Demi couture in Doha

It’s not often one gets the offer to flit across to Qatar of a weekend but when that offer does arrive, you cancel all plans, pack the Globetrotter and run. Well that’s what I did. The occasion? The launch of a new boutique in Doha, designed by ‘starchitect’ Peter Marino and co-hosted by luxe vintage retailer Atelier Mayer. The boutique in question is the flagship store for the five-seasons-old Toujouri label. A line launched by London-Paris-Doha designer Lama El Moatassem, the ‘demi-couture’ label that started with hand-beaded kaftans has developed to include goddess gowns and cocktail dresses that mix intricate middle eastern detail with western flair. A St Martin’s graduate, El Moatassem also has a mature business head on her 27-year-old shoulders. “We wanted to create a middle eastern brand of international standard and Peter Marino is world renowned for creating for some of the most luxurious retail interiors,” she says with all the gumption of a CEO twice her age. And why so expensive? These designs (also sold at Harrods) hover around the £2000 mark – not cheap for a newbie. “They’re all silk lined, with French seams and hand beading; we went to India to train the tailors,” she says. “It’s very subtle work that justifies the price. But we’re a young brand so we still need to develop that relationship with buyers and customers.”

And so to the store launch in the lavish Pearl Island complex (also home to Hermes, Balenciaga and Stella McCartney). Also on our trip were Tank Magazine’s Caroline Issa, Business of Fashion’s Imran Amed, representatives from Vogue and Vanity Fair, not to mention a clutch of guests flown from India and Dubai. Plus Peter Marino’s Juan Carlos Menendez (alas no Peter Marino, he and his leather cod piece were busy at the Rome Louis Vuitton opening) and Qatari blogging royalty Noor Al-Thani from Haute Muse. Al-Thani professed her love of London shopping to me with gusto; “London has everything – high, middle and low end. Four years back everyone [in Qatar] just talked about Dior and Chanel. Now they mix and match with Topshop and H&M.” Although just to be clear… “I’m never bored of YSL!”

While we guzzled jewel-toned mocktails to match the gowns, I inspected El Moatassem’s creations and interior close up. A textured wall inspired by the rolling hills of the Qatar desert, made-to-order furniture, an extravagant silk carpet and a studded ‘jewel box’ exterior to reflect the name (toujouri is an ancient Arabic term meaning ‘treasure box’).

My favourite dresses were a rainbow-striped kaftan and beaded-bodice goddess gown – modelled on a raised catwalk-like platform running the length of the entrance. Also greatly admired were the lush pages of Atelier Mayer’s art-fashion magazine – issue 2 just released – featuring Toujouri (of course), a story on Viennese textiles and a look at the work of the world’s fashion museum curators.

It had been a mammoth day. A 6am arrival, a trip to the Museum of Islamic Art, a visit to Souk Waqif and the Toujouri launch. Following a late Lebanese feast, it was back to the Four Seasons hotel to admire the contents of my gift box and flop straight into bed, ready for our second and final day in Doha.