x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Never knowingly underdressed …

The day a club doorman took a dim view of his outfit and turned him away, Mohammed al Balooshi learnt the power of fashion. The businessman has been turning heads ever since.

Bling is the thing … the style icon Mohammed al Balooshi dazzles in red inside his shop Gizia in Dubai Mall. He spends an average of Dh10,000 a week on clothes.
Bling is the thing … the style icon Mohammed al Balooshi dazzles in red inside his shop Gizia in Dubai Mall. He spends an average of Dh10,000 a week on clothes.

DUBAI // Seventeen years ago, Mohammed al Balooshi was turned away by a New York club bouncer. His outfit, the doorman told him, was not sufficiently impressive.

"The club was 40/40 - Jay-Z's club - and people were coming in limos, with beautiful girls, all in suits and bling," the Emirati says. "I came to the door, and the bouncer - four times my size - stopped me and said they had no vacancies.

"I said I didn't want a job, I wanted to go in, but he said: 'No, look at yourself and these people. You have to be dressed to impress.'"

Ten years later, Mr al Balooshi went back to the same club in a rented Bentley, dripping in bling, determined that this time he would not be turned away. He was not.

"He [the bouncer] came and rushed to open my door and let me in. I said: 'Do you remember me? You said to me 10 years ago I need to dress to impress.' He said: 'I do not remember'.

"At that moment, I knew your dress is your address."

Since that day, Mr al Balooshi, known as the king of style, has always succeeded in turning heads everywhere he goes.

"If you dress up and go to the mall, if six heads don't turn, then go home and change," he says. "If you don't turn heads, you are not very stylish."

Despite failing to impress the doorman the first time, Mr al Balooshi insists his love for fashion kicked in at the age of 10.

"Since I was 10 I was very fussy," he says. "My khandoura had to be very nice and clean and long. When I was 15 in high school I wanted to show off, for friends you have to look different.

"There were no girls - if there were girls I would have grown wings!"

By the time he reached his 20s, his fascination with hip-hop had led him down a road of bling and brands.

"I don't copy their [hip-hop singers'] style - tattoos and bad words - you have to be better than them. I take my style from them, but my real style is from the 1950s. I am my own icon."

After earning his master's degree in business in the US, he headed back to the UAE, and with an Indian business partner opened the Golden Fork restaurant.

"It was a very small restaurant with only 12 tables," he says. "We opened on July 11, 1986 at 7pm - that is why seven is my lucky number."

Twenty-two years later, they had opened 24 restaurants across the country. "That is what I call success."

By 2004, he was tiring of the restaurant business. "Dubai is getting younger, why should I be old?" he says. "People want to eat in malls and they want to buy from malls. The restaurant business is very hard. The more it grows, the harder it gets. So I said, let me do something else, not work hard, but work smart."

With that thought, he opened a ladies' fashion franchise, Gizia, at Dubai Mall in 2008.

Today, the 42-year-old businessman owns 100 suits, 250 pairs of shoes, 200 ties and 75 pairs of sunglasses - all by top designers. He spends an average of Dh10,000 a week, and for special occasions that can hit Dh25,000.

"In dressing up, I have four moods: happy, business, normal and angry. White is when I want to be gentle. Pink means I am in a very good mood and will throw big money in the mall. And for meetings, all black."

His wardrobe, he says, is bigger than his wife's, and he admits he shops more than her.

His son and daughter, too, are in love with designer labels. "My daughter is more stylish. Bless her husband, 24/7 she's shopping, she needs a rich husband."

The one thing he rarely gets the chance to do is dress down - if for no other reason than the rumours of bankruptcy or bereavement it triggers. "I can't wear normal. I come to the mall fully loaded or people wouldn't recognise me."

The only exceptions are during Eid and with his family on Fridays. Then, he says, "I wear the khandoura out of respect for my family and culture".

His family, he admits, have tried to talk him out of his pimped-out style. "My brother says I look like a foreigner, as in not Muslim," he says. But he is resolute.

"If one wears trousers, it will not affect the population. Dressing up is my love, my life, my hobby. If you have money you should spend 75 per cent of it."

"A lot of people talk bad about me, but more talk good. Many wish to dress like me or dress as they like, but they are shy. Me, I don't care who's watching me.

"I love myself, and I love my style. If you don't love yourself, you will not love anybody."

But the words of that bouncer, all those years ago, have stayed with him. He is planning to launch a new personal styling consultancy. Its name: Dress to Impress.

"There are two kinds of people: people who like style and buy randomly and those who love style and choose very carefully.

"You have to dress to kill."