Mahani: Dubai's first fashion concept store 02.10.13

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"My brief was to provide the antithesis of the slick retail experience you find in Dubai," says London-based designer Faye Toogood on her design for Mahani, the first fashion concept store in the United Arab Emirates. "The most difficult thing was getting the contractors to resist finishing everything off to a high polish."

The shop interior – comprising a raw concrete floor, metal geometric clothes rails and mesh shelving – may not look out of the ordinary to Western shoppers, but what is interesting about this project is its context. Situated in The Boulevard, a retail complex in one of the Emirates Towers, "it's in the middle of a traditional shoppers' paradise, surrounded by shops that celebrate luxury as excess," Toogood says.

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The only way to react and create an impact, she says, was to "strip right back and return to point zero". No surprise, then, that she found the modernist movement a fitting reference point: the chandelier – a glass dome with bulbs protruding from its surface – pays tribute to Italian architect Achille Castiglioni's Taraxacum 88 pendant, while the scalloped door handles directly reference a design by German architect Gottfried Böhm. "References are a big part of my work," Toogood says. "The fact that these references are not relevant here makes the space feel even more unsettling."

Mahani sells a carefully edited range of clothes and accessories from avant-garde designers such as Christopher Kane as well as young unknowns. The store's founder, Farah Taqi, says she was driven by a desire to create a platform for emerging designers in the Emirates. "Most people said it wouldn't work," she says. "I expected expats to like it – but actually Dubai is ready for this. We've only been open for three months, and we're doing very well with locals too. And people are coming here to hang out, which is what I wanted – a museum for fashion, in a way."

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This editorial approach is visible as soon as shoppers walk into the space: "They instantly hit a catwalk, where live shows will take place," Toogood says. "There's a strong theatrical element, which gives people new reasons to come into the store, and not shop online. I think this is my job, as a designer." At the back, catwalk shows and films are beamed on to the wall by a projector. There's a corner for books and magazines on fashion, and a cafe with a menu by Italian food design studio Arabeschi di Latte, which serves up dishes inspired by each fashion season's themes. Taqi originally wanted to locate Mahani outside of the malls, but while she realised that this was a risk too big, she is sure that moving out of shopping centres is the next step for retail in Dubai. "It will change the way people use the city," Toogood says. "And help sub-cultures to develop."

 

Image

Studio Toogood for Mahani Fashion, Dubai. Photography by Rory Millingen.

 

Words

Anna Bates

quotes story

There's a strong theatrical element, which gives people new reasons to come into the store, and not shop online

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