The Conversation We’ve Always Wanted to Have With the Creator of Symphony

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From the moment you walk in the gold-trimmed glass doors of Symphony, you are aware that every detail, every corner, and every interaction is tailored to make your time there incredible – unforgettable even. But Symphony has been around for eight years, recently revamping its offerings with a new two-storey boutique in The Dubai Mall’s new fashion annex, which means its legions of fans already know that setting foot in the store means a luxurious shopping experience unlike any other.

From TWO – one of the most Instagrammable cafés we’ve ever seen – to the perfumery and in-house florist, everything at Symphony is designed to make you feel like you never have to leave. As the retail landscape shifts faster than anyone can keep up, Symphony is held up as an example of how to thrive while others are barely surviving. From its hugely successful e-commerce efforts at BySymphony.com – which is so well-curated it attracts shoppers from all over the world – to its consistently impressive brick-and-mortar location, the Symphony brand is secure, future-proof, and utterly extraordinary.

It is even more impressive when you realize that Symphony is the brainchild of one single and singular spectacular entrepreneur, Salama Alabbar. If there’s anyone whose brain we’ve always wanted to pick, it’s hers. She was gracious enough to grant an exclusive interview that reveals her unique retail approach, how she built her empire, and what’s next for Symphony.  

Symphony Dubai
Photo: Courtesy of Symphony

You truly seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to creating thriving business concepts in the Middle East. To what do you credit your success?
Thank you for your kind words. It’s actually a combination of listening to what our clients want and what I like to surround myself with. Each project I set up has to be organic – it should not be forced, it should be a brand or a vision that I personally would wear and feel that the market will embrace in the same way I do.

A lot of entities look at the buying power of the Middle East and see the incredible potential of its strong luxury market. However, you are a homegrown, Emirati entrepreneur who has led the charge when it comes to innovative retail concepts. What is the difference between the way they look at the Middle East and the way do?
We know the Symphony customer quite well. We cater to her demands and always try to exceed her expectations with new additions. Whether it’s through the color palette, the shapes, the styles, or the fabrics, we have a very well-defined ‘Symphony Woman’ that knows what she wants and keeps inspiring us to deliver more. The Symphony client is a reflection of myself and the tastes that the region truly has, not the preconceived tastes the rest of the world think we have.

You are more of a behind-the-scenes power player, preferring to cast the spotlight on your efforts rather than on yourself. And yet, you are responsible for an impressive, burgeoning fashion empire in the Middle East. What keeps you grounded?
I am my happiest when people talk about Symphony and how the store caters to everything they need. I truly prefer the spotlight to be on the work rather than on myself. I’m always surrounded by positive people who are very creative and accomplished, and this keeps me grounded and thinking about how to push the boundaries further.

I’m always surrounded by positive people who are very creative and accomplished, and this keeps me grounded and thinking about how to push the boundaries further.

It’s been eight years since you first launched Symphony. What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned over the years? What are some things you would go back and do differently?
Launching Symphony was the most gratifying experience. I started with a small team and bought the collection myself, introducing the concept to the brands and pushing my way forward. Today, Symphony is a homegrown household name that needs no introduction within the fashion circle abroad or in the region, and it became that thanks to a journey of both success and learning curves. That’s why I wouldn’t do anything differently because everything we have done has led us to where we are today.

E-commerce is another facet of the Symphony brand. What kind of growth have you experienced at BySymphony.com? Did it surprise you to see so much traffic coming from the US?
Our reach throughout the GCC has grown by 20 percent in the past year thanks to our online presence and the many marketing activities that we do to cater to that specific clientele. Some of our best-selling categories are gowns, ready-to-wear, and accessories, especially since we added Alabbar Design jewelry pieces. We’ve also seen an increased interest in homegrown brands, which we have always supported, but we’re doing that even more now by partnering up with design and fashion names within the region. That has led us to sales in the US, where the audience is interested in our homegrown talents.

How does BySymphony.com maintain relevance as the luxury e-commerce market becomes more saturated in the Middle East?
BySymphony.com started out as an extension of the brick-and-mortar store, therefore, it did not need to be introduced entirely to the market.  BySymphony.com and Symphony work hand-in-hand and complement each other. We see more sales of accessories online versus more clothing in the store. Brick-and-mortar will never completely die out. Like anything else in any industry, the time has come to adapt. The next generation of retail stores should be competitive and stand out somehow, either through the in-store experience, products, or branding. The traditional model is not enough anymore.

What are some brands and designers you have come across that you’ve fallen in love with through your work at Symphony?
I am personally involved in selecting the brands that embody the Symphony aesthetic, therefore, each piece selected is one that I would enjoy wearing. Some of my favorites at the moment are Emilia Wickstead, Pleats Please by Issey Miyake, Delpozo, and Zero Maria Cornejo amongst many others.

During my career, I have found that a lot of women – especially here in the UAE –  support other women, which is beautiful and incredibly encouraging. 

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a female entrepreneur in the Middle East?
During my career, I have found that a lot of women – especially here in the UAE –  support other women, which is beautiful and incredibly encouraging. I personally have not encountered gender-specific discrimination and, if I ever do, I hope that my hard work and achievements are enough to break the stereotypical image that women have businesses as hobbies or that women, in general, don’t need to work.

We’ve heard rumors that you have a brand new retail concept in the works. Could you let us in on some of your plans?
The future is very promising for Symphony. We just opened our new store and our mono-brands Delpozo and Pleats Please by Issye Miyake,in addition to our existing stores, Temperley and the BySymphony.com platform. But we are now focusing on excelling as a platform for designers to showcase their luxurious designs in a setting that caters to the regional and international clientele by curating pieces from the city’s diverse culture and by collaborating with talents and brands to bring forward the very best Dubai has to offer.

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