Emma Sawko’s Dubai

Take a tour with the co-founder cool concept store, Comptoir 102

What happens when the City of Gold meets the City of Light? Concept store Comptoir 102 is a glimmer of light in the Middle East, offering a Parisian-influenced one-stop shop nicknamed the “House of Cool.” The unique store launched in 2012 by two Parisian girls, Emmanuelle Sawko and Alexandra de Montaudouin, and has since become a destination for locals and visitors alike, boasting an off-the-beaten-path shopping sanctuary, a healthy café, and an innovative art and design exhibit. It’s a cozy escape from the city in the heart of old Jumeira run by two impressive femmes with an eye for fashion and design. The hotspot won the What’s On award for Best Healthy Restaurant in Dubai and the Harper’s Bazaar prize for the region’s Best Design Shop. Vogue Paris even named it one of the top nine best concept stores in the world for its one-of-a-kind jewelry selection. We spoke to Emmanuelle about bringing le chic Français to the UAE.

Emmanuelle Sawko and Alexandra de Montaudouin

How did two Parisian girls end up opening a store in Dubai? 
I was living in New York and had been working on opening a concept store before my husband announced we had to move to Dubai for his job. Alexandra and I met as soon as we arrived there. We had both followed our husbands, but we wanted to work. We missed our favorite shops and brands, so wanted to create a new and different concept. 

What sets Comptoir 102 apart from other shops? 
We wanted something radically different from the malls and shops you find in Dubai. We loved the old-school vibe of Jumeira¬—the old villas, the palm trees and the beach. The pace is slower than the rest of Dubai. It’s a place where people can take time off. We want people to stop, have a coffee, and find a selection of little treasures and objects. Comptoir 102 is a reflection of our lives, the way we live, the way we eat, the way we dress.

Seaweed PestoHow have locals and visitors responded to something so different from what they’re used to? 
We received a very warm welcome right from the start. People loved the idea of an organic restaurant. There was a real interest in healthy food, and we have been pioneers in this trend. As people came by for breakfast, lunch or dinner, they would go through the shop and discover our lifestyle, interior design, fashion and jewelry. 

What are some of your favorite local brands or designers that we may not know? 
We work with many brands and designers that are very different and less well known than what you find in Dubai. Many are French or European, as we bring them back from home or our travels. We also work with a lot of designers from New York and L.A. But living in the region, we also discovered amazing designers we couldn’t help falling in love with, like Lebanese designer Nada Debs, who is one of our favorites. We also have jewelry from the talented Lebanese designer, Alia Mouzannar.

Buckwheat PancakesWhere are your favorite places in Dubai to… 
Comptoir 102! I eat there almost every day and never get bored. I need fresh, vibrant food to get through the day, and one of my motivators in opening the restaurant was to know where the food on my plate was coming from. We only source local and organic products, which arrive fresh from the farm every morning. 

Wild & the Moon, the new cold-pressed juice and salad bar I recently opened with my husband. It’s based in Alserkal, the art district in the industrial area where there’s always a concert, market or talk going on. It’s a great community place where Dubai’s cool crowd meets. 

…work out? 
I do Thai boxing twice a week at home with “Hassan the Great”! Not only he is a champion and the best trainer around, he’s also the loveliest soul in town. 

…spend family time? 
Kite beach for cycling, skateboarding or lunch at a food truck on the beach. 

…have a girls night? 
The Jetty Lounge, a great place by the sea for a night out. 

…enjoy a romantic evening out? 
A local restaurant by the creek in old Dubai, watching the boats go by. 

Camping in the desert with a campfire under a million stars. 

…cool down? 
Ziggy Bay in Oman—a dream for recharging one’s batteries. It’s one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen. 

…sleep (hotel)? 
Bab Al Shams, a beautiful hotel in the desert. Its name translates from Arabic as “gateway to the sun.” It’s a one-of-a-kind traditional desert experience that is true to the culture and heritage of Dubai. 

…go for a walk or jog? 
On the beach in front of my house in Jumeira. I go every day for a barefoot walk, a jog on the track, or a dip in the sea.

Concept store Comptoir 102Give us a few of your favorite spots near Dubai to travel. 
Beirut. I love the city, the vibe, and the people there. 

What is the local cuisine like there? Any favorite regional foods? 
You find all the cuisines of the world, from Peruvian to Yemeni. The local cuisine is influenced by the Lebanese, Omani and Iranians, but Dubai is traditionally home to fishermen, so you find the most amazing grilled fish with subtle spices. Absolutely delicious. 

What does your morning routine look like… 
…in Dubai?
My day starts at 6am with breakfast for the kids before they leave for school at 7am. Then I work out for one hour (boxing or yoga) before going to work, sharing my time between Comptoir 102 and Wild & the Moon. 

…in Paris? 
I’m always in work mode, whether it’s for Fashion Week when I’m buying for Comptoir 102 or a day at Wild & the Moon, where we’ve just opened our second location (25, rue des Gravilliers). I have my breakfast there. Depending on my mood, it’s a green juice, Budwig cream (a childhood recipe my mum used to prepare for me), or a supercharged smoothie. 

….in New York ? 
I wake up much later, either from jetlag or from partying with my best friends. My emergency kit always includes a yoga session and a ginger turmeric vitality shot. 

What do you miss most about Dubai when you’re not there? 
I miss the beach and the palm trees. For me it’s bliss to live in a city next to the sea…