Luxury is not the prerogative of the rich and the famous anymore. With the economy approaching a two figure growth rate and the average per capita income showing steady improvement, Indians are now in a position to spend more on pleasure and indulgence than ever before. Infact, the country is fast emerging as a big market for luxury goods, while dreaming of building and marketing its own global brands.
At the two-day Hindustan Times Mint Luxury Conference this message seems to have been let across, loud and clear. The conference held at New Delhi’s Taj Palace hotel was attended by 400 delegates, a quarter of them from overseas, especially France.
At the outset of the Summit, Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath assured that India was ready for a re-look at import duties on luxury goods, but also wanted to guard local manufacturers from unfair competition.
“You are at the right place at the right time,” Kamal Nath told the delegates.“India has more than two million households that earn more than $100,000 a year, and this is growing at 14%,” he added.
Shobhana Bhartia, vice-chairperson and editorial director of HT Media Ltd, said the number of India’s middle class households, had grown to 17.3 million in 2005, while traditional artisans and craftsmen were an inspiring source of supplies.“Just as you have a lot to offer India, India also has a lot to offer to the world,” she told delegates.
While the sessions held in the conference covered ground from new markets to ready-to-wear clothes, new wisdom emerged from Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, group president of Estee Lauder, who said widening affluence had resulted in the “mass marketisation of temptation” across the world, with more people joining what was once considered elitist, while redefining luxury itself.
Yves Carcelle, chairman and CEO, Louis Vuitton Malletier, among the big labels present at the conference said, “there’s a fantastic appetite in France for Indian culture — and we hope to be cross-country ambassadors.” France’s elite Comite Colbert club of luxury labels was also in keen attendance.
But the Italian and the French, the constituents of whose organisations account for more than half the global luxury market between themselves, agreed on the challenges India posed as a luxury destination, the motion they were labouring over at the session. Some of them were old whines in new bottles, it takes long to open shop here, there is little infrastructure for experiential brands, and the countervailing duties are too high. To this, Raju Narisetti, managing editor of HT Mint, who was moderating the discussion, said, “But aren’t the bureaucracies in Italy or France just as slow?”
Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, group president of Estee Lauder Companies Inc, told “mass marketisation of luxury” was a new trend, while “depreciation of brands” was an accompanying challenge.Luxury is not what it used to be. Widening affluence across the world and the rise of the Internet have thrown up new challenges to manufacturers and marketers who need to balance exclusive branding with higher volumes and changing attitudes, a revered figure in the industry.
Mark Henderson, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Gieves & Hawkes Plc, the firm that represents the iconic No1, Savile Row address that epitomises the bespoke tradition told the Hindustan Times Mint Luxury Conference that the home of English style was now open minded.That means setting up links with Parisian counterparts and institutions such as the London college of fashion and being open to Italian styles.“It is not England versus the Rest. It is about preserving craftsmanship in Europe,” said Henderson, who as chairman of Savile Row Bespoke, an association that represents various establishments in the area, is a globe-trotting evangelist for the tradition.
Gieves & Hawkes, which is looking for a partner to start business in India after opening some 29 of its 70 stores in China, may not be a familiar name in the country, but Savile Row is for many.“I suspect a lot of the traditional tailors (in India) were probably trained in Savile Row,” Henderson said in response to a question.
Henderson displayed his own suit to show the audience what the Savile Row tradition is really all about. The suit he wore was made to accentuate his legs, make him look taller by using two buttons instead of the usual three, and designed to fit perfectly on his slightly dipped left shoulder, he said.
Radha Chadha, the author of ‘The Cult of Luxury Brand : Inside Asia’s Love Affair with Luxury’, in her presentation, pointed out how Asia accounts for a whopping 37% in the $80 billion luxury industry, and is almost a half of the global luxury market. She was upbeat on the possibilities of India emerging as one of the most important players in the global luxury business.