In May last year came the news that all three Jeffrey stores in America would shut down. Jeffrey’s New York flagship, located in Manhattan’s hip Meatpacking district, was once the arbiter of all things cool in luxury fashion. The store looked more like an art gallery than a multi-brand boutique and woke America up to a new style of retailing.
Milan’s 10 Corso Como, a space that combined fashion with art, books, food and music, was perhaps the original concept store. It opened its doors in 1990 and has since opened branches in other global cities, but over the past few months they’ve had to close their stores in New York, Shanghai and Beijing. Most recently, Paris’ chicest concept store, Montaigne Market, also announced it was shutting shop – following in the footsteps of Paris’ iconic Colette, which closed permanently in December 2017. Suddenly, it looked like concept stores were no longer relevant in a “digital first” retail world.
But this may not be true for the Middle East. In Dubai, the city often considered the shopping capital of the region, at least four concept stores have opened over the past year. With Dubai having such a strong mall culture (there are over 65 malls in the Emirate), these stores add some freshness to retailing centers.
Gigi Concept Store opened in Barsha’s Galleria Mall in May 2020, just as malls were reopening after the lockdown. In addition to its art gallery, Gigi focuses on local talent from designers such as Mrs. Keepa, Beige and Twisted Roots, jewelry designers such as FTA Prize 2021 finalists L’atelier Nawbar and accessory designers including Sarah’s Bag.
Club Oyo, set at Mall of the Emirates and curated by architect and interior designer Ceeboo Shah, highlights art and design. “I think there is a gap in our regional market for concept stores. Consumers in the region want something new, interesting and fresh,” says Shah.
Giving Club Oyo company in Mall of the Emirates is That – though to call this a retail space is doing it an injustice. That Concept Store is a destination, which includes a fitness center, a nail spa, a hair salon and even laundry and tailoring services. Spread over two floors, it retails millennial friendly brands such as Off-White, Fila, Open Ceremony and more. Included in their line-up are a sprinkling of Arab brands such as Roni Helou and Qasimi. That marks retail giant Majid Al Futtaim’s entry into concept stores. “We are delighted to introduce That concept store in the heart of Mall of the Emirates, a one-of-a-kind destination that is set to revolutionize the future of retail in the UAE and the Middle East,” says Shireen El Khatib, chief executive officer of Majid Al Futtaim Shopping Malls.
These new concept stores are not just confined to malls. Dubai’s finance hub DIFC is now home to The Design House by FLTRD, which has a focus on local brands and plans to announce a calendar of its activations soon. And in Dubai’s Art district, Al Serkal Avenue, The Edit, previously located in Jumeirah, has opened up shop. This 3,000-square-foot space has a café and art space as well. To coincide with the store’s opening, an art exhibition by Italian multi-media artist Francesco Patriarca is being hosted. Says The Edit’s founder Rumana Nazim: “Shopping offline is becoming an increasingly social activity. Consumers these days still want to browse the railings, but they also want to drink coffee, discuss art and experience cultural performances.”