Mumbai: Luxury brand consultant Yaffa Assouline is a Parisian journalist who created campaigns for brands such as Chanel and Dior and now runs her own popular online venture Luxuryculture.com. She said in an email interview that brands must ensure luxury consumers don’t feel marketed at. Assouline will be in India to attend the Mint Luxury Conference this week. Edited excerpts:
You’ve had a wide-ranging and successful career in luxury and lifestyle. What drew you to this space?
I like to be surprised and for things to make me smile. Every day in this industry, I encounter people, objects and ideas that do just that. Creativity is what I thrive on, and as a journalist and publisher, it is what I have always championed.
How would you define luxury as a philosophy?
I ask this question to every person I interview for Luxuryculture.com. Most people answer that time is their luxury. But luxury really is a philosophy that extends to all aspects of my life—great food shared with friends, a life filled with art, and of course, time to enjoy it all. Luxury is about sharing the art of living well, which is the strap line of Luxuryculture.com. It’s as much about fantastic fresh bread as it is about Hermes. What they share is quality, authenticity and craftsmanship. It is important to remember that sharing is integral to the philosophy of luxury.
Have you been to India before? Could you tell us about your impressions of the luxury market here?
No, this will be my first time in India. While the luxury market here is still developing, there are strong foundations. The history of the maharajas and the Mughal empire is fascinating and filled with luxury. The architecture they created and the culture they instilled in India are both alive now. The maharajas basically created the market for bespoke creations in the world of jewellery, working with the best of Place Vendome. India has not only the craftsmen who still know their trade, but also the raw materials (the cashmere, silks, among others) and, most importantly, the culture, to create world class luxury brands.
As the West focuses on Asia as its big emerging luxury market, do you see luxury trends increasingly inclining eastwards, that is to say, to diverge from its own culture? Or do you think that exporting luxury means exporting a certain uncompromised vision of aesthetics?
This is one of the main issues that luxury brands are struggling with right now. It is important that consumers don’t feel marketed at. A wealthy person in India wants the best of Cartier, not a special version created for the Indian market. All the research suggests that the wealthy populations of China or India are resistant to brands that attempt to incorporate local design references into their collections. It has to be very subtle. It’s interesting because, of course, designers are inspired by the culture of the East, but inspiration is about respect and inspiration for these cultures rather than marketing. Conversely, it is very interesting to see talents such as Manish Arora, who is now working at Paco Rabanne. There are no longer cultural boundaries when it comes to talent—it is truly international.
What has the experience of taking luxury online been like? What are some of the advantages to having a digital space to express what is, in some ways, a very material concept?
There are so many advantages to taking luxury online, but the most important is the sheer number of people you can reach. I get so much pleasure in being able to share my finds and bring them to an audience around the world. After all, creativity is a universal language that can be understood the world over. Whether my readers can afford to buy these things or not, they are inspired and more knowledgeable as a result. The Internet has made luxury something for everyone to enjoy. And that’s a good thing. It’s also making customers much more sophisticated in their choices.
What recent designs have excited you the most?
All the jewels at Buccellati, the entire Alaia collection, sunglasses by Maison Bonnet and Ralph Vaessen, the Loewe leather bags that look like brown paper bags (so clever and perfect for the mood right now), the butterfly shoes in the Alexander McQueen SS11 collection, and all the clever products made by Naoto Fukasawa for Muji.