When Boutique 1 opened its new Concept Store in the high-rise surrounds of JBR at the end of last year, it was easy to think that this was just another shiny high-end retail space in a city already swimming in them. But in the few short months since its doors first swung open, the shop has proved itself to be rather more than just a pretty space.
From its sleek café to its thoroughly modern furniture gallery, its model of high-end destination shopping has been very much realised, but it’s the opening of Boutique 1 Gallery, the brand-new onsite art gallery, that has served to mark the store out from the retail pack.
Multi-concept stores are nothing new – shops such as Five Green have long sold prints and artworks alongside its clothing brands and no less than the grande dame of Dubai’s department stores, Harvey Nics, is gearing up to host the works of popular British artist Patrick Hughes later this month. Boutique 1 Gallery, however, stands apart. This is no mere shop with a few strategic pieces dotted about its interior, but a proper, dedicated, stand-alone art space within the store.
Indeed, Fadi Mogabgab, the Lebanese curator and gallerist who was handpicked to head up the space, isn’t interested in just putting pretty pictures up on a wall. ‘Art should not be at the same level as fashion,’ he states. ‘Art is supposed to be the source of the fashion; it’s supposed to be the inspiration. Art is supposed to last forever and fashion is something that is seasonal. We’re here to bring something extra, something that is outstanding.’
Strong words. And, on paper at least, potentially contrary ones too, when you consider that Boutique 1’s bread and butter is high fashion. But enter the space – at roughly 70sqm, much smaller than your average art gallery – and, as Mogabgab points out, the shift in lighting and mood makes you instantly feel like you’re
in a gallery, not a shop.
‘There are no rules that say that you have to be at the fifth floor or over 200sqm,’ he says in a nod to Dubai’s tendency to situate galleries in hotels, towers and the roomy warehouses of Al Quoz. Rather, he points out, in what he thinks may be a first for Dubai, ‘We are the only gallery or art space – and we’re not selling posters here, I mean art gallery – that has windows out onto the street.’ This is important, he continues, because it means they invite direct contact with the public – those who wouldn’t necessarily seek out a gallery, as well as those who would.
What really matters, however, and the factor upon which all galleries remain open or are forced to close, is the standard of Boutique 1 Gallery’s shows. Mogabgab insists that he selects by quality rather than medium or style and the galleries high-calibre, if eclectic roster would seem to bear this out. The current exhibition (they change monthly around the middle of each month), for example, features works by Lebanese photographer Joanna Andraos, while mid-February sees a selection of original engravings and prints by the likes of 20th century modern masters Juan Miro and Alexander Calder.
And Mogabgab’s response to those who are still to be convinced that high art and high fashion can successfully sit side by side? ‘When you are a good gallery,’ he reiterates with passion, ‘there are no rules.’