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[Warning: This blog contains reference to cannabis and the inclusion of a well-known four-letter word.]
I’ve flown from the rain of London to… the rain of Dubai. Yes, believe it or not, it is raining in the UAE, about as rare an event as the sun shining in February in the UK.
I’m here for a major event being hosted on Wednesday by Dubai Airports, what has been dubbed “an exciting new journey” by the operator of the world’s busiest international airport. The event will be held in the presence of royalty and is described by Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths as “another exciting chapter in Dubai’s storied history”.
The invitation itself (pictured below) is pretty spectacular. What will the real thing be like?
The answer, including more of that chapter, and that story, coming soon.
Knowing the rain here won’t last, I’m delighted to escape the dank, dreary climes of London, miserable February weather best summed up by that wonderful Scottish word ‘dreich’ (once voted the Scots’ favourite word, which just about sums up the joys and perennially soddening effect of the Scottish climate. Dreich headed off other Scottish household words glaikit (foolish), blether (long-winded talk), sleekit (unctuous or sneaky), beastie (an imaginary animal, as in “I wid raither gae a triffle mair for a hame-grown beastie”) and braw (pleasing), many of which were loved by the country’s revered bard Robert Burns, and now much-admired by me.
I’m still buzzing from my trip to Geneva last week, where I not only discovered Nous, dubbed (not without some justification, I might add) the “world’s first real airport concept store”, but also entered a whole new world I knew little about – that of fine watch customisation. Courtesy of Nous, I also made my first (legal) purchase of cannabis oil – coming to a duty free shop near you soon.
You’ll have to wait for my special feature (out next month) for the full report, but the pictures below offer a hint of what is to come. Some are from the splendidly eclectic Nous store in downtown Geneva, others are from the brand new shop at Geneva Airport, both still works in progress in terms of range and final fit-out but already a vibrant alternative to the often cliched airport shopping mix.
How was it that I felt confident enough to take my cannabis oil home? Simple. It’s been stripped of the principal psychoactive constituent (the Tetrahydrocannabinol/THC) and is every bit as legal as if I had carried back to the UK a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label or 200 Marlboro Lites. If you notice a more relaxed mood in this Blog going forward, you know the reason why. I’ll tell you more about it in my forthcoming feature.
One shouldn’t be surprised by such boldness emanating from Nous. After all, the boutique brand is founded by ex-Colette staffers. If you haven’t heard of Colette you’ve been away from the Parisian fashion scene for too long. Colette was one of those rare stores and brands that deserve the all-too common soubriquet ‘iconic’. Colette was more than iconic, it was beloved. The Parisian boutique, on Rue Saint-Honoré, founded by Colette Rousseaux and once described as “the trendiest store in the world” by Forbes, closed its doors last December.
Colette’s story was (seemingly) over but its spirit lingers. Sébastien Chapelle, head of the store’s watches and tech department for 14 years, decided to open a new Paris boutique at 48 Rue Cambon, near the famous Chanel store and just a few sneaker steps away from Colette’s former location. It was called Nous.
[Click on the YouTube icons on the videos above and below to discover the compelling retail world of Nous.]
Nous, which pays homage to Colette while adding its own distinctive touches, now has two locations in Paris, one in downtown Geneva and one at Geneva Airport. These stores, all backed by Gualtiero Giori’s 21st Century Luxury Group – a financial holding company with a focus on LuxTech and venture capital – remain true to the spirit of Colette, constantly reinventing both the store offer and the shop design.
“Our philosophy is based on the following motto: ‘for us, by us’ or as we say in French ‘Pour nous, Par nous’,” Chapelle told Fashionisata. Hence the choice of name, ‘Nous’. The Geneva airport store, like its downtown peer, features regular themed pop-up shops, exclusive collaborations, events and an ever-changing array of products.
And here’s the thing. Unlike, say a Bulgari or Hermès airport boutique, which almost by definition will largely attract a more rarified consumer profile, Nous is designed to reach out to all demographics: Generation Z, millennials, heck even an ultra-mature bod like me was fascinated by the offer.
It was fascinating last week to watch the diversity of passenger, both in ethnic and age terms, who entered the store, intrigued by this very non-traditional airport shop. I can see this concept really catching on, not just in European airports but in Asian hubs such as Hong Kong International, or at prime Middle Eastern gateways such as Hamad International or Dubai International.
From edgy tee-shirts to ultra high-end customised watches, with a heavy emphasis on personalisation and one-offs, there’s something for just about everyone at Nous. And isn’t that a desirable recipe for 21st century travel retail, a still-burgeoning channel but one which could be so much bigger if it could reach a wider demographic?
Oh, and yes, what about those customised watches? Last week I visited Label Noir on the outskirts of Geneva, also part of 21st Century Luxury Group. Established in 2011, Label Noir is dedicated to the personalisation of watches, while remaining deeply respectful of and complaint with watchmaking history and its fundamentals.
“It demands the most rigorous of minutiae, respect for skills and historical data, as well as the ethical safeguard of a faith profession that enshrines the Swiss-made as an absolute reference,” the company notes solemnly.
During a fascinating hour or so visit, I watched some of the world’s finest timepieces being recrafted into unique one-offs for watch collectors or simply watch lovers who wanted their watch to be individualised. It’s a deliberately low-profile, but buoyant industry, which taps deep into the modern-day thirst for personalisation married to authenticity. I believe its potential, and that of Nous, in travel retail is extraordinary.
Nous will not only offer some pre-customised watches that it thinks will prove popular – believe it or not Popeye-themed Rolexes are all the rage – but will cater to customers wanting to convert their own expensive purchase into one that is also unique.
It’s a great story. A 21st Century Luxury story. Watch this space.
Postscript: It indeed has stopped raining in Dubai and the day has dawned bright and clear for Dubai Airports’ big occasion. Talking of big occasions, Dubai Duty Free is preparing for its own mega-event this week, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, two weeks of world-class tennis featuring the biggest names in the women’s and men’s games. It is an exciting prospect, so much so that I have decided to extend my stay from Friday to Monday to catch a game or two. After all I’d be glaikit not to enjoy the braw escape from all that dreich London weather, wouldn’t I?