It’s always important to highlight a milestone and with it being Harper’s Bazaar’s 10-year anniversary in the Middle East it’s time to celebrate and relect on the changing face of the region’s fashion landscape over the past decade. I’ve been based in the UAE for around five of those 10 years, but have been observing its development and supporting the region for far longer. We all know that the fashion industry’s bedrock here is retail and shopping malls – namely the luxury establishments of Mall of the Emirates and The Dubai Mall, which were pivotal in positioning Dubai as a luxury retail hub – but more recently, I’ve been interested in the attention shift from international to regional brands, but I feel we are very much at the beginning of that journey. Where in the last three or four years it’s been great to see an influx of independent concept cafes and restaurants pop up in areas like Al Quoz, Jumeirah, Al Serkal, JLT and d3, I feel that there’s still a big gap in the development of independent fashion retail. Rania Khatib, the general manager of Level Shoes, and I recently discussed the industry from a retail perspective.
She has been in the region for 15 years now and has helped build strong, commercially successful homegrown brands that now have international acclaim and notoriety. She would divide the retail development and history in Dubai speciﬁcally into four stages. The first stage was about the big retailers – the likes of Azadea, Chalhoub and Al Tayer – signing and acquiring as many brands as they could to the region. There were no department stores and only a few of the older concepts like Paris Gallery. The era of franchises hit; they were focusing less on F&B and concentrating more on fast fashion – Azadea signed a lot of the international high street brands that are now in most of the malls. Then the city saw the first openings of malls. When Rania first arrived there was just City Centre mall, but then malls started popping up all over, and it was with the extension of Burjuman that Dubai saw the first interest from luxury brands.
The Second phase was the opening of the ‘mega mall’, first in the form of Mall of the Emirates. This is when the luxury flagships started to open, as well as global department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Harvey Nichols. There was more choice, but still the experience was lacking when comparing it to Europe, which led to Emirati and expat shoppers still wanting to travel to enjoy a real the luxury shopping experience. The retailers’ research showed them that the Emiratis and Gulf customers were still spending a lot more when they travelled, than when in the UAE. This research made retailers take note and then came phase three; the customer experience. With the opening of The Dubai Mall there was so much more to play with. More space meant bigger flagships stores were opening and the big brands started to take Dubai seriously as a shopping capital of luxury – they started working with their partners here more closely, bringing the local experience in line with that of the global customer in Paris, New York and London.
This is when homegrown concept stores started popping up, like Level Shoe District (now Level Shoes), and independent multibrand boutiques such as Symphony came about. So the well-travelled customer who frequents the likes of Colette in Paris or Dover Street Market in London to shop for something unique, can ﬁnd something equally as exclusive (if not more so), at a boutique in Dubai. Last but not least is phase four, which I touched on in February’s column, and that’s the e-commerce phase. ‘Pure players’ like Net-a-Porter started noticing the region more, realising that the consumer is savvy and the penetration of iPhones and tablets is the highest in the world – in the past year or so retailers like Chalhoub are focusing on digital strategy and international e-commerce players, like YNAP, are setting up shop in Dubai. So the region is becoming more important and the shopping experience is becoming more than bricks and mortar flagships. It’s exciting to see how things have evolved over the last 10 years; the big players coming into the region and regional companies investing internationally – think Valentino and the Qatari investment. Looking forward to the next 10 years, and taking into consideration the complex global political environment, including Donald Trump’s contentious immigration stance, I believe this will cause a backlash and create a tidal wave of support and positive interest for the Middle East and its people, in particular its talent. It could be the perfect opportunity for us to have a cultural and united revolution and shine.
Learn more about Nez Gebreel here.