Launched in 2012, multi-brand fashion gallery the cARTel immediately set itself apart in Dubai’s expansive fashion landscape for its exclusive offering of international, edgy brands curated by its founder, May Barber. She has worked with more than 160 designers, from Tokyo to Bogotá, championed emerging brands, and featured exhibitions for the likes of Iris Van Herpen (3). Tonight, Barber will officially open the cARTel’s new 2 500 sq. ft space in the heart of d3, Dubai.
Barber, an award-winning architect, collaborated with Anna Szonyi to translate her vision into experiential elements. Once inside, guests meander through the fluid space, which is filled with clothing and accessories that borderline on wearable art. Among the exhibit, “The Box” serves as a blank canvas for special collaborations and for emerging designers to reinterpret artistic and fashion expressions. The Box is also a platform for short videos that will feature the cARTel’s curations on its YouTube channel. Inside, a sculptural made-to-measure “bouquet of hands” displays jewelry accessories. After perusing the custom-designed railings, shoppers can relax at the coffee bar and discuss outfit ideas with a professional stylist.
Vogue Arabia offers a first look of the cARTel and sits down with May Barber to discuss her evolving vision.
The cARTel promotes “wearable art.” How do you define this term?
Wearable art is fashion that employs a high level of technique, unique design language, optimum quality, and is available in a limited edition. Much like art itself, the fashion we offer is “timeless.” We don’t necessarily conform to trends and thus invite clients to enjoy their fashion acquisitions longer, while being supportive of emerging talents.
Your store features a curation of women and men’s ready-to-wear and accessories. What are some key brands you are highlighting from those categories?
Danish designer Anne Sofie Madsen for her deconstructive pieces; Dion Lee and Gareth Pugh for their avant-garde clothes; MM6 Margiela for accessible luxury; Balmung for Japanese unisex; the award-winning Facetasm, and Juan Hernandez Daels for architectural constructions. For men, we are featuring the fast-rising emerging designer Consistence London and award-winning Craig Green, among others.
Accessories labels include minimalist pieces from Danes Vibe Harsløf and Maria Black, and Columbian Mercedes Salazar. We are also featuring bags from Pangolin, Lamat (exclusive to the cARTel), MM6, Salar Milano, and our private label – the cARTel cage bags.
Your buying takes you all over the world. What region outside of the Middle East are you anticipating the most?
I am extremely excited about talents from South America. Many are able to combine rich aesthetics with sustainable approaches to fashion. We are planning a collaboration for next fall with a select group of Mexican designers who will take over the box and be part of our incubator program. Some of our most successful brand additions include the sustainable mechanical backpack brand Pangolin and accessories designer Mercedes Salazar from Columbia. The cARTel is the first store in the Middle East to work exclusively with Juan Hernandez Daels from Argentina, who is quickly making a name for his signature tension of architectural cuts and feminine touches.
How do you select the brands that you work with?
Our moto is “seeing potential, delivering value,” so even if the final product is not quite there, if we spot the potential, we will work closely with the designer to refine the work and adapt it to the market, using pillars of awareness, positioning, and value towards having something unique and impactful. Brand management at the cARTel is rapidly growing. I enjoy working closely with new ventures as well as semi-established brands looking for unique strategies of growth, brand management, and sustainability.
What are the unique services clients can expect at the cARTel?
Clients can expect a unique and exclusive shopping experience away from the hustle and bustle of the malls. They are exposed to exclusive fashion ranges with signature statements curated by myself, which are the result of many buying trips around the world where I meet with inspiring talents. They can also experience the incubator space where they can discover and support emerging international talent.
Can clients shop the cARTel online?
Yes. We have two online portals: our e-store, thecartel.ae, and via our partnership with Farfetch.com, where a great deal of our merchandise is available. On Farfetch.com we’ve had remarkable success stories where we have submitted some of our local designers, such as Bint Thani and Rula Galayini, for the first time to its global platform, thus exposing them to international markets.
Now that you have moved to d3, what elements of the design neighborhood are you looking forward to?
I am already enjoying being neighbors with some of Dubai’s top fashion and design talents. The other day I had coffee with Nadine Kanso, who is in the building next door, I ran into Elie Domit of East Wing Gallery and chatted with him about film and culture, and wrapped up the day running into Rami Al Ali and Saeed Khalifa. This is a creative environment with high potential and as individual players, we need to maximize the opportunities brought to us.
The cARTel: Building 9, 105 at d3. Saturday to Thursday 9am-7pm