Published in Conde Nast Traveller August- September 2015
Shiny malls are all very well but what about when you want to shop like a local? Priyanka Pradhan reveals some of the best regional brands.
When endless excursions to a daunting network of malls unearth the same souvenirs, done-to-death brands and boring keepsakes, it may be time to dig deeper. On your next trip to Dubai, take your pick from the UAE’s homegrown brands and products that are inspired by local culture, yet have a markedly global appeal. More than 202 nationalities make up the multicultural milieu of the UAE so expect a heady cocktail of influences on brands that are ‘Made in the UAE’. From Azabaijan to Africa and from travel to confectionery, the UAE is inspired by the entire world – and these ‘glocal’ wares make for memorable and meaningful take-aways, both for yourself and as gifts.
Inspired by the vivid colors of her favorite French confectionery, Lebanese-born founder Rima Khoreibi set up this cosmetics brand that is colorful in both, product and packaging.
Micaroon’s range of products including lipsticks, blush ons, accessories and body butter are named after popular local icons such as the Burj Khalifa and Arabic words like Ashq.
Dubai’s first and only high-end vintage boutique, Bambah sources one-off pieces from across the world. The boutique stocks period clothing and trinkets and owner Maha Abdul Rasheed’s own ready to wear collection, which is a throwback to 50s’ glamour.
Both as a photographer and jewelry designer, Nadine Kanso explores ideas of Arab identity and culture. Her jewelry collection, ‘Bil Arabi’ (which means, Ín Arabic’) collection takes inspiration from the Arabic alphabet with words and phrases incorporated into 18 carat gold, and embellished with precious and semi-precious stones. In her second collection, Nadine K complements Bil Arabi with limited edition home accents, clothing and art.
House of nomad
The name of this contemporary fashion label is a nod to the original inhabitants of Dubai, who travelled from one temporary desert dwelling to another. Co founders, Qatari Ahmed El-Sayed & Emirati Saleh Al-Banna typically use a single color for each collection creating sleek collections for men and women including sweaters, skirts and jackets but the main focus is on luxe sportswear.
Saray Couture turbans
This Dubai-based independent label, Saray’s handmade turbans and accessories are influenced by the Arab world’s heritage as well as western vintage style. The Azerbaijani founders of Saray draw inspiration from women who style their ensembles with regal turbans – Sheikha Mozah HH Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned of Qatar, late Elizabeth Tailor and Barbara Streisand have all been fans of headwear.
In their fusion wear collection, Emirati sisters, Hanan and Hessa Ozair, combine local sensibilities and western design. Think abaya-style trench coats and rib cage shrugs. The sisters draw inspiration from art, architecture and sub cultures in the Arab world to produce only five limited-edition pieces of each design.
The UAE has been producing fine pearls for over 7000 years, from a time when free divers would jump off specially made boats with nothing but turtle-shell nose-clips to find pearl oysters. Natural pearls were amongst the country’s biggest exports until the discovery of oil in the 1940s. Now, the industry is seeing a revival thanks to the efforts from RAK pearls Holding, which harvests around 40,000 pearls annually offering treasures from the Arabian Gulf, that are truly unique to the UAE.
Choose from natural Blue Baroque Keshi pearls, the very rare black pearls or the high-quality, iridescent cultivated variety of pearls seen at jewelry brands such as Mouwad.
Kuwaiti perfumer, Mohammad Neemah’s inspiration comes from his travels abroad but his sensibilities are deeply rooted in the Arab world- a characteristic that comes across in all his fragrances.
Some of his bestselling fragrances include ‘Laya’, meaning ‘Lady’, which is inspired by the orient and ‘Chateau Rouge’, which is inspired by stories of a free-spirited Arabian princess. Popular amongst Middle East cognoscenti, Neemah’s fragrances for men and women are also custom made for those who like to personalize their scent or the packaging.
Mastiha Shop – Dubai
Mastiha, a natural and rare tree resin that is native to the Mediterranean region and grows on the Greek island of Chios. It was documented as one of the first natural cooking spices and is a key ingredient in everything from coffee to medicines.
At the shop, you can happily while away a few hours choosing from a variety of mastiha flavored candies, cosmetics, shakes, massage and bath oils.
Camel leather is already known for its character and texture, but Al Khazahnah tannery based in Abu Dhabi aims to take it a few notches up by establishing it globally on par with luxury calf leather. The tannery designs its own handbags, wallets, briefcases, travel bags and accessories in different types of camel leather, including an easily biodegradable variety produced specially by them.
Al Nassma camel milk chocolates
The premium chocolate brand offers the first and finest camel milk chocolate, made in Dubai. Al Nassma describes its chocolates as not overtly sweet, with a hint of caramel and honey along with a mineral touch, which is characteristic of camel milk. The milk is sourced from a local farm where the camels are treated ethically and even given regular pedicures!
Dubai Perfume souk- Deira
No shopping list from Dubai can be complete without the traditional Arabic attar perfume oils from quaint little shops along the bylanes of old Dubai. Beautiful, vintage-style cut-glass containers in different shapes store concoctions of flower-based attar and the popular oud, perfume oil derived from one of the most expensive variety of wood in the world.
Many of these perfumers offer to mix and match oils and scents to customize the fragrance according to the preferences of customers, so you can get yourself a lovely bespoke scent. A must-have for the perfume collection back home, for the unique fragrance and for well, an essence of the UAE.
Sikkat al Khail Road and Souk Deira