What To Expect From Retail's New Attitude: Nez Gebreel Is On Fashion's Frontline

BY Harper's Bazaar Arabia / Sep 20 2017 / 13:57 PM

The former CEO of Dubai Design & Fashion Council, Nez Gebreel, reports on the fashion season ahead, industry shake-ups and why experiential shopping is essential

What To Expect From Retail's New Attitude: Nez Gebreel Is On Fashion's Frontline

As summer ends, and we move from one fashion season to the next, I always take stock of what it means for the industry in the region. One of the biggest conversations at the moment is about The Dubai Mall extension and when it will officially open.

I think we are all waiting, patiently... For the doors to open, for the brands to settle in, and to see the amazing landmark stores who will be based there. The extension has brought big retail investment, from brands and partners, and, for many, the focus has been on amplified customer experience within these stores. Intense research and data collection over the last few years has furnished companies with valuable insight into their customers, their shopping behaviour and the specifics about exactly what they want and when.

This means that tailored buys, exclusives designs, astutely-timed collection drops and merchandising can target consumers more precisely, create relevant and interesting content, and build brand loyalty, all in a bid to up the ante in experiential shopping. You can see this play out through the look and feel of some stores and the investment being made in creating more bespoke customer experience – both in-store and out. In terms of malls, if you are going to compare The Dubai Mall extension to the rest of the world, I don’t believe there will be anything like it, and for the luxury consumer, I think it will be a whole other experience.

However, I think we have to be careful as it is all too easy for places like The Dubai Mall to be seen as a tourist trap. I think it’s important to keep the shopping experience here as exclusive as possible, to focus on consumer trade, rather than just tourism. Of course, it is going to pull in the crowds, as it is a main attraction to Dubai, and Mohamed Alabbar and the team will be putting a huge PR machine behind it to draw people in, but I think we have to be careful how we play it. There are so many shopping festivals and sales in Dubai that we are at risk of adopting a discounted mentality.

Festivals have their place and it is a way to drive traffic drive traffic at the right time, but it can detract away from what attracted people to Dubai in the first place, which is that unique experience of luxury and hospitality. I think The Dubai Mall extension will bring us back to where we were and will draw back investments in the stores. Something else I’ve noticed is that, alongside customer experience, there is a shift towards deeper investment from brands back into their staff, from top to bottom.

I think brands and retail groups have suffered and learned a lot over the last two years, firstly in terms of tourism and trade, the slowing down of China and Russian visitors, and expanding focus to new territories like Africa and India, and secondly in how companies work internally. It’s not solely about a new shift towards customer experience and a focus on millennials, which I’ve touched on in previous columns, it’s about people in senior positions understanding the market, learning it, growing with it and appreciating that it’s not a time to be old school any more.

You really have to be fluid, know how to communicate, know how to market... Those with merchandising, marketing and PR experience are now often being put into CEO positions internationally, as they are the ones who understand what the product is, how to push it, and how to market it. It’s operational, and they know how to take a product to the next level strategically. Often, it’s millennials creating products that are then marketed by their millennial friends directly to the wider millennial consumer base, taking it full circle.

In terms of fashion this season, I’ve noticed a move towards anti-austerity. I’ve seen it this season with Saint Laurent’s sequinned boots that absolutely killed the internet, and the A/W17 collection by Halpern in all its decadent, glittering glory (you’ll see me in a sequinned flared jumpsuit in Spinney’s this season, for certain). With everything going on in the news, particularly in the Middle East and the US, I feel that people want to push back from everything that is driving us down in the world politically – to just have some form of escapism.

Digitally, beyond bricks and mortar, the focus is on amplifying that exclusive customer experience online, too. But e-commerce is still playing catch-up here. From the moment you land on a website, cherry pick your items, hit that ‘buy’ button, the pieces are packed, and a driver delivers your beautifully-wrapped parcel direct to your door – it all has to feel luxury. At the moment, in this region, that isn’t a guarantee. It is called retail therapy for a reason, but only if it works properly.

In this market, experience really is everything. I’m excited to see where the next six months take us, so let the adventure begin. 

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia.

Photography: Ethan Mann.

Nez wears: Jumpsuit, Dhs4,645, at Boutique 1. Shoes and cardigan, her own.