18 April 2008

Indian luxury : a brand idea whose time has come. Shaziya Khan, JWT Planning, Mumbai

“Beauty is the purgation of superfluities”
This is an old quote, attributed to the great Michelangelo.
But its spirit felt alive & fresh, at a recent conclave of luxury honchos in India recently. If one could sum up the singular hook that stuck in the mind - India is in the luxury state of mind, again. Give or take a few centuries, its long running royal patronage of all things fine and beautiful is coming keenly alive among the mass affluent and emerging rich of today.
And that luxury state of mind means to get rid of superfluities.
Sign 1: First things first, majority ownership has been allowed by law to foreign brands being welcomed to the great Indian beauty bazaar of things fine and fey. And the companies are cueing up at India gate. Salvatore Ferragamo, Hermes, Savile Row brands, Chanel, Ballantyne to mention a few.A small but telling gesture was the presence of both the French trade minister (3 weeks before elections in France, no less!) and the Indian trade minister at a luxury seminar. But their presence went beyond the powerfully symbolic to embrace the powerfully productive as well – for instance, each went on to openly discuss & welcome suggestions on a mutually beneficial way of doing away with countervailing duties that aids the entry luxury brands entry and yet prevents dumping by cheaper brands.
Sign 2: Secondly, luxury demands a beautifully luxe environment and in this matter too, Indian retail and business interests are stepping forward. They plan to create specialist luxury malls that will provide the appropriate brand neighbourhood and gilt edged physical ambience. As many a luxury honcho put it – the right retail environment is vital – to communicates the brand, not just to make the sale. Rarified iconic hotel environs like those of the Taj Mahal or Oberoi have housed the luxury brand pioneers from oversees such as LVMH; But are too small to take in the dozen odd more brands keen to enter. The demands in terms of marble, granite,fit, feel,finish, DETAIL are going to be hard to meet but the will to do away with second best and B++ is there. No matter if it takes months and millions – the Gucci store blue print from Paris will be adhered to inch by inch when it opens its Mumbai branch. Luxury retailing it is a game of gilt edged inches and it has begun. Watch out for luxury malls and exclusive luxury retail outlets. Where only the thinnest stilettos will tread in soft and but undeniable clicks …
Sign 3 : Aah but the greatest superfluity of them all – is being done away with. Why adhere to a foreign definition of luxury? Academics, designers, luxury CEOs are asking a new (Indian) luxury question. Indians are being asked to introspect and ask themselves what is the definition of Indian luxury? As distinct from French luxury or Italian luxury or British luxury; Each of these has a certain distinct appeal.
What is distinct about Indian luxury is the question of the moment. In other words, What is India’s brand of luxury? Here is a smattering of answers suggested by global luxury experts:
• The long running royal patronage of luxury. From Chanel to Cartier and the 360 circle of brands in between practically all evidenced familiarity with Indian tastes and the Indian clientele’s eye for luxury over a few hundred years.
• Craftsmanship is another. More than one world famous designer said he visits India often and is inspired by its quality of craftsmanship – in saddles, in weaving, in embroidery etc. A particularly enthusiastic one in typical ‘from the heart ‘ designer speak even proferred a spontaneous definition of Indian luxury. Pigeon English. But its says something “the Indian hand is the greatest”.
•“Made in India” as a label. “The world of luxury has no problem with the label made in India” – French designer, to quote a common sentiment. It has been revered a long time. And a source of inspiration too.
• Colour of luxury, here is one from me. The Indian luxury brand can be rooted in colour – literally and metaphorically. Literally - India is all about colour. As some one said ‘Pink is India’s navy blue’ and you see that in palaces, jewellery, rich textiles. Metaphorically “colour” ie. colour in quotes is the spirit , energy, fusion of India. And at both levels colour is a draw and a discriminator for India vis a vis the world. For instance, Hermes sent a team of global designers to visit India. Their brief ‘get the smell and colours of India and be inspired’. They visited the calico museum in Ahmedabad, tourist sites, Benares and went back marvelously inspired with indigo and fuschia on their mind.
And there could be more. At this point, what matters is not which is the final cut of the brand. What matters is that the “great Indian brand of luxury” is being sought. The royal tradition of Indian luxury; or the beautiful hand of India, or simply Made in India or colour of luxury… Marketers, designers, bureaucrats and ministers are you thinking big enough to make the “great Indian brand of luxury” come into its own? Again or anew? Anything less is a superfluity.
This post first appeared as an article in Admap


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  2. Mythili

    Hi from Khao Lak. I think the challenge for Indian luxury brands is to take the design aesthetic and high quality craftmanship that exists in "craft" products (e.g. clothing, furniture) and build it into more heavily manufactured products. I just don't see it yet in Indian products, but there is definitely a group of consumers getting exposed to and desiring beautiful, functional design.