Pretty Woman

I don’t own this bag

There is only one occasion in my life where I feel like Julia Roberts. It’s when I am surrounded by mirrors, I have my bewedged heels sinking in white plush carpet, my hand is rummaging in the depths of a handbag that is not mine, and there is a woman that looks and speaks like an evil Bond Girl looming over my shoulder, asking;
“Ken ay hilp vu medem???”

I am in Louis Vuitton, wondering if there is any hope at all of me ever owning a purse with that gold LV emblazoned on it… If only they wouldn’t put the prices on microscopic cards stuffed under the stuffing….But then Evil Bond Girl wouldn’t have the satisfaction of making me ask her the price; because she knows full well that anyone who has to ask the price can’t afford to buy. I give up, leaving the store believing that I have a greater likelihood of growing 8 inches, becoming a prostitute and marrying Richard Gere than ever owning that little brown leather treasure.

There is a happy turn in this story though. I know of a place, a secret, wonderful, welcoming place where anyone is rich enough to own a bag with a gold “LV” emblazoned on it, and it’s called Karama. Don’t tell anyone, but you can find it on this map. Shhhhh….

Karama is a suburb within a suburb, and in the old Retail district of Dubai (Bur Dubai). It has clogged streets lined with shabby once-white apartment blocks. Balconies are adorned with the daily washing and satellite dishes, and skeletal aerials sprout from the rooftops like failed reforestation projects. The paint is peeling, the roads are pot-holed and the footpath is a personal injury lawyer’s dream.

If you begin to consider for a moment that this could not possibly be the place to purchase designer goods, never fear – a guide will be with you momentarily, whispering the passwords:
“Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada?” and you follow him to the inner keep. A dingy corridor leads to a piazza of bombardment. You have all senses accosted – Yee Gods, the colour, the spruikers, the smell of incense, sweat and shwarma, and all around there are labels as promised on T-shirts, jeans, shoes, bags and hats. Here in Karama all are welcomed into the bosom of designer labels – no matter what race, sex, religion or income (except maybe the local males carrying a badge that says detective).

Offers of watches and perfume find their way to your ears, but keep to the mission – handbags ladies! In the shady arcades you see stores with blatant counterfeits on display – the same bag made in sixteen different colours can be labelled Jimmy Choo, Marc Jacobs, Mulberry or Dolce and Gabbana. You don’t want those, they’re fakes. You are after the “genuine copy”, the highly illegal counterfeit that is an exact replica of what can be bought from snooty Evil Bond Girls at 30 times more. What price for your soul, my dears?

Of course the genuine copies cannot be found on the shelves with all the fakes. I am unsure as to the laws of copyright and fashion, but it appears that if the item is too ridiculous to be believed then it’s not an infringement, a little like slander I suppose. Here one must rely on the guide, let him lead you to the hidden chambers. You enter a store, pass the studded and spangled Ed Hardy shirts, Ralph Lauren Polos and Dolce and Gabbana jeans, and though they are reaching out with every fibre in their cheap little make-ups you do not waver – any sign of interest causes great delays and deviations from the path. The guide leads you to a dead-end in the shop, but you do not despair, and are patient and calm in the face of defeat. He taps on the wall and waits. Magically the walls part to reveal the gatekeeper and the inner sanctum.

I don’t own this bag

You ascend with care – the stairs are uncertified and booby-trapped with draped Fendi scarves that coil about the ankles. Heaven awaits at the top. In the first corner there are the ‘Chanels‘ and three Brits in shades if grey oohing and ahhing over a silver patent leather hand-held number. On second base are two local ladies covered head to toe in black, the only things visible their eyes, finger bling and monstrous ‘Prada’ totes. Third base holds a raven-haired vixen wearing gold heels and a pink velvet tracksuit with “juicy” embroidered across her remarkable buttocks. She is arguing with the gatekeeper’s assistant over the price of a ‘Valentino’ clutch.

I don’t own this bag

But you want Louis. Ou est vous Louis? The gatekeeper becomes the new guide, and leads further through. Another false door leads to Mulberry closet with rogue ‘Boss’ and ‘D & G’ ties – rubbish, but there to act as sweeteners for the deal – something to let husbands know you were thinking of them as you spent their money on superficial treasures. Then down another staircase about the size and shape of a corkscrew, until finally you find yourselves at the end of the line. But this is not met with depression because here, in this narrow and dimly lit room, with no natural light or exit apart from the scary stairwell there are literally shelves and shelves of Holy Grails. Louis big, small, enormous, brown, cream, denim, leather, furred and blinged. It’s hard not to drool.

the gatekeeper hands over shifts to the Merchant and refreshments are offered. You accept – there is still much work to do. Then begins the sorting process – firstly, it must be brown, and it must be leather. It has to fit a phone and a purse, but must go with evening wear. It must go over the shoulder. Every bag but one is eliminated, then you move onto the next girl, for more purchases mean a better price. It takes an hour.

Only once the preferred items are identified is money discussed. You know it will be a good price, “the best price” for the merchant has fended every numerical inquiry with this until now. Of course the “best” price is not actually his best, and after twenty minutes, three bags off the purchase order, one tantrum and two threats of leaving, all are finally happy.

As you leave the Merchant pleads poverty and grimaces as is customary – he has to convince you that he has been robbed so you will think the deal is unbeatable and thus will be loyal. You should do him a favor and purchase some Burberry and Ralph Lauren garb for the kids on the way out, for your children are your greatest accessories and must look as good as the handbags. And then because the kids have been angels through this ordeal of a day, take them to the fake toyshop for fake Barbies and Bakugans.

Pretty mosque in Karama 

At this juncture I must tell you that the entire story above, except for my feelings of inadequacy in expensive shops, is a work of fiction. For if it were true, then one would be guilty of breaking the law, as would any accompanying band of scavenger hunters, the Guide, the Gatekeeper and the Merchant.

But if it were true, then I would be able to walk past Evil Bond Girl wearing my “genuine copy”, and give her a genuine smirk, genuinely assured that I was the fortunate one walking free, she was genuinely trapped in a dead-end job that made all the good people in the world resent her. And then I would feel like Julia Roberts when she strode into that Beverly Hills store with swags of designer goodies in shiny paper bags and boxes and said;
“Remember me?” pause for effect…”Big mistake…”

5 Comments

  1. I can't help but reflect on how close Karama is to Karma… greedy overpriced 'exclusive' fashion houses' karma, perhaps?Fantastically told story, felt as though I was there.

  2. This is my first visit. Your writing is superb and so interesting. How did you end up in Dubai?

  3. Haha! That's the place. I loved you noticed the smells – you know you've lived here too long when they don't seem unusual! 🙂

  4. Guided here by Alexander "The Godfather" McNabb, excellent read as is your photo site.Looking forward to reading both through 2011!

  5. Loooool… You should link this post in the VF comments!And yes, I had the same feeling when I walked into Chanel wearing my 100 dhs white Chanel watch. It was a dream to own it, I made that dream come true for a few months, and then it broke! Great post as usual Sarah 🙂

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