Hold the front page: Villa Moda has arrived in Dubai - and boy, did they make us wait for it. The Middle East's most important and influential home-grown fashion player bar none, the Kuwaiti boutique has been on the verge of opening in the UAE for the past eight months. With the hugely anticipated DIFC branch originally rumoured to be opening its doors last March but now not slated to launch until the end of the year, and another branch at Dubai Festival City still covered in hoardings, it's been a rollercoaster ride for the excitable fashionistas of the area. And while Sheikh Majed Al Sabah, the owner of Villa Moda, has kept everyone busy with delightful titbits such as the standalone Marni and Dries Van Noten stores, the big topic of speculation has remained the opening of the multibrand shop.
In light of all this buzz, the quiet, fanfare-free launch last week of Villa Moda's first Dubai store came as something of a surprise. An even bigger shock was its location: Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeirah. No one saw that coming. But in fact, it's a canny move. Among the Vegas glitz of the country's most Disney-like hotel and just down the corridor from the hotel's aquarium, The Avenues is a small but perfectly formed shopping mall that caters precisely to the wealthy Arab and European guests of the hotel, with the sporting likes of Lacoste, Vilebrequin and Ondademar, the exclusive eyewear emporium The Counter and jewellery shops such as Chopard and Tiffany & Co, as well as a couple of glamorous restaurants.
It's just the spot for this relatively small branch of Villa Moda, the contents of which have been very carefully tailored to suit its unusual location. The limited collections of men's shirts and ties are fashionable enough to wear to nearby Nobu or Ronda Locatelli, as are the women's "It" dresses, including the yellow Kleber dress from Roland Mouret's sought-after RM pre-fall collection and Jonathan Saunders' exquisitely delicate autumn/winter collection. Liberty of London and Sanchita kaftans (designed especially for Villa Moda) and other exclusives such as the men's 7 For All Mankind jeans that have a special Arabic logo embroidered onto the back pocket, are perfect for European customers looking for a little eastern glamour, and there's a good selection of unusual accessories to glam up the guests' suitcases.
Think of this branch as an exquisite amuse-bouche to whet your appetite for when the main attraction opens at DIFC in a couple of months. Certainly there are many more brands to come in the main stores, including Raf by Raf Simons, Sophia Kokosalaki and Richard James, and the selections will be as extensive as this boutique's are specialised. But the characteristic traits of Villa Moda's other stores - the exclusive collaborations, the quirky brands, the intimate, beautifully designed interior - are all present and correct. To keep you busy for the next couple of months, here's a guide to what you can find in Atlantis now.
There have been few fashion frenzies as sudden and unstoppable as the panic-buying of Roland Mouret's curve-boosting Galaxy dress in 2005 after its multiple red-carpet appearances by va-va-voomsters such as Scarlett Johansson and Rachel Weisz. When, a couple of months into the madness, Mouret walked out of his company due to "differences of opinion", losing the rights to his own name in the process, the fashion world mourned the loss to obscurity of a promising young designer. Luckily, the showbiz impresario Simon Fuller (urged on by Victoria Beckham) came to the rescue. Together they launched 19RM, an umbrella under which they have pursued collaborations as well as starting RM, Mouret's ready-to-wear collection. The designer continues to create hit dress after hit dress, such as the Moon and the Kleber, using origami folds and internal construction to give his devotees neat, 1950s-style hourglass shapes and instant style credibility. Forget the imitators: there's no mistaking a Mouret.
From its early days as an emporium of oriental crafts, through the arts and crafts period with which it is synonymous, to the London store's championing of cutting-edge fashion today, Liberty has always been about mixing exquisite quality with innovation and distinctive design. The Liberty prints have been used and adapted by designers from Yves Saint Laurent to Gap, and its most famous prints, including the iconic Ianthe, now grace the Liberty of London accessories, from colourfully printed leather clutches to embossed leather accessories.
Based in Istanbul, Kuran is a jewellery designer of Turkish and Afghan origin, whose inspiration comes from the jewels of her great aunt, Queen Sorayah of Afghanistan, as well as the civilisations of India, Egypt and Europe. In 22-carat gold, semi-precious stones and gold-plated silver, her earrings, necklaces and cuffs feel almost like archaeological artefacts and remain remote from jewellery trends, which makes them timeless.
A favourite among Hollywood stars in relaxed mode, the Paris-based Marant's delicately Bohemian diffusion line Etoile offers similar low-key ruffles and frills to her main line: it's not high glamour, but you can expect prettily coloured tunics and smocks and chilled-out dresses for chic lounging.
Designed by the former model and fashion buyer Alain Gossuin, who has been feted in the press as the new Hedi Slimane, this simple collection of men's basics aims to return to "the basic function of clothing" while keeping things as modern as can be. The results are refined shapes, exceptional manufacturing quality, luxurious fabrics and elegant, no-fuss silhouettes.
When this stylist-turned-designer leapt to fame as the wife of the hip-hop mogul Damon Dash and creative director of the urbanwear label Rocawear, "subtle" was not the first adjective that sprang to mind. The Manhattan-based Roy's eponymous label, though, which launched in 2006, is almost shockingly chic, with delicate fabrics, warm colours and, this season, demure shapes such as woven pencil skirts and high-necked blouses.
The Colombia-born Ackermann trained in Antwerp at the famous Academy of Fine Art (whose alumni include Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela) and that refined Belgian sensibility is clear in his collections of butter-soft leathers in greys and creams, ruched-at-the-ankle fluid jodhpurs and draped, gathered layers in luscious fabrics, all topped off with angular tailoring. He showed his first own-label collection in 2002 and his gentle, slightly futuristic creations are fashion-industry favourites.
From a shoemaking family in the East End of London, Terry de Havilland created shoes that were adored by movie stars and rock idols in the 1960s and 1970s, with their extravagant colours, towering platform heels, exotic leathers and curlicued patterns. After a hiatus in the 1980s and 1990s, he relaunched his business in 2004, and his designs are no less extravagant than in his heyday. If you're into metallic python, purple suede and sculptural heels, these are for you.
The London fashion darling Jonathan Saunders has gone from fringe fashion to New York favourite in just a few years - he's one of those designers for whom the word "wunderkind" could have been invented. The simple but effective formula of beautiful colours and prints plus always-flattering shapes and beautiful tactile fabrics may not be a typically London approach but it's assured him success. His trademark technique of silkscreening prints specifically to work on the dress patterns is labour-intensive but incredibly effective.
Established in London in 1851, this venerable British brand, like its close contemporary Burberry, made its reputation with high quality trench coats that protected its customers from the British weather (the name comes from the Latin "aqua", meaning "water" and "scutum" meaning "shield"). It also has a trademark check and a long history of classic tailoring. In 2006 the company appointed Kim Winser (formerly of Pringle of Scotland) as CEO and president, revitalising the brand and positioning it as a major luxury player. Since then, its collections have remained classic and understated but with the fashion details and contemporary cuts that make it a real insider's choice.
When, in 2003, Simon Jablon discovered a stash of original shades designed in the 1970s and 1980s by his mother, Linda Farrow, he relaunched the label as Linda Farrow Vintage. A selection of collaborations with slightly left-field designers has ensured the brand's presence in the style press. This collection with the Belgian designer Véronique Branquinho is true to her aesthetic of cool northern colour and masculine detail.
The boys of Proenza Schouler, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, have a reputation in the fashion industry for being unstoppably talented and annoyingly cute. They met at New York's Parsons School of Design and on graduation in 2002 sold their whole collection to Barneys department store. This season's jewel colours, graphic shapes and rich fabrics are more wearable than ever without being boring or classic: the definition of their edgily luxe style.
With a near-monochrome palette and strong, clean shapes, Dice Kayek comes from a tradition of conceptual Turkish designers such as Hussein Chalayan and Rifat Ozbek. The Paris- and Istanbul-based designer Ece Ege launched the label with her sister Ayse in 1993, showing at Paris's Institut du Monde Arabe, and has since gathered fans across the world. Structure and texture are the key themes, with luxurious fabrics contrasting with rigid constructions.
The original purveyor of designer denim, 7 For All Mankind has created a limited-edition men's line for Villa Moda, in the same premium denim but with the 7 logo in Arabic. We love it.
Born in Mumbai, educated in the UK and Austria and trained at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris, Sanchita Ajjampur spent many years designing textiles before launching her own fashion line in 2005. The pieces in Atlantis were designed especially for Villa Moda and combine sophisticated drapery with ethnic beading and embroidery, in rich, vibrant colours.
Another Turkish name, another supercool cutting-edge collection, but this time it's product design rather than fashion. The Istanbul-based founder Gaye Cevikel (it's named for her nickname, Gaia, and her dog, Gino) invites international designers to put their stamp on traditional objects, such as vases and dishes, and the results range from sleekly Arabic to wildly conceptual.
His womenswear label has only been around since 2005, but Phillip Lim is widely loved for his simple, wearable all-American shapes pepped up with quirky details. The men's line, launched in spring 2007, has a similar aesthetic, combining subtle colours and luxurious fabrics. His trademark double-breasted cardigan epitomises that aesthetic, adding old-school blazer detailing to a comfortable, relaxed piece: the sort of clever references that mark out his devotees as being fashionable dandies who don't try too hard.