The changing shape of regional retail
As cool, premium streetwear continues to grow in popularity in the Middle East, and a massive expat community dominates many markets, retail spaces are popping up that wouldn’t be out of place in the backstreets of London, Berlin or Milan. The world-famous Dubai Mall remains at the epicentre of international and local fashion retail, but a growing consumer base now expects to have the option of a boutique, independent-brand shopping experience that, until recently, was lacking in this region.
Esquire Middle East caught up with Swedish expat Christian Frealdsson, the owner of new retail space Corcel, in the Dubai Design District (d3) to find out if these premises have what it takes to change the retail game.
Describe what you are trying to do with the Corcel store?
I wanted to create a shopping experience that didn’t exist in the region. A clean, good store layout, with good service and an interesting brand mix that changes from season to season. We are basically bringing a whole new shopping experience to Dubai. After looking at many different stores all around the world we want to reach the level of what KITH is for New York or what Colette is for Paris. We want to be the store that people talk about on the flight over to Dubai.
Who is your customer?
Everyone that likes our brands and the aesthetic of the apparel, accessories and footwear we carry.
Is there is a market for premium street- wear as opposed to the traditional luxury brands Dubai has made its name from?
The short answer is yes! I’m sure that people want a different shopping experience. There’s a whole new customer profile that has moved to this region or is moving back from studying in Europe or USA. I also believe that the customer is smarter today and doesn’t want to pay premium prices just because the store is in Dubai or the UAE. If you look at what people are wearing, the fashion scene here today is a mix of luxury and streetwear. It has become a natural thing for people to shop for contemporary, luxury streetwear brands, even if they normally like luxury labels.
How would you describe your personal style?
I think it is low-key, with clean aesthetics, high-quality fabrics and a good fit. It’s a natural mix of contemporary streetwear with more high-fashion pieces. Think Acne Studios mixed with Aime Leon Dore.
What brands do you carry?
We are proud of the brands we currently stock. These include Aime Leon Dore, Wood Wood, Our Legacy, A.P.C, ADYN, Ones Strokes, Stampd, Pigalle, DON Hats, Nike, Adidas Originals, Puma Select, Buddy Happy, Filling Pieces and New Balance. And this is just to name a few.
Are there any target brands you haven’t yet landed?
We would like to carry Off White and 424. They are great brands and would sit well here. We are getting closer to working with them.
What are your favourite pieces or brands that are currently in the store?
My personal favourites are Aime Leon Dore and Stampd for the apparel. For footwear it is probably Buddy Happy and Adidas.
How long before we see an e-commerce site?
Yes, we hope that the site will be up and running soon. This is a crucial part of the overall Corcel retail business strategy.
Where did you shop before you opened Corcel?
For me it was always strictly online or when I travelled.
What challenges have you faced setting up a business in the Middle East?
The biggest problem was finding the right staff. I was very passionate about making sure the staff knew what I was trying to do with the store. The Dubai Design District has supported me in many ways and helped us whenever we needed it, which has been a massive help.
How will we see the Corcel brand grow? What are your next steps towards growth?
We hope to have a couple of shops up and running within the next three years. This will be in the region, of course, but also in other parts of the world. We want to be a strong online retailer. We have plans to build the cafe part of the business and be the place to go to for the best bagels and coffee in the Middle East.
What do you think of the current retail market in Dubai?
The retail market follows the overall economic situation, but I believe that if you buy smart and if you buy quality you can still have a solid customer base. I hope that more standalone stores will open, and more small independents will enter the market. The big groups need to see that we can create a nice shopping experience with small investments. It’s always healthy to have this competition. It makes you better, so I always welcome any newcomers.
How does the region’s retail scene compare to cities like New York, or London or even Copenhagen?
Looking at those cities as a comparison is not really fair. It’s a different market. You have a bigger population with more of a history of fashion and also four seasons per year. It’s also easier to know your customer, how they shop and what trends they are following in the area. Dubai and the UAE is a melting pot of nationalities, backgrounds and styles so it takes more from the stores buyers to get the right models in the store. This is part of the challenge. I believe that Dubai can be the leading fashion hub in the Middle East very soon, but I think we need more standalone stores and smaller outlets within the malls to create that unique shopping feeling and help us get there.
The Corcel store is located in Dubai Design District (d3). Sunday and Monday 10am to 7pm; Friday 10am to 5pm; Saturday 12 noon to 6pm. corcelcollective.com