DUBAI – Modern Luxury conference, report by Robb Young

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Suzy Menkes’ annual International Herald Tribune conference took place in Dubai this year.  All that you hear about Dubai’s architecture, astronomical urban planning and supersonic speed are true, times ten.  And it is indeed a little bit soul-less still but what do you expect from a city that came up out of the desert and bedouin life less than 60 years ago…  It’s still finding itself.  I made the mistake of staying in Deira, what they call the ‘old town’, which I didn’t realise would be faded 60s hotels in a tacky dustbowl for construction workers and dodgy businessmen…  I thought I would get a glimpse of ‘real life’ on my way to the fantasy gated communities and seven-star developments I’d be covering during my stay.  I should’ve stuck to spoiled comfort.  The only part of Dubai that looks like these two photos above are along the highways or in the gated cities within cities within the city, like the Park Hyatt residence where the conference took place and which is illustrated by the second photo.


This is the only way to really get a comprehensive idea on how the city is… by renderings, models and so on.  Though it’s already a fast-paced and dynamic hub, you see everywhere it’s being built around you.  This model was set out to show Emaar, the host of the event and the town’s pioneering property developer, is even taming the creek that runs through the city now and redirecting it to accomodate an entire new additional business district.  Golly.


The conference had some scions of the Italian fashion industry including Giorgio Armani, and new inheritants like Miss Pucci, Miss Fendi and the CEOs of Gucci, etc.  Diane von Furstenburg’s talk was the highlight, her personal frank and gut-busting account of her life had us in tears.  Suzy was charming as always and kept everyone on their toes… naturally.


Sheikh Majed al-Sabah took the opportunity to splash out some juicy news, that his Kuwait based Villa Moda will be opening at the Power Station on the Thames, the first outside the Gulf region.  He’s got stiff competition from two other major players in the Middle East who are rolling out franchised boutiques for all the major brands in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain and even on to Saudi… I interviewed both Shireen El Khatib from Al Tayer which is one and Ingie Chalhoub from Chalhoub group, the other. 


At least on the surface, this place of many contrasts seems to keep melding it all together quite well.  Consumerism can be just the bridge between cultures, can’t it??  Eh-hem.  This is from Mall of the Emirates where Chalhoub had an opening for their new multi-brand shop, Etoile.  Santa was downstairs and the mini-mosques throughout.  Ladies in abbayas and chadors shopping at La Perla… you get the picture…


Suzy at Ingie Chalhoub’s shop opening, Etoile


My new friend and the most gorgeous lady I met while in town, Susan Sabet, publisher and editor in chief for the region’s only pan-Arab high fashion magazine, "Pashion".  Quite fun name actually, eh?  Susan is based in Cairo but the English-Arab bilingual quarterly is distributed across the region and in Europe too in some shops.  She’s with her Dubai contributor here.


Zayan Ghandour & Dina Saleh, from the shop Sauce came up full of compliments.  I visited Sauce at the Village Mall in Jumeirah Beach on my way to the airport on the last day.  Apart from Villa Moda in Emirates Tower Boulevard, I think they’re the only one with an international standard of the multi-brand boutiques I saw there.  Adorable girls too and a great business for young designers from around the world to get a foot in the Dubai door.


Good night day one from dodgy Deira…


Ingie Chalhoub put on quite a gala spectacle on the second night and flew in Arab and international high society and entertainers from around the region and Europe including Gaultier’s muse, Arielle Dombasle who serenaded us at dinner with her Mexican band.  But instead of flashing around the decadent affair, I just took this shot from the men’s toilet (above).  Yes, that’s a corner of the men’s restroom… Read between the lines… Lush


Yasmin Le Bon looked ravishing with Sabine from Paris.  Yasmin and I chatted about Dubai’s future potential.  I had no idea she had a child of 16.  Duran Duran’s Simon with a child of 16?!  Crikey, I’m old…


And IMG/Seventh on Sixth’s Fern Mallis was on hand too.  Rumour has it IMG is opening a fashion office in the UAE too, likely Dubai to expand their ever growing empire of fashion weeks to the Middle East eventually.  In only the past few months, Singapore, Australia, India, Moscow… what’s next on the menu, Dubai?


I couldn’t resist…  Nighty night.


Some my friends would be very, VERY proud of me to know that on my last day I actually experienced something outside the taxi and luxury hotels.  All on my own, I took a dhow across from the Gold Souk to the Fabric Souk on the other side.  All on my own!!  I can’t swim.  I sink.  Literally.  Besides, I don’t do water outside the bath anyway.  And those rickety contraptions aren’t exactly comfort, especially squeeezed in among  billions of dusty South Asian workers crammed in commuting back and forth.  Good perspective though to keep in mind – on the human costs of such rapid expansion….


I made it across… whew.  From Bayt Al Wakeel, one of the oldest buildings in Bur Dubai where I had a gorgeous view over the Creek and onto Bur Deira where had braved the river without a life preserver.  If you know me, the closest I usually get to nature is from a helicopter window so this was really a big feat for me…




You can probably guess this part of town was slightly distracting for someone like me… Bedazzled as I be.


Trying my amateur photography skills out in the only part of town that looks charming and dreamy, Bur Dubai near the Souk where there are a few older mosques.


A bientot Dubai…

Glenn Belverio

Glenn Belverio is a writer and New Yorker. He has been reporting for ASVOF since 2005 and currently works at The Museum of Modern Art as the Content Manager for MoMA Design Store.