By Marwan Asmar
Amman is a top shopping destination, it’s a shoppers galore, an enchantment and an experience to hunt for exquisite, exclusive international brands and trademarks from virtually anywhere around the world though these tend to be mostly European brands, some from the USA, Canada and even one or two Caribbean names.
Located at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula and strategically placed in the region from east to west, north to south, the Jordanian capital is building itself as a consumption hub, a shopper’s paradise for its locals, and visitors, nearly 60 percent of whom come from the Arab Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain. Some stream into the country, others regard it as a convenient stopping point to Syria and Lebanon. Whatever the case they drool into the country.
It is shopping and international brand names glaring at you and very inviting attraction besides the top touristic sites in the form of Amman itself, Dead Sea, Madaba, Jerash and the Desert Castles.
These are really within a stone throwaway distance from the top shops, designs and brands, the Jordanian capital has become so famous for, in just under a decade.
In an almost L-shaped location in west Amman are some of the most exclusive shops, malls and pleasant neighborhoods and districts sprouted for the ordinary consumer, the noveau riche and the well-established executives, businessmen and traditional merchant families from the Arab world who come here ready-to-buy and enjoy themselves in auspicious and exotic surroundings like Aqaba, Petra and Wadi Rum.
Top branded shops are packed in as few as four or five kilometers, underlined by cafes, restaurants, hotels and different eateries and modern highways and junctions frequented by visitors from whatever social standing.
Amman has developed slowly but surely through its plush buildings, parks, highways and malls to provide a splendor for high spending tourists here to have a good time and shop.
Starting from its City Mall, Mecca Mall, to Al Wakalat Street and Al Baraka Mall, the capital has become a rich galore of brands and trademarks, of fashions, women’s wear, men’s suits, footwear, toiletries, make-up and high-end market perfumes through brands like Babes, Clairns, Lancome, Doir and la Prairie, to name but a few.
There is virtually every brand from the high end to the low-end with prices for any budget and these are all international, designed to cater for any fashion-tasting palate, guru or dilettante.
Apart from the clothing apparel, the jackets, jeans, the shirts, T-Shirts, pullovers and branded socks and Y-fronts and boxers, there is much more. As they say the world is our oyster, we in Jordan can dig as much as possible with more brands coming out of the global cupboard and the wardrobes and design shops.
From diamond rings and bracelets, the girl’s best friend to different kinds of Jewelry, everything can be brought here at the right price and with the right perspective to suit every style and taste. There is Divas, Carati Paris (Jordan), and the ever impressive damas, a local brand in slick jewelry.
Similarly brand watches from the most popular—being Swatch, to Omegas, Rolexes and Brittling and a host of others are found with different tag prices, that go in the thousands of dollars, or the $20,000 mark. I have been told that you can get a Rolex for $150,000 but that needs to be ordered through of course the right agent and shop.
The shopping culture, the need to buy, choice availability, the mall customs and mores, have become pervasive in the Arab world, Jordan included. Shopping has become a slick, dynamic, vibrant exercise festered in our high streets, malls and shopping centers, in our streets, rows of shops and blocs.
It is an exercise in eye contact, in carefully watching and contemplating the variety, high-end brands and glowing designs. Shopping, the ability to buy, and/or shop with the eyes has become a favorite past time, enjoyed by many with prices and tag-marks becoming part of the voyeurism of watching shop windows, observing and touching the different satins, leather, textiles, shapes and sizes on display, watches, clocks, artworks, and trinkets that speak of an international, local and Bedouin culture that tell much of what we are.
Sameha, a local Jordanian, who always goes to the mall with her friend especially, in the late afternoon after work, says: “Shopping has become a pleasure with these air-conditioned malls as a new concept of buying gripping where you are reeled into these trendy shops almost subconsciously and sometimes without intent, you look around, if you like something you buy, and if you don’t, you move on to the next, and the next, and the next.”
This is the beauty of shopping these days, it is so diversified, casuals in one place, leathers in another, footwear in between, lingerie, tobacco shops, artworks, there is a galore effect, where you see different shops selling the same items but in different brand name. The diversification is electric, with different brands, selling the same multiplying type. Consumer choice is massively increasing.
Lingerie has become a hot thing in Swiefieh, probably because of the high marriage rates which especially shoots up in the summer. In addition to local shops catering for this line of the market, there is the British brand Blush, the French Etam and Montreal-based La vie en rose.
This type of clothing has festered on the entry of other international brands in a big way. It could very well have been the result of the globalization of the 1990s translating itself into companies in nation-states going global.
The result for Jordan at least has become enormous with many European, Canadian and even American firms setting up operations in Jordan, either through direct means or increasing their presence through local agencies.
Aldo, a footwear company, Massimo Dutti, a men and women clothes shop, Zara for women attire, Zara Shops, Pull and Bear, the young and trendy, Geox, footwear, Jack and Jones, as well as Okaidi and Tapeal’oeil are branded everywhere.
For you, me, they have become a means of identification of good living, style and high society for the traditional Arab family.
They are just some of the names coming namely from Europe like the UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Spain and Italy and trademarks from the United States and Canada.
With the brands come the personalities behind like Channel, Pierre Cardin, Giorgio Armani, Guy Laroche Nina Rici, Versace, Gucci, LV and many more. In fact, some of the names become major brands here because they are associated with being foreign, international, quality and poshness.
In a sense they have become almost on everyone’s lips, as new words and phrases entering everyday speech and seen as part of a global culture where hit names are becoming as almost as familiar or more than pop artists, film actors, or even world authors.
The brand name has become much more important because it is something you wear, put on, and before that, search for in the different racks,” adds Sameha who confesses that she looks at different brands wear, particularly dresses, and footwear many times before she eventually decides and buys.
She could be representative of many who do that as the malls, or shopping centers offer that great variety to chose from, and become familiar with, though most of the time, she like her friend, has no idea from which country they came from, though sometimes would venture to give an educated guess.
“I look for style, character, color, groove, and of course price, as I don’t like to buy anything that is too expensive,” she points out.
Part of the fact why Sameha is price conscious lies with the frequency of her shopping expeditions. “I like to buy a lot of shoes, sandals, that’s why I have to bear the price in mind.”
But for her and her friend, the shopping spree doesn’t stop at footwear because of the dresses, skirts, blouses at the shop windows that constantly glare in your face.
Most malls have been designed to give a social character that people can lose themselves there. If they are not in the stores, window shopping is the next best thing or lounging in the food courts or in its cafes spread.
Sameha and her friends usually go alone, but sometimes arrange to meet with a group, girlfriends, they stayed in touch with from the school days. Starbucks in Mecca Mall, of course, is well-known, but there is also the Donotello Gelote ice cream parlor, the Parisian Paul Café in City Mall, and Le Mie Doree in Al Baraka; These are among some of the many brands like Havana Café, whose name may conjure up different exotic images of delight.
Al Wakalat Street in Swiefieh has become a favorite after it has been spruced up, closed to cars, and a pedestrian-only area for many to walk in, sit at its numerous cafes and restaurants and buy from its brand shops at a leisurely pace.
Observers say that with the growth of the mall concept in Jordan, social relations have changed as the mall has become a meeting place for friends, relatives and colleague with people going there for the outing. “Instead of visiting each other in the homes, they assemble in these outside places,” is a prevailing point of view of many sociologists.
In Wakalat Street local planners have introduced what can be called “Shop and eat” or shop and have a snack, a coffee, juice,” in the different eateries that have come to exist while coming face-to-face with the brands and in direct proximity with such shops and labels like Cortfiel, Blush, Jack and Jones as well as Etam, Mango and Zara, Yishion and the House of Style, a local Jordanian entity that brands for Gerry Webber, Scotti, Samoon, Sonneti, Taifoon, Feraud and Facis.
And the names just continue, allowing the shopper to feel that he is living in a brand world like Lacoste, Van Gils, Facconable, Taylor Ray, Polo Ralp Lauren and Birkenstock at the delight of a Japanese Suchi Bar like the one existing in Al Baraka Mall or some other outlet with a foreign name. After a while they become too numerous to remember except for the discernable onlooker.
Missed the first time, second time, probably the umpteenth, its only after I stood on the tip of Wakalat Street I realized they were other brands like Karen Millen, again for lingerie and an English brand, and Rosa Clara, a Spanish house for bridal dresses and a host of others.
Price ranges a great deal depending on the brand type. In a bid to stay competitive, many shops displaying international trademarks, stay with a reasonable price bracket that many can afford, catering for different local, regional and international clienteles and visitors to the country.
These include the Bhs brand label representing British Homes Stores, a departmental chain in the U.K. which opened up at Cosmo on Amman’s 7th Circle, just behind Safeways. Over the years, Bhs posed itself as an inexpensive chain store that has many trademarks.
In a world that has come to believe in labels, brands like this are designed for the mass public to allow the spending power to continue.
There are equally expensive brands and shops in Amman. Top of the range include French label Lanvin represented by Dawood Taycoons with suits ranging up to $4000 for the enterprising consumer and a man of the world. They tell me the cloth is superior with quality, tradition and grandeur, suits fit for kings and leaders, presidents and statesmen but are enjoyed by many others.
High spending shopping continue in other places like City Mall for instance. AI Zone, a Lebanese label and a stream of outlets has appeared to be the most trendy for the entrepreneur. With presence in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Dubai and Bahrain, it caters for the most lavish, trendy and with expensive tastes as suits off the racks in its Jordan shop go for just under $2000; a leather jacket for also for $2000, a pair of trousers for $700 and a pair of jeans for $500 as approximation because these are tagged in the local Jordanian dinar.
An eye opener for me was the ladies handbags which ranged from $2500 to $4000 a piece. This is hot buying and there are buyers I was told, both local and regional who sidestep the price tag.
Similar prices appeared in stores in other malls where in one case there was a $7000 tag mark on one bag. One German name Aigner exhibits the most rich, famous and luxurious brands of shoes, purses, hand bags, and ties among other accessories.
One purse is tagged $600, a pair of ladies shoes for $700, a pair of boots for $1400. This is not to mention the handbags that ranged from as low as $700, $2000 and $4000 and even $5000. I asked how much was the ties, “$450 a piece” came the reply which at first appeared good enough for me!
There is a sense of style, panache and individuality as far as buying expensive items that has as much to do with the culture as it is to do with the quality and even the brand names important as there are.
“The expensive ladies hand bags are all about individualism, ladies come into the store looking for a single hand bag that reflects who they are, and make sure we only stock one piece, so when they buy, and regardless of the expense, it’s one of a kind to show to their friends,” one sales assistant told me.
But even here, there is a distinct culture around richness and quality. Buying expensive ware becomes a sort of exclusive club visited by special customers whose expense is not the only consideration.
I’ve been told customers often whisper in the ear of shop assistants to give them a call, once there is a discount sale on, so a hand bag of $4000 is slashed to $2000 or a $3000 leather beauty goes down $1500. At these prices, society ladies grab them, either going personally to the shops or sending their chauffeurs to collect.
In few words, this is Amman for you, a capital literally saturated with brands, names, ideas and style. It’s a Jordanian capital to shop in and travel through and meander in.