Buñuel’s surrealist 1972 film might have little to do with the state of the Indian luxury market. But the title lends itself exceedingly well.
There is nothing discreet about the way the Indian luxury consumer is spending his money today. In her column, marketing and consumer insight expert Radha Chadha speaks of the New Money consumer who is focused on acquiring the fresh symbols of wealth: from monogrammed bags to portable trunks that open up to reveal the whole shebang and come with a Rs 15 lakh price tag, to business jets that are no longer the preserve of multinationals, with even medium-sized entrepreneurs eyeing the new Bombardier or Boeing. A 2010 CII (Confederation of Indian Industry)-AT Kearney report says the luxury goods market in the country is set to touch $14.72 billion (around Rs 66,240 crore) by 2015, almost triple of what it was in 2010.
Yet one can’t dismiss India as a “loud”-loving market. In our style feature by designer Ravi Bajaj, we reminisce about Indian men of vintage who exemplified understated elegance such as JRD. The heritage of craftsmanship, the love for things that last, the eye for detail (look at not your mother’s, but your grandmother’s jewellery) prime Indians for luxury consumption. Deep down, we supposedly know the good stuff. But as an emerging luxury market that really only opened up in January 2006, when the government began to allow foreign direct investment of as much as 51% in single-brand retail operations, it is far too young a market to understand the pleasures of discretion.
Understated: JRD was always elegantly turned out. Dinodia Photos/Getty Images
In January 2010, Volkswagen introduced the Phaeton—a hand-built luxury car for the sort of people who prefer to wear their designer labels on the inside of their clothing. At just under Rs 1 crore, it was in direct competition with the flashier Mercedes S-Class or the BMW 7 Series. While sales haven’t been phenomenal, its entry in the Indian market signals a shift to subtlety.
A 2007 article in The New York Timesanalysing the Indian luxury market quoted Yves Carcelle, chief executive and chairman of Louis Vuitton, as saying: “Each country has a different attitude towards luxury. A century ago the Indian elite, the maharajahs, were among the luxury brands’ biggest clients.” This is an important observation because there are other countries where there is no luxury tradition. As Carcelle says, luxury disappeared in India, but the culture for luxury continued to exist. He gives reason to believe that beneath the bling and blah there’s a connoisseur waiting to be tapped.
And that he could be both discreet, and charming.