Dubai may be home to the biggest mall in the world and consumerism might possibly be in the city’s very DNA, but there are alternatives to chain store shopping for luxury labels. The city has a growing independent shopping scene, hidden in detached villas or smaller community malls, that will ensure you go home with something more exciting than the ubiquitous Gucci, Prada or Chanel items.
These independent boutiques, which have sprung up over the last decade, are owned by both expats and Emiratis who are keen to bring smaller designer labels to the city or to launch local talent. If you want to discover Dubai’s more creative side, here are the stand outs:
For vintage: Bambah and The Zoo
Taking the 'his-and-hers' concept literally, Bambah and The Zoo are two separate stores in one chic villa opposite the rather sad Dubai Zoo. Bambah is a beautifully decorated vintage clothing store, with women’s clothes and accessories helpfully grouped by decade and artfully arranged on the owner’s grandmother’s furniture. The Zoo is home to funky men’s T-shirts, quirky gadgets and nostalgic memorabilia like retro telephones.
For furniture: O Concept
A crazy pop art/industrial warehouse full of furniture, accessories and the odd rack of clothes, O Concept is the brainchild of Emirati-owner Omar Bin Khediya. Luxury just got that little bit weirder here with Ferrari-branded neo-classical chairs next to kitsch pop art and futuristic-looking furniture. It is not cheap, but if you are looking for a statement piece, this is the right place.
For fashionistas: S*uce
S*uce, which has blazed the trail for local designers and stocks hard-to-find, of-the-moment global names, is the mother of all independent boutiques. Although its main store is now in the Dubai Mall, the original is still in the smaller Village Mall in the Jumeirah area. Find the latest neon handbags from Fyunka, eye-popping bracelets and achingly hip dresses from Zahan Ghandour, as well as limited collections from up-and-coming UAE talents like Dima Amad. These designers live, breathe and work the latest looks, so you had better keep an eye on your credit card in here.
For homewares: O De Rose
A one-stop-shop for interiors, home accessories and some fashion too, O De Rose is the place to head for an upmarket ethnic feel. All of its pieces have a free-spirited sense of style, from Moroccan glass tea cups to bold African patterned cushions, while Arabic calligraphy-inspired canvases hang next to colourful depictions of Indian deities. Also housed in a villa, O De Rose takes advantage of the homely set up: feel free to sit for a while in the rose-scented garden with its cooling fountain.
For presents: Antiques Museum
Do not believe either word in the title, this dusty warehouse (Al Quoz, behind Times Square Mall; 971-4-347-9935) in the industrial Al Quoz area is not a museum, nor does it sell antiques. It is, however, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of Arabic trinkets, from glass mosaic hanging candle holders, to tagine dishes and carved wooden furniture. You can lose hours in the massive warehouse where everything is piled high in narrow corridors, but keep browsing and the staff will bring you cups of tea and water to keep you going.
For art: Pro Art gallery
Pretty much the only gallery in the UAE to regularly show street art, the small, unpretentious Pro Art gallery is the place to pick up a print of some of the finest handlers of spray paint, like Banksy, Blek le Rat or Shepard Fairey. Keep an eye on the website for future exhibitions; 2012 has already played host to a 'Street Art Legends' retrospective and currently there is a focus on modern Indian art.