At Mumbai’s brand new Corneliani store at The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, the prevailing marine theme-crisp cotton sports coats in white and midnight blue, softly structured white silk jackets, striped silk T-shirts-might excuse a man for dreaming of his own yacht sailing the Arabian Sea, across the street. Cristiano Corneliani, his company’s global sales director, who was in town last week to unveil what he calls the “crown jewel” of his stores in India, takes these almost more seriously than he does the array of evening dress and workwear for the Nariman Point crowd.
“Our roots are classic, but we try to follow our customers through the day; during vacation, on weekends. So we introduced a luxury casual collection a few years ago that kept our key points-elegance, refinement-in the details.”
The “luxury casual” Corneliani vibe in the off-the-rack selection is one of relaxed, slightly adventurous confidence. The jackets have open cuff buttons, as you would find in a suit; the linings are rich and bespeak a more subdued flamboyance than some of the more assertive Italian brands we love in India. The jackets can cost anything upwards of Rs 80,000. They also have a made-to-measure (MTM) service with a select range of fabrics and accessories. A suit will typically cost 20% more than an off-the-rack item of similar quality, plus a four-week wait while it is fitted and flown back from Italy, where every Corneliani product is made.
Suit sprit: Corneliani says the label embodies a bold but subtle creativity, with refinement in the details.Photo:Kedar Bhat/Mint
I notice and admire the rose-red and pistachio green options for linings in their MTM service, and silently judge the stuffier businessmen who won’t be choosing them.
“We like to think that Corneliani is for people who are young in the brain,” he offers when I tell him that the regular Indian suit enthusiast would admire the charcoal grey striped suit Corneliani suit that Aamir Khan wore to the Berlin International Film Festival this February, but only at a respectful distance. “You can be very correct, but still play with your suit. You can wear something that is not for you to display, but for you to know.”
“The Corneliani man,” he continues, “is a passionate man. A person who is trying to innovate, to challenge. When I see people like Steve Jobs, or Richard Branson, creating something different, from nothing!” He smiles. “They are people I would like to dress.”
The Corneliani label began 70 years ago in the family’s hometown outside Milan. Its current headquarters are in the historic town of Mantova, where Corneliani’s father and elder brother rebuilt the business after the devastation of World War II. Italy, he says, is the sort of place overflowing with the sort of slightly offbeat entrepreneurial energy and creativity that is in harmony with the spirit of his brand.
Perhaps that explains why they buck global luxury trends in some ways too. They opened their first India boutique in Delhi’s South Extension in 2005-four years before they entered China. But in China, they already have 20 stores. The Taj outlet, along with new stores in Bangalore and Hyderabad, brings their India total up to five. They look forward, he says, to a future presence in Kolkata, Chennai and Pune, among other cities. “Maybe 10-12 stores in the next three-five years.”
“I have to try to understand everything,” he says. “The expectation is to match an Italian way of dressing with respect to the Indian attitude. We don’t want to impose our style here.”