'A classic piece will match anything'

The key to looking special in the MIddle East, given the ubiquitous abaya, is accessorising, says Salama Alabbar, the owner and buyer of Marami in Dubai Mall.

Salama Alabbar at her store Marami in the Dubai Mall.
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Salama Alabbar, the owner and buyer of the accessories store Marami in Dubai Mall, talks about her life in fashion. When I was younger, I was really not into fashion. My sister used to wear this crazy silver lipstick - it was very 1990s - but I wasn't interested. Then suddenly one day I had a problem and I just felt like letting go. I went and bought a bag from Louis Vuitton and I've been a shopaholic ever since. It was the turning point.

Because in the Emirates we wear abayas, accessories come out the most. That's why we love the bags, the shoes, the bracelets... We have a lot of department stores, but accessories are important. Sometimes you are wearing something really simple, but if you add some accessories it changes your whole look. My sisters are not as into fashion as I am now. They used to be the fashion girls when we were younger, but now I'm really the one into it, reading all the fashion magazines and all about the business of fashion.

I really like to wear Paul & Joe. For more everyday use I really love Chanel - it's very classy, very feminine. Right now I also like Temperley. We own a Temperley franchise. It was my first venture into fashion. Before that I used to work in an accounting firm. I studied accounting and it was a given that I'd work in a firm. I did well but I didn't really like what I was doing. My father helped me out, gave me a few ideas, and I switched to fashion.

I wore my first Temperley gown to my aunt's wedding and it was a moment of pride for me because that was when my business launched and people started asking and talking about the dress. It's a grey gown with short sleeves and the whole back is embroidered with crystals. It was breathtaking. Alice Temperley is a really nice person - very happy, active and energetic. My style in general is classic - not too colourful. Even when I go out, I like timeless things. My mother is very traditional: she's into fashion but in the Emirati way. She likes the jelabiya - always embroidered, always with crystals. It's fashionable in the Emirati sense.

I live in Dubai, but my mother is from Abu Dhabi, which is more conservative, so when we visit Abu Dhabi we all wear our traditional Emirati clothing. It's really nice because it's a change from jeans and so on. People spend a lot of money on abayas, but there are some really nice tailors. You can tell them what you want and they will do it for a really good price. They don't have to be expensive, especially because you change them a lot.

When we were buying for the shop we went to some exhibitions in Paris. We met a lot of people - we didn't just look at high-end brands. We looked at people who had their own little shops. There's Françoise Montague, who used to design costume jewellery for Nina Ricci. We have her rings here, and she has this little shop in Paris in the Rue Saint-Honoré. She's this little old lady who gives me advice about my business. It's a nice experience because you get to meet people from big corporations and also small designers.

We've also been to London and New York, and we'll have some local brands coming from the UAE - young girls who are starting to design their own jewellery - at a mid-range price. People like to support the local talent. When I travel, I think it's weird because everywhere you have the same brands, the same shops. I like to shop in Los Angeles; they have nice little boutiques and different types of young, up-and-coming designers.

My favourite pair of shoes is by Giuseppe Zanotti. I bought them a couple of months ago, and they're really high but comfortable with a high platform. They're navy blue with a red heel. I wear them to the mall. Everyone is like: "How do you wear them?" I guess I'm lucky because my feet are narrow. I like Christian Louboutin, Zanotti, Sergio Rossi - these three brands are the top of my list. For bags, Chanel and YSL are my favourite, especially my Chanel 2.55 bag.

A lot of people go shopping and when they get home they wonder: "When will I wear it?" But for me, whatever I buy I know I will wear it because it's very classic and I can match it with anything I have. Like these shoes by Zanotti: I've had them for two years and I can wear them with anything - I just wear them and repair them. * Gemma Champ