BUNNYSHOP is my shopping and fashion blog. Real Simple named it one of the six best in that category, while NYLON recommended it in their regular “Log On” column in August 2008. We regularly work with retailers like Ralph Lauren, Kiehl’s, Shopbop, Madewell 1937, Tarte, Jocasi, and others; we weclome inquiries regarding potential editorial coverage and advertising opportunities.
Bunnyshop can be found at bunnyshop.org. Below is a sample post—this one, reporting on the shopping scene in the United Arab Emirates.
I have come to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, in search of the quintessential Arabian shopping experience: I want centuries-old souks, gold sellers and rug dealers lording over warrens of little shops. "I want to go shopping," I say to the concierge at the Beach Rotana Hotel, a tidy resort on the Arabian Sea. "I want to go to the souk."
"You want to go the mall?" he says, pointing vaguely across the hotel's lobby, which is filled with bored American wives and, I have been told, the prostitutes who have landed high-visibility jobs playing the flute and piano for dishdash-wearing businessmen.
I wouldn't even have to brave the 110-degree heat to get to the adjoining Abu Dhabi mall, with its KFC and Hardee's and a Starbucks I have already visited three times; in a few weeks, a Cold Stone Creamery will open across from the Baskin Robbins \ Dunkin Donuts. Foreign brands—not just American but pan-European; there is a Mango, a Debenhams, a Massimo Dutti—seem not to have intruded upon local ones as much as they have decimated them. Homegrown goods are evidenced only in a handful of shops, notably La Reine, which is filled with the loveliest abayas I have ever seen: flowing black gowns with Swarovski crystals embroidered around the cuffs or with gold thread sewn across the bodice. But I have already been to the mall a half-dozen times. I grew up in New Jersey. I did not fly 17 hours to see a mall not quite as good as Short Hills and slightly better than Livingston.
"No," I say. "The Iranian souk."
"The Iranian souk?" the concierge, Amin, repeats. "It's very far." He measures out a distance on the map that, according to the scale, looks less than a mile from the hotel.
It is hot, but not, on this day, any hotter than New York, and I am tiring of this advice, which I suspect is given only to women. "Will I die?" I say.
"No, no, it's very safe," Amin says. "But please take a cab."
I do, realizing too late that the meter has never been switched on. I pay twice the expected fare ("Whatever makes you happy, lady," the driver says as I shove the money at him) and find myself in a covered flea market where the dominant wares appear to be flower pots and brooms. I'm not even sure I'm actually at the Iranian souk—the pictures in my guidebook were of spices, not brooms—when I decide to walk back: It is, pleasingly, a faster, prettier walk than I had anticipated, one that leads to the Corniche along the sea. In minutes I am back in the air-conditioned confines of the Abu Dhabi Mall, waiting on line for today's Frappuccino, wondering if Sex and the City is playing alongside Indiana Jones at the third-level cinema or if the cultural censors—who have already blacked-out a pair of bare breasts in my British Elle—took one look at the title and broke early for dinner.
* * *
Abu Dhabi is only around 90 miles from its sleeker, chicer counterpart, Dubai, a giant construction pit of a city: Around one-third of the world's cranes are at work here, some on the Burj Dubai, potentially the world's tallest building when it's completed 2009. (Its projected finished height is secret.) I see no Priuses on the jammed, malevolent roads surrounding the city—notably the Sheikh Zayed, which rather magnificently bisects a valley of hotels and unfinished skyscrapers—but then, with gas around $2 a gallon, there seems to be little need for them. Air-conditioned bus shelters belie a desperate need for public transport: Armies of immigrant labor, largely from Pakistan and India, cram on to buses leading either toward or away from 24-hour construction sites.
Dubai is what happens when virtually unlimited wealth meets relentless marketing: Every new housing development or improbably green golf course "is poised to become a stunning landmark on the skyline of Dubai" (the Trump International Hotel & Tower) or offers "a delightful combination of three developments: Maple, Magnolia and Mulberry." If American developers have historically invoked the natural features their property has just destroyed (Pretty Oaks Mall, etc.), their UAE counterparts invoke those same features—flora and fauna more familiar to a Vermonter than an Emirati national. Of course, the expat population in Dubai is 80% of the whole—so perhaps maples and magnolias are just as appropriate as dwarf mangroves and acacia trees.
The marketing hyperbole extends to Dubai's malls: the Mall of the Emirates, the "world's first shopping resort," is the biggest in the Middle East, satisfying undiscriminating expats with not just a Borders and (two) McDonald's—which advertises itself as "the taste of home in Dubai"—but a roller coaster, a "dancing waters" fountain complete with fire feature, a five-star Kempinski hotel, and an actual skiing facility, Ski Dubai, with five slopes and "the world’s first indoor black run". What looks massive from Sheikh Zayed Road—a tilted gray slab lifted into the air by two square pillars—is more puzzling within, a showier, snowier riff on the incongruous patches of scrabbly green grass that line the access roads surrounding the airport: the effect is more "We did it" than "We did it in a particularly nice and inviting way." Regardless, the slopes are packed each of the three times I visit the mall over a few hot June afternoons: on the first, a class of children in the complex's matching blue-and-red snowsuits mill between life-size statues in a training area, while tourists take their pictures through the heavily insulated windows.
The Mall of the Emirates is the first I've visited that includes a code of conduct on its directory hand-out: prescriptions against revealing knees and shoulders as well as "overt displays of affection". (The accompanying graphic shows a man-shape and a woman-shape holding hands, and a red slash through them.) The crowd is more international than its counterpart at the Abu Dhabi Mall, meaning that for every abaya there is a pair of capri jeans, which seem to honor the letter if not the spirit of the provision. The atmosphere here is more spend-y as well: the ground level in Abu Dhabi housed the Abu Dhabi Co-op Hypermarket, selling groceries and TVs, like an oddly down-market Walmart; there is a sizable Carrefour here, but the vibe is more accurately conveyed by Via Rodeo, the small, high-end wing featuring Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce and Gabbana, YSL—and curiously no Fendi, which seems to be the handbag of choice amongst the women wearing the most elaborate abayas. (I count four in the sprawling accessories department at Harvey Nichols, where the chief attraction seems to be a wall of gorgeous Celine patent leather bags.)
It is difficult to locate much here that could not be purchased, more cheaply, at home, or at Galeries Lafayette, or on a London high street: the dirham is pegged to the dollar, so less capable of breaking an American's heart than the pound or Euro, but there seems to be little point in buying H&M here, or Reiss, or BCBG. If the mission is to locate the authentic Emirati shopping experience, this spectacular ersatz may be, in its way, it: "Everyone shops here," one woman says, as I pay for my copy of Brownbook, an excellent art and culture magazine produced in Dubai. "Or at the other malls." There are many: Mercato Mall, Wafi Mall (with a new pan-Arabian souk), Deira City Centre, and two poised to overtake even the Mall of the Emirates in terms of space and spectacle: the Dubai Mall (world's largest: mall, gold souk, aquarium), opening in August, and the Mall of Arabia (world's largest: mall, Starbucks), debuting in 2010. I go to Forever 21, with, apparently, every American girl between the ages of 12 and 15 whose parents are stationed here, and buy a knee-revealing pair of shorts and a shoulders-revealing top. My knee-jerk position is that if I can buy a garment at a particular shopping center, I should be able to wear it anywhere within that particular shopping center, which I do, and which is probably not worth the ensuing discomfort.
Before arriving in Dubai, my shopping heart had been set on a single destination: Naif Souk, only because a local designer had recommended it as a place to pick up fabric. It burned down in April; a plan for a redeveloped, air-conditioned update circulated soon after, an event met with some local consternation: "I'm not a conspiracy theorist so I didn't wonder about a complex architectural design being created and finished in about three days after the fire, and everything in place, such as contractors, to be able to confirm that it would be built in six months. A conspiracy theorist might think that it was all in place before the fire," read one of several similarly minded comments on a blog called Life in Dubai. The authentic experience of a place—shopping or otherwise—is typically bound up in the historical one: What is truly of this place? Here, the notion of authenticity feels flipped on its head. The covetable experience here is unlikely to be the newest, most fake, most plastic, most unlikely—something other than the gold bracelets or spices of the souks: In its own, ironic right, I'm not sure there is a more authentically Dubai purchase to make than a pair of Forever 21 shorts I have been specifically warned against wearing in the building where they were purchased.