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04 March 2024

Party dress bonanza

By Georgie McCourt



As festive shopping sends cash registers ringing across shops around the world, fashion retailers are among those looking for a piece of the action. From designer to high-street, insiders say fashion is big business, especially this time of the year – and the stores in the UAE are no exception.

“I think a lot of people shop in anticipation that the best pieces will be gone by mid-December,” says Sam Safavi, the personal stylist at Boutique 1, a high-end fashion emporium in Emirates Towers. “Women are prepared to pay a bit more during the festive season and invest in something fabulous for a New Year’s Eve party or a special wedding.”

In 2003, womenswear accounted for 59 per cent of the apparel retail market in the United Kingdom. Next year, it is estimated to be worth £22.2 billion, an increase of 9.6 per cent in just five years. While there are no official statistics yet in the UAE, top fashion buyers say stocks are selling – and fast. What’s more, sales of these glittering ball gowns and sparkling stilettos, they say, is no longer limited to the festive season. “We sell our dresses year-round. The wedding season started at the end of Ramadan so recently I’ve been styling a lot of my VIP clients in ball gowns,” says Boutique 1’s Safavi, whose job includes jetting around the Gulf bearing a selection of Oscar de la Renta and Elie Saab gowns to her fashionable clients.

Zayan Ghandour, the head buyer at S*uce, in the Village Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road, says her creations sell all year round. “There is an event on almost every day of the week so our customers constantly need new dresses,” she says. “The festive season is just another reason to go out and shop for more.”

Kim Bynoe, International Business Manager – Middle East for retail giant Debenhams, agrees. “There is no significant uplift in unit sales during the festive season. However, there is an uplift of about 12 per cent in sales value because winter dresses tend to be more expensive than summer ones,” she says.

“The peak for Debenhams is early spring in preparation for the Dubai races. There are so many corporate and local events in the UAE which drives the demand for occasion wear.”

Debenhams’ two departments dedicated to dresses called Debut and Special Occasion Designers, feature names such as Ben Di Lisi, Julien MacDonald and Pierce Fionda.

But as exquisite and gorgeous as they come, these classy designer gowns do not come cheap. And if you want to go really high end to get that designer look, expect to cough up anything upwards of Dhs10,000.

A case in point is the Chloe shift dress covered in sequins and jewels, which sports a Dh17,000 price tag. “After actress Sarah Michelle Gellar wore it, we’ve already sold two of them,” says Boutique 1’s Safavi. “There’s only one left hanging on the shop floor.” Clearly, for a lot of women in the UAE, money does not seem to be an issue when it comes to the perfect seasonal attire.

Stores such as Boutique 1 and Harvey Nichols, destinations for high-end shoppers in the emirate, have recently opened their online shopping sites to contend with continued sales increase year-on-year.

Meanwhile, online designer clothes retailer Net-a-Porter has created a special ‘Santa’s Helper’ department to attract festive shoppers. Most men would agree that spending a few minutes on the internet certainly beats traipsing around one of the Emirates’ busy malls surrounded by women in search of the perfect party dress.

Debenhams’ Bynoe says her store is already preparing to launch its Special Edition dresses designed for “prom” events for their Spring Summer 2008 collection.

But even as recent figures from the London Retail Consortium showed that sales soared by 11 per cent in October, not all retailers are seeing similar results. Mid-range clothing store Next recently revealed it had a disappointing October and warned of “uncertain” prospects for Christmas. Other chief executives in the UK and US are also saying the second half of 2007 has included some of the toughest trading conditions for years.

Meanwhile, Safavi dismisses some shoppers’ reactions to warm, winter coats and boots being inappropriately displayed on shelves in Dubai malls. Doesn’t the city only ever get cold enough for a light jacket or cashmere cardigan? “You need to remember, women in Dubai are globetrotters,” she says. “Yesterday a client called me asking for an entire winter wardrobe. She’s going to a ski resort in France with her husband so needs to have all the right clothes.”

But for those women staying in the UAE this party season, the perfect dress for New Year’s Eve would be short and sparkly, says Safavi. “...a Matthew Williamson sequin shift dress, killer patent heels by Pierre Hardy and a sparkling clutch – perfect.” For S*uce’s Ghandour, it’s “a cute dress and a drop-dead gorgeous pair of shoes in a bold, funky colour. Clutch bag optional”.

So if you are still hunting for that perfect dress, here are some options that might set you back a bit (looking fab doesn’t come cheap) but will make you the belle of the ball.

Little black book

Doris Dulce (04 348 8724)

This new boutique is filled with fabulous creations for all occasions.

Harvey Nichols (04 409 8888)

Harvey Nichols is a treasure chest – think Narciso Rodriquez, Oscar de la Renta and many more.

S*uce (04 344 7270)

A mix of local and international designers, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store here.

Boutique 1 (04 330 4555)

The best boutique in Dubai. If you want the perfect party dress, you will find it here.

Ginger & Lace (04 368 5109)

Plenty of pretty party dresses from up-and-coming as well as established names.