DUBAI — Designers Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, Antonio Berardi and David Koma came together last week on the Palm Island in Dubai to show their full fall runway collections to a select group of women under the umbrella of Suite 1521. The members-only club is bringing its salon shopping experience to the Middle East after its successful debut in New York four years ago.
Customers make individual appointments with each designer and have the opportunity to customize pieces from the collections. “They just finished the shows and are here with their entire collections,” said Ivana Okereke, who partnered with founders Lizzie Tisch and Kim Kassel to take their New York-based concept global, beginning with Dubai. “People here like to have things that no one else has, especially right off the runway. With Suite 1521 they can customize the design so if someone likes a piece, but wants longer sleeves or a shorter or longer length, or a different color, they get the chance to have that really bespoke service. The exciting part is that no one has seen them, they are here for the first time after the runway shows.”
Kassel said, “There is a client here who wants to see something fashionable, different and unique that they will not see in a store. And that they are able to work with designers and talk to them. Clients come in and share their specific needs and get to ask the designers, ‘What should I wear?’ A lot of these women want to know what’s right for them and they want the designer’s opinion, not a salesperson or stylist.”
Suite 1521 has a roster of designers it works with in New York and satellite events in Palm Beach and L.A. Okereke said Rodarte, Berardi and Koma were chosen for their appeal to the Dubai market, but also because they don’t have their own retail outlets in the emirate. “We chose three very different designers who would fit different age groups, different styles and are not in this market,” she said.
“I think it took us about six seconds to get all three of the designers to say yes,” said Kassel. “They are excited about this market and they often don’t get exposure to the clients, so it was nice for them to see what the clients respond to.”
Mulleavy, who was in Dubai for the first time, said: “This is an amazing opportunity for us to understand our clients more in real life. Just the firsthand experience to see things like what the weather is like, what are the women really like here. Nothing beats it.”
She added that clients were not requesting any radical changes to their designs. “We have a lot of clients who care about what we do because it’s very ornate and detail-oriented. There is something about what we make that resonates. People don’t come and completely want to change the vision of what the idea is.”
Berardi said he retails in the United Arab Emirates, but most stores buy one-off dresses because their customers don’t want other clients having the same style. “It’s interesting to see the reaction to the entire collection and how people are coming of their own accord to see and buy what they want directly, rather than just what they see in stores.” He said unlike trunk shows, which present mostly a store buy to customers, “This is like bringing your store to them.” He added that this is a big market for the brand. “Even in London, we have a lot of Gulf customers.”
Every few months Suite 1521 will bring to Dubai a different roster of designers. While the New York location has a permanent physical space, in the Middle East the group will have more of an event concept, taking space in different locations and perhaps exploring different cities in the region.
Membership to Salon 1521 is $1,000 annually. The three highest spenders with each designer will receive an invitation to that designer’s next runway show.
The joint venture between Suit 1521 and Okereke is global. After the Middle East, the group said they are looking to have events with designers in London, Paris and Cannes.
The next event will be in April in Dubai focused on haute couture with designer Giles Deacon. Okereke said they are planning to do four to six events a year with designers.