'Blooming' in Dubai

Charged with transporting an American retail icon to the world’s most exotic new shopping address, designers stay true to the personality, brand essence and core values that built Bloomingdale’s international allure and reputation for retail excellence.

by Carol Tisch



As the ad slogan suggests, Bloomingdale's is like no other store in the world—unless of course it's another Bloomingdale's.

Even half-a-world away in Dubai, the retailer's DNA is unmistakable in a dazzling new venue (it's also the first store outside the United States since the company was founded in 1872). Ironically, the Bloomingdale brothers decided way back then to name their emporium Bloomingdale's Great East Side Bazaar. Was the name simply a clever marketing hook or an incredibly prescient forecast of the 21st century's global retail landscape?

That first "bazaar" offered a mélange of women's fashions—a bold move in an era of single-focus specialty shops. Bloomingdale's presaged the golden age of department stores as an undisputed fashion leader. And when department stores proliferated, Bloomie's distinguished itself once more by dividing its floors into a bazaar-like array of individual shops—most of them world-famous designer brand boutiques, others devoted to must-see emerging talent.

Opened in February 2010, Bloomingdale's Dubai store embodies the latest iteration of the retailer's design direction, which has been tweaked stateside over the past several years to emphasize the strength of its own brand alongside showcased designer labels. Actually housed in two locations—a three-level 146,000-square-foot apparel and accessories store, and a separate 54,000-square-foot Home store–Bloomingdale's is one of two internationally-renowned department stores (the other is Galleries Lafayette) holding coveted anchor positions at Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping center at 5.6 million square feet.

John Von Mohr, associate principal of Dallas-based Callison/RYA Studio and creative director for the Dubai project has been involved with all of the firm's Bloomingdale's projects since they designed the groundbreaking San Francisco store, which opened in 2006. Their portfolio includes the Chestnut Hill and San Diego stores, and the recent redesign of Bloomie's 59th Street store in New York City, with its highly-publicized, blockbuster cosmetics department makeover.

"Dubai is, in my mind, a quintessential Bloomingdale's store. It's a culmination of what we've been working on with Bloomingdale's U.S. under the direction of Jack Hruska," explains Von Mohr. Hruska, executive vice president of creative services for Bloomingdale's, is credited as chief "architect" of the retailer's new design direction. Hruska consulted with the Callison/RYA team throughout the entire Dubai project, although the global architecture and design firm's actual client was Al Tayer Insignia, the largest luxury retailer in the Middle East and part of Al Tayer Group, the United Arab Emirates-based conglomerate.

Bloomingdale's Dubai is a $73.4-million joint venture between the department store chain's Cincinnati-based parent company, Macy's, and Al Tayer Insignia. "The news is that this is the first Bloomingdale's outside of the U.S. and it's in partnership with Al Tayer, which is the operator. Both companies wanted the store to look and feel like an international Bloomingdale's because Dubai is a very international city, not just a Middle Eastern city," notes Von Mohr.

Still, several nods to the region's culture are incorporated in the design, including contemporary minaret-shaped alcoves in a Home store boutique called the Bazaar, and a modernistic outline paisley in a custom Constantine carpet created for the footwear department. Decorative screens (mashrabiya) in that same department are adorned with an abstracted Arabic motif in water-cut, plated metal. More than a design element, the screens are a device to help subdivide vast overall spaces into smaller seating groups within what is said to be the largest footwear shop in the region.

"There are elements of the corporate identity that we always have in a Bloomingdale's store. The iconic black and white checkerboard floor that started in the 59th Street store in the 1970s, black lacquer and mirrors, and an extended use of black and white," explains Von Mohr. Rendered in crystallized glass stone tiles from Architectural Systems, the traditional U.S. checkered floor is subtly contrasted in Dubai's cosmetics department with an Arabic-influenced custom ceiling motif. "We created a white-on-white bas relief pattern that is up-lighted with cove lighting on either side of a suspended aluminum leaf plane that goes down the center of the space. It's a little more modernized, but the bas relief alludes to some of the patterning on the outside of the mall," he adds.

Bloomingdale's tends to be more decorated than fixtured, so Callison/RYA brought in signature decorative elements like hand-blown glass chandeliers in several areas and, specific to Dubai, a fountain at the heart of the Home store and serpentine walls of white acrylic that light up the Women's Footwear department. "Also iconic about Bloomingdale's is that it becomes a series of rooms. In Dubai we tried to create rooms with different personalities as opposed to one big open space that always had the same feel," says Von Mohr.

In fact, the store has more than 50 branded designer shops that have been deftly integrated into Bloomingdale's visual identity. The sheer number of these shops within both the apparel and Home stores dictated that part of Callison/RYA's assignment was to create a framework for them.

"We actually did the whole exercise of reviewing vendor shop designs, commenting on them, and sending them back for revisions if we saw anything that we didn't think would mesh with what we'd already established with the Bloomingdale's architecture," recalls Von Mohr. "We were ensuring that Bloomingdale's was always the superior brand—or the main brand—and that all other brands are part of that portfolio, so they're easily changed in and out without a lot of rework of décor," he adds.

That strategy is vital in today's retail climate as consumer appetites for newer, fresher merchandise increase, and as manufacturers' direct sales to consumers (as well as a spate of online flash sales) erode profit margins and the cachet of once-exclusive department store brands.

Though indiscernible to the untrained eye, the Home store is imbued with flexible interior architecture that is necessary in an era that requires lightning-quick responses to lifestyle trends. A series of thematic specialty shops dubbed the Street of Shops was created to lure customers into the Home store, which is located a short distance away from the apparel store on the mall's lower ground level. Big draws right now are the Magnolia Bakery (of "Sex and the City" fame), Salon Tea shop, Bloomie's Ice Cream shop, Assouline Books, a vintage flea market, New York store, and Arabic gift shop.

"The Street of Shops is the main avenue of the Home store. The fountain breaks down the area where the Home store starts and the mall ends," says Von Mohr. "We used a kind of light store fronting that segments all the shops, so you really feel you are looking into separate little stores. It also makes the design very flexible. If one of the shops wasn't working or they wanted to change it out, they could do it very easily—making the area seem fresh and new and constantly changing."

Detailing throughout the stores is clean and simple, with the focus on finishes and furniture. Indeed, Al Tayer Insignia's home furnishings stores and high-end designer showrooms were a sourcing bonanza for the Callison/RYA designers. "We wanted a hospitality or residential feel, especially where there was customer seating, and we had access to brands they carry or represent for all residential seating groups and decorative lighting. With names like Minotti, Ligne Roset, Donghia, Barbara Barry, and Cavalli … it was a win-win situation," explains Von Mohr.

In addition, several U.S.-based brands with international capabilities were specified. All carpets were custom designed and produced by Constantine; Architectural Systems supplied the hornbeam wood flooring and the signature black and white crystallized glass tiles; and Amerlux Global Lighting Solutions was used exclusively for all track, accent, wall and ambient lighting specified by Doug Russell, principal with Lighting Workshop in New York and lead lighting designer for the project.

In the end, the project's greatest challenge became its greatest attribute. "The space was never designed or built to be an anchor store, and the three-story-high glass cylinder that's now the store entrance was meant to be a VIP entrance to the mall. The thing I love most about this store is its monumental feel—the scale," concludes Von Mohr. Dare we add, it's like no other store in the world?

Carol Tisch is a freelance writer, editor and marketing consultant based in Sarasota, FL. She was formerly editor-in-chief of Shelter Interiors magazine and Home Furnishings News (HFN), and has developed communications programs for commercial and residential design industry clients. She can be reached at tischcomm@aol.com.


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Boyd Lighting | 5
(415) 778-4300

Brand Van Egmond
+31(0)35 692 12 59

IPE Cavalli | 6

(914) 662-2377

(631) 549-2745

Ingo Maurer
(212) 965-8817

Jean de Merry
(323) 655-9193


(888) 624-4370


Amerlux | 1
(973) 882-5010

Barbara Barry Realized by Henredon | 3
(336) 888-4913

Baxter | 4
+031 359-9008

de Sede
+41 56 268 01 11

Donghia | 8
Ligne Roset

+39 0362 343499


Constantine | 7
(800) 308-4344

Architectural Systems Inc. | 2
(800) 793-0224


Anya Larkin
(212) 532-3263

(516) 678-6770

(800) 645-3943

Maya Romanoff
(773) 465-6909

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P.O. Box 2623
Dubai, UAE


Callison/RYA Studio
1445 Ross Ave. Ste. 2600
Dallas, TX 75202
(214) 446-0950

Tom Herndon, principal-in-charge
John Von Mohr, creative director
Denny Will, production manager
Kimberly Mayrhofer, project designer
Alecia Avent, project designer

Jack Hruska, executive vice
president for creative services


Lighting Workshop

Al Tayer Stocks

Aati Contracts

Callison/Chris Eden