Monday, 31 October 2011

Hello Du-Bye

I touched down in Dubai at around midnight for a Hackett shop opening party the following evening, and the oppressive heat and humidity hit me immediately. Fortunately, the hotel had laid on a limousine into which I scrambled with much relief. The driver deftly handed me a tray laid out with an ice cold towel and chilled energy drink that had been secreted in a fridge under the front passenger seat. It was most welcome and unexpected.

Slumped in the back seat, I was transported quietly and swiftly along vast deserted highways that cut through fantastically shaped skyscrapers. I passed the tallest building in the world, which reminded me of a silver propelling pencil, and a brace of towers that resembled segments of an orange. The people of the United Arab Emirates have carved a skyline from the desert which will become as recognisable as New York or London.

At the hotel my luggage was received with some puzzlement. Was that it? One bag? Indeed it was - I have finally learned how to travel light. I now cram as much as I can into one holdall, in order for it to fit in the overhead locker. Of course, my suits look as though I have slept in them for a week, but with a pressing service available at the hotel it is preferable to hanging around and waiting interminably for the luggage to appear off a halfhearted carousel.

The next day was a busy one with back-to-back interviews. Being well-rested and my suit well-pressed, I was prepared. I waited in the lobby for my car; I couldn’t take the risk of venturing outside into the sauna like heat. Aston Martin once again had come up trumps, laying on a Rapide to whisk me around Dubai during my short stay. It had a tan leather interior and a red exterior unlike any red I had seen before - a sort of red sky at night, it was a delight. The Aston dropped me off at the Dubai Mall, apparently the largest in the world, and where we have opened our shop.

My first interview was with a magazine called Air - aimed at devotees of private jets. I am often asked if I own an Aston. Not yet, I reply, but I am thinking about it. The journalist from Air asked me no such question, and being tactful, he obviously realised I was not in the private jet league. Well, not yet.

Following in the slipstream of Air was an interview with Harpers Bazaar, which wasn't so much an interview as me interviewing one of Saudi Arabia’s most respected fashion designers, Hatem Alakeel. He specialises in the designing of the traditional Thwab. We had great fun discussing how one updates the Thawb, including how he had introduced colour and contrast trims, similar to how we update our shirts. I wondered if they were made from Egyptian cotton, which they are, and also cotton from Italian mills such as Albini, who we use as well. Alkeel said they are never made from silk. I wondered if there was any etiquette regarding the way clothes are worn? It transpires that it is considered modest to wear it slightly shorter while worn longer is a sign of wealth and status and royalty. It just shows, we all have our dress codes.

After several more interviews, all along the usual lines of favourite restaurants, films, books etc. it was back to my hotel to change for the party. It was the first party I had been to where you couldn't drink. Can you imagine that happening in London? Nobody would turn up! As it happens, the Dubai shop was mobbed.

Meeting so many people over the course of the evening, I was tempted to use the Royal Family's stock question "Have you come far?" In this case it seemed everybody had. I wanted to meet someone who actually came from Dubai, which I did eventually: two young guys wearing traditional robes topped with baseball caps. Next time I see them, I hope they will be sporting Hackett tweed caps.

Later, I joined some friends who took me to dinner at their favourite restaurant. I explained that I had dined there that very lunchtime and it now, too, was my favourite restaurant.

I took a commercial flight home - for some inexplicable reason there was no private jet available! I was brought back to earth with a gentle bump courtesy of BA. I shall of course be returning to Dubai in the spring for the Hackett British Polo Day, hopefully coinciding with the delivery of my private jet.

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