque chandelier of white, vine-like curly-Qs and icicle-like spikes. Throughout, muted tones and state-of-the-art touches make it as good a space for calling home as it would be to host a small event. A spacious, wooden-floored foyer would be just the place for a designer to show off a new collection to VIP clients, as canapés and cocktails discreetly appear from the suite’s service kitchen.
On the other end of the mall, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates has just completed a renovation of its guest rooms and suites – including 20 whimsical Aspen Chalets overlooking Ski Dubai that are set to open to guests with a luxe redesign in the imminent future. Until then, the roomy suites are a chic alternative fitted out with glowing contemporary style, plush furnishings and subtle touches that take inspiration from its alpine neighbour with tempered-glass lighting that resembles a snowy sky, sparkling-white mother-of-pearl bathroom décor and geometric crystal chandeliers.
Restaurants offer stylish, relaxed retreats, such as Olea, where a savoury menu of Levantine plates is best shared with your shopping accomplices – the “upside down” chicken maglouba is a hearty Palestinian meal that easily refuels your energy. Guests are tempted to really take advantage of the hotel’s prime shopping locale with a “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” package that includes afternoon tea at its classic café, Aspen, and an AED500 ($136) voucher to spend within the mall – you can practically hear Harvey Nichols beckoning. Ever the caring host, the package includes another AED500 voucher for Kempinski’s Asian-inspired Softouch Spa to loosen muscles stiff from shopping with a pampering massage.
But it’s hard to argue that there may be anywhere more fashionable to lay your head than Armani Hotel Dubai, located in the cloud-scraping Burj Khalifa. Drenched in soft cappuccino browns, the achingly stylish abode welcomes with a bespoke scent that carries peppery oud hints of Arabia through minimalistic spaces. An Armani Fountain Suite shows off one of Downtown Dubai’s best sights: The Dubai Fountain, which is on clear view from floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room and bedroom. Curved walls seamlessly meld the suite’s spaces together and the lack of corners gives it a unique, almost outer-spacey vibe – heightened with techy tablets that control the rooms’ curtains, lights, music and televisions.
To sate your hunger, Armani/Hashi’s expansive menu of Japanese cuisine is best enjoyed on its fountain-view terrace, from where delicate slices of toro, crisp tempura and sushi rolls convene at the base of the world’s tallest structure. While the hotel does offer some coveted Armani products, from chocolates to fragrances and accessories, you’ll have to make a move to The Dubai Mall – which is conveniently accessed via an exclusive in-hotel lift – to complete your shopping spree at the Armani/Dubai boutique, brimming with goodies from the Emporio Armani and Giorgio Armani collections. Ready…set…shop.
Armani Hotel Dubai
+971 4 888 3888
Kempiniski Hotel Mall of the Emirates
+971 4 341 0000
Sheraton Dubai Mall of the Emirates Hotel
+971 4 377 2000