Battle of the Concept Stores

The definition of a concept store is an eclectic haven for the interaction and fusion of fashion, design, art, photography music, and technological breakthrough.

Or, in short, it’s Colette. Opened in 1997, Colette is far from the first concept store, yet it may arguably be the most famous. With a cult following that drives thousands each year to make the pilgrimage to the three-story design utopia on Paris’ chic Rue Saint-Honoré, it’s no wonder so many have tried to harness the power of the concept store.

Unfortunately, most have failed. Their nonfulfillment comes in the form of a single shortcoming that is also the greatest challenge for these boutiques: to constantly reinvent itself through unique themes, exclusive designer collaborations and boundless creativity.
While Europe has mastered the concept (for better lack of a word) behind the concept store, the Middle East is eagerly venturing to follow suit. With young Arab fashion trends mimicking the cutting-edge cool of street wear and the quirky gadgets that go with it, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are cementing their statuses as fashion-forward nuclei with their very own interpretations of these treasure troves of all things design.

But, how do they stack up to one another? Which store has garnered more street cred with its underground brands and unique gifts and gadgets?
The answer is easy: The one that has sent me better freebies! Just kidding! In truth, to become the ultimate concept store in the Middle East and reach the ranks of such legends as Dover Street Market in London and 10 Corso Como in Milan, it requires more than a contemporary lifestyle boutique with vogue fashion, sleek home accessories and emerging brands. Below, we judge, scrutinize and praise the region’s creative efforts in the first ever: Battle of the Concept Stores!

Best For: Apparel with an edge for the bold fashion icon!
Interior: All is dandy from the outside looking in; LIFE gets props for its radical window displays, but once inside, claustrophobia may hit! Yet, we must still give kudos for how they’ve managed to constantly manipulate the small interior — even going back to the Stone Age for Jeremy Scott’s Flintstones-inspired collection a year ago. But, we definitely think it’s time for a move and some needed expansion!
Pros: The eldest of the bunch, LIFE has years of seniority and experience over its counterparts. And, with experience comes refinement. They may not have gotten it right at first, but now, the boutique has two branches and an eclectic stock list of the cutting-edge and emerging designers, thanks to their buyer who obviously lives LIFE!
Cons: Warning: Getting that kind of privileged selection doesn’t come cheap! Walking into LIFE, one is likely to walk out a lot more fashionable, albeit a little bit poorer. Thus, this store is really for the shopper whose fashion-conscious and not price-conscious. But, who ever said being a trendsetter came cheap?
Brands: BBC + Ice Cream | Back by Ann Sofie Back | Jeremy Scott | JC/DC | Retrosuperfuture Sunglasses
Location: Jeddah and Riyadh (

Best For: Funky gifts for your friends who appreciate a good laugh and great design!
Interior: With the brain behind MTV Arabia’s creative department as its owner and keeper, The Zoo is a designer’s paradise. Sinks act as shoe cubbies and Baroque frames act as product display cases, transforming the space into a funky, hipper version of Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
Pros: Despite overt signs warning against it, every child wants to pet and feed the animals when visiting the zoo. Luckily for us, this Zoo encourages its patrons to play and interact with the cool gadgets and quirky home accessories, bringing out the disobedient child in all of us. You may walk in with the intention to just browse, but you’ll leave with sarcastic hand soap, an ice cube tray of handguns and tons of other unnecessary items that are too cool to pass up! And, with the affordable prices, there really is no reason to say no.
Cons: At this moment, The Zoo still has a way to go, but make no doubt about it; this is the store to look out for! The Zoo’s philosophy and design backbone make it one of the strongest of the four, but it’s still new to the scene and needs a little more tending in terms of apparel. We’d love to see a little more focus put into their buying with recommended visits to trade shows in London, Berlin, LA and Las Vegas as a must!
Brands: Suck UK | Fred & Friends | Jinga Footwear | Hollywood And Vain | Mia By Mia  | Nisbet
Location: Dubai (Facebook: The Zoo Concept)

Best For: Awesome T-shirts for your boyfriend and the guy you’re cheating on him with!
Interior: The Q Store in Jeddah is one of the largest of the four, making it the perfect venue to exhibit all the wonders of the design world. Highlights include Rubik’s Cube stands for their mannequins, frames hung on the wall to showcase their expansive collection of T-shirts’ prints and large-scale injections of local pop art.
Pros: The experience that comes with being owned by one of Saudi’s largest luxury retail holding companies is definitely a big plus! A strong inventory and appropriate pricing makes the store one of the most accessible and we foresee branches Gulf-wide in Q’s future. Rubaiyat’s dive into the underground scene is a welcomed addition to the Saudi market where the “youth in revolt” prefer to voice their teenage angst on their shirts!
Cons: Only a month old, the store is still new and hopefully, the future will bring in a lot more experimentation. Right now, they are strong in selection and their T-shirts seem to be a hit with the shabab in Jeddah and Riyadh. Yet, to become a fully matured concept store, this youngling needs a bit more independence and a lot more artistic assertion to give it the bump it needs to go from a Saudi Urban Outfitters to a Saudi Dover Street Market!
Brands: Exact Science | Bulzeye Clothing | Five Crown | Last Hold | Local Celebrity
Location: Jeddah and Riyadh (Facebook: Q-Store KSA)

Best For: Regionalized items for the global fashionista!
Interior: S*uce has over three branches, all with the same feminine touch. Unfortunately, S*uce’s interior is one of the areas the boutique fails. While the boutiques are very shopper friendly, they lack the designer experimentation we love to see out of a concept and lifestyle store.
Pros: Where S*uce lacks in interior, it makes up with its curated mix of unique pieces by emerging regional designers, limited edition collections from contemporary international brands and diffusion lines, as well as trendy lifestyle items and home accessories. S*uce also sponsors special design projects, as well as hosts workshops and events, making the boutique double as a social powerhouse where design junkies of all walks congregate in the name of fashion!
Cons: The fashion style sometimes borders the old souk, resembling one of the many Beirut boutiques in Solidaire rather than an international concept store. More like Beirut’s Cream and less like Paris’ Colette, the stores definitely need to up the ante in terms of design boldness. We love the fact that it supports local and regional designers, but it often lacks the refinement of a sophisticated buyer.
Brands: Sugar Vintage| Essa By Sophie | Preen | Mary Katrantzou
Location: Dubai and Abu Dhabi (

Article by Marriam Mossalli – Arab News