Home / Industry / Luxury doesn’t need to be expensive, says Calvin Klein

Mumbai: The price tag doesn’t have to be steep for something to qualify as a luxury product, American fashion designer Calvin Klein said on Friday, debunking the common myth that luxury, by its very definition, has to be expensive.

Klein made the point at the Mint Luxury Conference in Mumbai, illustrating it with the example of Japanese retailer Uniqlo, which sells a pair of jeans at a price point of around 1,000 although they are of a quality that could fetch $1,000 at a designer store.

“What we are experiencing is luxury at prices which are much more affordable. And luxury which is the best of the best," said Klein.

Klein, now 73, who extended the luxury concept to jeans and lingerie 30 years ago by putting his eponymous label on such everyday apparel, also spoke about his concept of luxury.

“Personally, luxury to me is great space, especially living in New York City. But in products, having the best quality of perfection...is true luxury," he said.

And luxury isn’t ephemeral.

Klein pointed out that Hermès International SA’s Kelly bag, popularized by Grace Kelly, the movie actress and princess of Monaco in 1950s, still remains a sought-after status symbol.

The concept of luxury is changing, moving away from owning to being.

Experiential luxury—or living the good life— is a $650 billion market, much bigger than the $440 billion products market, said Abheek Singhi, senior partner and director at consulting firm Boston Consulting Group.

The global $1.5 trillion fashion industry caters to 350-400 million highly educated and high-income earners, according to Singhi.

Likewise, in India, the luxury market caters to just the top 4-6% of the population and is estimated to be a $15-20 billion market, he said.

Even cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi are underserved and under-penetrated by the luxury segment.

Unlike the global economy, which is experiencing a downturn, the Indian economy is growing. The luxury market has the potential to grow from $18.5 billion currently to $50 billion by 2020 and to $180 billion by 2025, said Amitabh Kant, chief executive of NITI Aayog, the successor to the Planning Commission.

A rising middle class, youthful population and growing urbanization will help in the growth of the luxury market in India, said Kant.

About 350 million people will join the urban population in the next three decades. The phenomenon will be aided by the creation of 100 smart cities.

To drive the luxury market in India, the Indian economy needs to grow at a higher rate of 9-10% in the next three decades, up from the current rate of 7.5%; This will automatically create more millionaires and billionaires and boost demand for luxury goods, Kant said.

He went on to identify what the country needs to do to be able to accelerate the pace of growth—open up the economy, improve the ease of doing business, invest more in infrastructure, and maintain consistency and predictability in matters of policy.

The government has been walking the talk since it came to power in May 2014. In the last 15 months, foreign direct investment in India has grown 48%, said Kant; in comparison, globally foreign investments declined by 16%.

Even as India opens its doors to global luxury retailers, there is a need to take the country’s own heritage of luxury to global markets. India is not new to the concept, given its rich heritage of luxury in perfumes and textiles, said Kant, stressing that India needs to remain true to its roots in the pursuit of everything luxurious.

To be sure, the concept of luxury differs from person to person.

For actor Kangana Ranaut, “luxury is something that makes your life easier and reflects your attitude". She considers the BMW 7 Series car her most luxurious possession.

For celebrity designer Manish Malhotra, luxury is the house that he owns. “Luxury is something you like and something you could associate with," he said.

It is knowledge for Parmesh Shahani, head of Godrej India Culture Lab, who is also a Yale World Fellow. Shahani doesn’t own a car because he feels it is unnecessary in the day and age of the “Uber economy".

“It is not that I can’t buy one," Shahani said about a car. “I’d rather invest that money in buying scores of clutches. Who knows, by the time I finish, I might have a museum of clutches," he said, chuckling.

Acquisition of knowledge is his idea of luxury. In a fast moving world, in which time is at a premium, time is almost a luxury in itself. And the way the world is connected via the Internet, all the information is just a click of a mouse away.

“So in that fast life, taking the time out and researching and investing yourself in knowing something in detail is the greatest luxury," said Shahani.

Vivek Ramabhadran, managing director of Swarovski India, thinks luxury is about creating the perfect brand strategy. It all starts with an attempt to create an iconic brand that also has a wide appeal. “If you look at all the iconic brands, they started with the same concept," said Ramabhadran. “They had to express themselves."

For Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, luxury is about seeing his dreams come true.

“Luxury is not about the things that you own. It is about something that reflects your personal values, something that shows the choices that you have made in your life," said Wanders.

“I have 60 people working for me in my studio. That’s luxury if you ask me," he added.

Gouri Shah, Pradip Kumar Saha and Preetha Banerjee contributed to this story.

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