“No kissing or overt displays of affection,” warns a sign on Dubai Mall’s glass doors. “Please wear respectful clothing. For example, shoulders and knees should be covered,” it adds. The world’s largest shopping mall is a rarefied environment, and can afford to be choosy.
The day I visited, the ground level was a mass of screaming, writhing school children from what looked like a very privileged local international school. The food court (Nandos etc all) was packed and tourists – many with their shoulders and knees well and truly uncovered – were queuing impatiently to go up the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, set to one side of Dubai Mall.
Yet go one floor up, and it’s a serene scene of sheiks sipping lattes in the Armani/Dolce café or next door at its rival Fauchon café. The clients here hadn’t been dosing themselves in duty-free perfume. These guys own their own bottles, and the dishdashas (men’s robes) were sparkling white, their wives in chic black abayyas with seriously big, dyed hair making their heads appear disproportionately large beneath beautifully swathed scarves, eyes black with expensive cosmetics.
We popped into the Armani hotel, also linked to the mall, to be harangued by a man hired surely for his cheekbones alone. He stared icily at our non-designer gear, eyebrows almost making his St Tropez tanned brow move when he saw Parisian cigar journalist Philippe’s leather sandals. Quelle horreur! We had a chat, a perfect coffee and some gold-studded chocolates before being carefully ushered past the anaemic, anorexic Russian girls splayed artfully around the foyer and back outside.
Armani, all was nearly lost, redeemed only by Eli, an Armani lifestyle manager. Some might call him a concierge. Or a butler, even. But no, this is Armani, so he’s a lifestyle manager. He spilled the good oil on the US$800/night hotel, with its American satin walls, Canadian marble, Ivory Coast wood and Spanish stone. “There are no mirrors, no paintings. The walls themselves are pieces of art,” he told us. They surely must have mirrors in the staffroom so our first icy host could practice his little moue of discontent.
Cunning Philippe pulled out his broken pen to make notes, knowing full well Eli would offer him his Armani pen, which turned out to be plastic. Functional, but still plastic. An elegant shrug of his Armani-clad shoulders, all was forgiven, and we trotted off once again into the melee of Dubai shopping.