Dubai and luxury are nearly synonymous. The city is home to the world's tallest tower, massive man-made islands in the shape of palm trees and a fleet of police cars that includes a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and a $US2.5 million ($A2.68 million) Bugatti Veyron.
Now, to boost its glamour factor and economy, the city has its eyes set on the multi-billion-dollar-a-year global fashion industry, which is currently dominated by the US, Europe and Japan.
But in the Middle East, Dubai is the powerhouse, raking in almost half of the region’s market share of retail spending.
As people in other parts of the Arab world grapple with protests, violence and turmoil, Dubai’s modern skyscrapers, over-the-top glitz and flair for opulence provide the well-heeled a seemingly endless supply of indulgence and distraction.
Real estate services firm CBRE ranks Dubai as the second-most important destination for international retailers, after London. A little more than half of all major international retailers have outlets in Dubai, and a third of all luxury spending in the Middle East happens here, according to consulting firm Bain and Company.
But the city’s officials want more. They want Dubai to evolve into a hub of creativity that attracts the region’s best designers.
Construction has already begun on a massive project called the Dubai Design District, or D3. The site is dedicated to the fashion industry and will house design studios, boutique hotels, high-end apartments and, of course, a promenade for shopping.
The first phase of construction on the 1.7 million-square-metre site will cost around $US1 billion and be ready by 2015, said Amina Al Rustamani, CEO of Tecom Investments, which is developing D3.
She says the idea is to bring creative minds together under one umbrella.
“So the idea was like, `OK, why can’t we create a SOHO destination for these designers to be in, one place where you have specific events and activities and promotion for tourists to come and see really what is special that Dubai could offer to them?'”
With foreigners making up roughly 90 per cent of its population, Dubai’s designers say the city is great for new brands and entrepreneurs who want the world to take notice. The port city’s location links trade routes from east to west.
“Dubai is a melting pot. There are over 200 nationalities here, so there’s always a different target audience to cater to without even leaving the country,” said Shaimaa Gargash, one of three Emirati sisters behind the three-year-old fashion label House of Fatam.
Of $US7.6 billion spent in the Middle East on fashion in 2012, just under a third was spent in Dubai alone, according to Bain and Co.