The fashion world just got a little bit bigger. When Dubai Mall opened its doors on Tuesday after a series of delays, expectations were riding high, but the hype seems to have been, for once, mostly justified. There are some seriously good boutiques in Fashion Avenue, including the Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad's first stand-alone boutique outside Lebanon and Paris and the first Manolo Blahnik stand-alone store in the Emirates (has a shop ever been more hotly anticipated? We think not).
Still, while we don't want to worry you, there's no getting around the fact that some of those launches that have been feted ahead of the opening have not materialised. If, for example, you were planning to pop down to Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren or Roberto Cavalli at the mall this week, you might be in for a bit of a disappointment. With few retailers willing to commit to a date and the public relations machine in overdrive, the impression that has been given is that Fashion Avenue is already packed with an amazing selection of the world's best labels. That's not quite accurate, however. Eventually, Dubai Mall will be an extraordinary, world-beating shopping centre that will contain major department stores (Galeries Lafayette in February, Bloomingdale's in 2010), Middle East exclusives such as Tom Ford and an exceptional range of other stand-alone stores and concept stores. For now, however, it is merely an excellent mall, with only a few of its 600 shops (half the eventual total) being of major interest to fashionistas.
The hype and bravado of Dubai Mall has somewhat obscured the reality of what's there right now, doing the project a major disservice in the process - because in fact, while a handful of excited fashionistas will be disappointed at being thwarted in their attempts to visit the Galliano store, there's some fantastic shopping to be done here. There are long-awaited accessory stores, like Chloé and Mulberry, and high-end brands that never go out of fashion, such as Pucci and Moschino, as well as the more upmarket high-street brands that have a stake at the mall, including the always-brilliant Banana Republic (we're feeling a very Obama-family vibe in this season's collection), the edgy Reiss, Kurt Geiger and the cooler-than-thou Diesel. And with new stores opening week by week, fashion watchers will enjoy seeing the mall develop as the hoardings come down.
So enjoy the spectacle, watch the fish hunt each other in the aquarium, go ice-skating on the Olympic-sized ice rink and don't forget to buy those Manolos you've been hunting down all year. Here's our pick of what's available to buy right now:
He may have been raised on a banana plantation, but Manolo certainly knows a thing or two about style. He has been turning women's feet into objects of beauty for 30 years, and was Carrie's cobbler of choice in Sex and the City. Cries of "hands off my Manolos" will soon be heard the length and breadth of Sheikh Zayed Road, now that Blahnik is opening his first stand-alone store in the Middle East with his autumn/winter 2009 collection, which has more than a hint of the warrior about it. Expect Samurai masks and hints of medieval armour, set among tartan styles straight from the Scottish Highlands - and, of course, his reinventions of the classic court shoe.
The Beirut-based couture and pret-a-porter designer Zuhair Murad has been showing his intricate creations in Paris for years, and has long been adored by the Middle East's stars, but he has only relatively recently become a port of call for red-carpet dressing in Hollywood. The fabulousness of his evening wear was affirmed once and for all when Beyoncé wore a killer gold satin cocktail dress at Fashion Rocks in New York: body-hugging, scattered with jewels and ramped up with a skirted bustle. The new shop in Dubai Mall is his first outside his home city of Beirut and his showroom just off Paris's Avenue Montaigne. Here, you can find the autumn/winter ready-to-wear collection, as well as a few choice couture pieces. Expect extravagant embellishments, figure-hugging shapes, rich fabrics and ultra-feminine silhouettes.
With her fresh, feminine frocks, Ferretti certainly knows how to make a girl feel pretty. The Italian designer and queen of ethereal elegance has crept rather than leapt up on the fashion crowd, but her simple, elegant designs have created a sizeable following since she opened her first store in New York in 1998. Her autumn/winter 2008 collection is a shift away from her usual frills and tresses, and simple, structured shapes in plain, jewel colours dominate. It may not be controversial or edgy, but for those needing a frisson of classy, feminine froth, you can't do better than this.
The late Franco Moschino established a brand that is adored for its quirky, sometimes surreal take on classic, wearable styles, and Rossella Jardini, the current head of design, has played with this wacky outlook to create consistently witty, irreverent pieces that can be worn any day. Whether it's a beautifully cut little tweed jacket covered in badges or a cutesy black-and-white dress, this is a label for women who don't take life too seriously.
With its modest roots in sleepy Somerset, England, who could have imagined that Mulberry would one day sire a handbag so popular that A-listers would be falling over themselves to be seen with one? The Roxanne and Bayswater rode high on the wave of It-bag mania, a phenomenon which is only now showing signs of abating (luckily, if the It-bag you bought was by Mulberry, it'll be classic and robust enough to hang onto without fear of it dating). Stuart Vevers, the former creative director, is widely credited as the man responsible for the brand's transformation from "British heritage" to "luxury must-have" brand. An expansion into womenswear, menswear and more recently, footwear, has been met with critical success, but it is still its bags that cause the stampedes.
The Parisian fashion house occupies a soft spot in the heart of many a fashionista, largely thanks to Phoebe Philo, who breathed a new lease of life into its wardrobe during her five year stint as the creative director from 2001 to 2006. The name behind several of the last decade's defining styles (remember those wooden wedges? Or those high-waisted jeans?) has since moved on, but its first collection under Hannah Macgibbon was well-received for its fresh outlook on the brand's classics. Its handbags are also among the most coveted in the industry, with the Paraty and Irina styles available in-store now.
Famous for their vivid stripes and zigzag stitching, Missoni have proved that an instantly recognisable look can transcend the whims of seasonal trends. The Italian family-run dynasty - one of the few remaining fashion houses yet to be snapped up by a global conglomerate - now incorporates three generations: the grandmother Rosita oversees Missoni home collection, her daughter Angela is the creative director of womenswear, her son Luca designs menswear, while Angela's daughter Margherita is the brand's "muse", as well as the face of its two fragrances. The autumn/winter catwalk collection shifted the focus away from knitwear while still constituting the core of the brand. The new store will stock the womenswear, menswear and accessories collections.
The venerable Italian leather goods brand, established in 1927, turned itself around a few years ago to become the go-to label for vivid, bright and beautifully put-together bags and belts. Now, its most covetable shapes - including the Clara, from Dh2,600 - are found all over the world and appeal to the in-the-know buyer who is more interested in leather quality and gorgeous style than in having logos and monograms all over her bag.