It proclaims itself to be: "Like no other store in the world" - and millions of shoppers will no doubt agree. From today, people in Dubai will be able to indulge in the magic of Bloomingdale's as the American department store ventures outside the US for the first time in its 138-year history.
"This is more than a place that sells merchandise. It is an experience," said Michael Gould, chief executive of Bloomingdale's in the US, as he unveiled the Dubai outlet yesterday. "It is the DNA of Bloomingdale's that separates us from other stores. There are a number of great brands around the world but the energy and spirit that supports us in Dubai, as it has done in New York, is what makes us different," he said.
Customers crossing the threshold of the store will be able to abandon themselves to a three-storey shoppers' heaven. With about 200,000 sq ft of floor space, the store will sell fashionwear, furniture and accessories, while a "street of shops" in its homeware section will include an ice-cream parlour and the Magnolia bakery, made famous in the TV series Sex and the City, where a glass front allows customers to watch their treats being iced before them.
Bringing the Magnolia concept to the Middle East posed extra challenges as the secret recipe for the cupcakes involved a type of flour and sprinkles which have to be shipped in from the US because they are not available here. Many of the brands on offer, from Illamasqua make-up and Jenny Packham bridal wear to McQ by Alexander McQueen, are not available in other Bloomingdale's outlets. The outlet in Dubai Mall, which has recruited 527 staff from more than 40 nationalities, will also include labels ranging from Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent to La Mer and Kiehl's beauty creams, Armani children's wear and Jimmy Choo shoes and bags.
The New York-based chain, which operates more than 40 stores across the US, decided to branch out into the Middle East in a Dh270 million (US$73.5m) deal with the Al Tayer Group, the largest luxury retailer in the Middle East. When the scheme was first concocted three years ago, Dubai's economy was booming and the credit crunch was a blip on the horizon. Since then, property prices have slumped and thousands of expatriates have left the UAE.
But, Mr Gould said: "We feel very good about Dubai. The energy and excitement in this store is absolutely incredible. "What we believe in is a lifestyle. We are of the moment and we came to Dubai because it was young, had a vibrant economy - and was alive. Everything we sell in store you can buy online but what you will get in store is the greatest feeling of 59th Street." Shireen al Khatib, the chief executive of Al Tayer Insignia which brokered the deal, added: "Bloomingdale's is iconic, a national store with an international reputation. We felt by working with them, we would be bringing the best of America to Dubai. Most stores in Dubai carry the same merchandise but the experience is unique."
The outlet, which is split between two stores in the mall, will feature Bloomingdale's signature black-and-white chequered tiles, a style first incorporated in 1979, while make-up counters will include private booths where customers can be made up out of sight. There are items on sale to suit every budget, with refrigerator magnets available at Dh20. At the other end of the scale, there is a Neil Lane platinum-and-diamond necklace, though the price tag of Dh461,000 is not for the faint-hearted. Other high-end products include Ralph Lauren furniture, Missoni homeware and Theo Fennell jewellery.
Bloomingdale's was born from a partnership between Joseph and Lyman Bloomingdale, brothers who started selling hoop skirts in their ladies notions' shop on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1861. They opened their first store on Third Avenue in 1872, selling corsets, skirts and European fashions in the working-class district. Wealthy customers gradually flocked to the area as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park and the New York subway opened.
As the brothers became successful, they moved in 1886 to their current location on 59th Street and Lexington Avenue. By the 1920s, the store covered the entire block. In 1949, Bloomingdale's joined Federated Department Stores, now Macy's Inc, but retained its own character. And whether in New York or Dubai those renowned brown bags in little, medium and big sizes will be a must-have accessory for status-conscious shoppers.