Stop me if you have heard this one before: "A journalist walks into a boutique to meet a personal stylist..." That is the set-up. The punch line, I hoped, would not be me. My wardrobe is in fine shape, I think, at least for a writer: jeans that fit, shoes that shine, a collection of ties that make me look more important than I am. But I had never had a personal shopper on my side before, and that is why my editor delivered me into the hands of Boutique 1 in Dubai.
"I can tell you have a good handle on style," I was told as I arrived. Instantly likeable, this place. Its personal styling service is the kind of thing usually rolled out for supermodels and superstars, not 32-year-old word jockeys. Yet the shop seemed up to the challenge. The principle, I was told, was to find clothes that made me look great without making me greatly uncomfortable. That was a few minutes before I was handed a sequinned T-shirt.
First, though, I was led through the boutique's labyrinth of high style, from clothes to accessories to housewares to an art gallery. Upstairs, in a sun-splashed white-walled forest of evening gowns, the entrance to the VIP section beckoned. Citrus-scented air, muted lighting, brown-on-beige carpeting, couches, mirrored tiles set in the ceiling, coffee, fresh orange juice, cookies that spelt "B1" - it was truly a place for the very important. But the clothes were the real stars.
My orders were to obtain a stylish summer wardrobe. Beyond that, I was a lanky blank slate. And really, that is the genius of personal shopping: my problem isn't a lack of taste, exactly, but a lack of style vocabulary. Looking good in the summer is about more than just short sleeves, according to the personal shopping team. Even dark jackets, for instance, add style without sweat, as long as they are lightweight. Skip the undershirt and stick with breezy fabrics for collared shirts, or wear a T-shirt - just make sure it stands out with an eye-catching design or clever wordplay. And trousers? Well... I'll get to them.
First, I was coaxed into Diesel jeans, the Costume National sequinned T-shirt - less scary than expected - and a satin-trimmed jacket by Paul & Joe. Finishing the look, in addition to my first encounter with bedazzling, was another first: a white belt by Nigel Hall. My heart was only slightly broken that there were no white shoes grand enough to accommodate my size 15 (US) feet. But we forged ahead. Next came the same jacket over a black shirt by Richard James. The Denim Is Everything jeans were "spray-on denim", I was told, which apparently is fashion code for "walking is painful". A clubby look: fashionable, but not necessarily something I could throw on for an evening of falafel and football.
We finished with my favourite outfit, a lightweight shirt by Daniel Alessandrini, a Richard James suit jacket and Missoni jeans that were tighter than the second pair. Now this was an outfit that would allow me to both dazzle my co-workers and head off into the evening. At an average of Dh4,000 per outfit, though, I remind myself that I am but a humble journalist: I like flip-flops and have no problem eating pickles out of a jar.
But the experience was a good one. Having an expert to hack a path through the fashion jungle makes it relaxing to look good, snug trousers aside. Everyone involved agreed: the Doyle Beautification Project was a success. No joke. To book an appointment with a personal shopper at Boutique 1, call 04 425 7888.
It's easy to look sharp in December: wool suits and strong shirts make great work-to-evening attire. Alas, for now, those are bygone days as the sizzling summer heat makes this look seasonally redundant. My wardrobe, like that of many professionals in the UAE, has to work within certain parameters. I cover the courts and crime for The National, so I am often in and out of court rooms, ministries and occasionally prisons in remote and dusty sites. I need attire that impresses but does not distract; something that could work in a courtroom, the office, survive an occasional 10-minute walk at midday and still dazzle my wife at 7pm for dinner. The UAE is a country where clothes count: social judgments are made based on details as tiny as the type of pen they use, the watch they wear, the symbol on their cufflinks or the brand of glasses. If you want to look top-drawer, you go to a top-drawer store. Tucked away amid the soaring buildings of Jumeirah Beach Residence, Saks Fifth Avenue's menswear store is not a place you stumble upon. This is where some of the UAE's most dapper chaps come to shop by appointment with their personal shopper. They are the kind of retailers whom you might take out for coffee once in a while, so they can learn about your preferred colours, and when those new Gucci shoes come in you're the first person to get the call from the shop. This, then, is where I was dispatched to rediscover my inner swell. Rosane Martins was my guide through the store's delights, based on our discussions about my life in the UAE, what I do for a living, what conditions I work in and how I like to spend my evenings. This wasn't a questionnaire, but an opportunity for her to size me up. "First you start with the suit and then everything will fall into place," Rosane explained. A two-button grey suit from Christian Dior was her first pick and it was precisely what I was looking for. A combination of predominantly silk, wool and polyester, the polyester makes it wrinkle-free and the silk more breathable for such summer days. Which was just as well, given her next diktat: "I know it's hot but you can't wear short-sleeve shirts underneath a suit. That's just the rule," she said. After trying out a few ties, a few shoes, a watch, sunglasses and, of course, evening wear for strolls on the Corniche, I was ready to try on my new wardrobe in a spacious changing room. I tried to ignore the prices, but when I noticed a few of the tags I was relieved: it's sale season, because even though it has barely reached summer here, the autumn/winter collections are about to arrive in the shops. Such is fashion. Martins was right about the suit: turns out the key to a different style is the tie. "A tie can change the entire look of a suit," she says as she places ties over my shirt, giving me options for court, the office, a formal dinner and even a lounge to unwind. Still, I did get distracted from my mission: even though I went in with formal wear on the mind, I walked away with Italian leather Prada shoes and two polos, a navy blue one from Dolce & Gabbana and a yellow one by John Varvatos, thankfully, all in the seasonal sale. To book an appointment with a personal shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue at JBR, call 04 435 5691.