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Photo: Courtesy Shantanu & Nikhil
Photo: Courtesy Shantanu & Nikhil

Beyond shine

There is an increasing appreciation for draping, fabric, textures, craft, for other values of fashion and couture that is not just about shine

It takes some time in a business to see the emergence of a trend. Even so, I find it rather difficult to nail down a fashion trend in India—the space is so fragmented across multiple genres and sub-geographies. When Swarovski entered India 15 years ago, it went by definitive readings available in the market, instead of trends. It probed where high-value crystals could be applied in Indian fashion and what would be the right mechanisms to build the needful presence.

One obvious route was high-end bridal wear—given the natural heritage of embroidery and embellishment, and the erstwhile use of precious stones to provide multiple dimensions of opulence. That was the seed of the collaborations we began building with Indian designers. That’s also why, 15 years later, our identity in India still remains linked with bridal couture, despite our diversification into multiple other areas; and we fully encourage that.

Crystals became an exciting embellishment for designers to play with. However, spurred by their popularity, cheaper crystals began flooding the market in the last three-four years. They became an alternative if an “unauthentic" source for some designers and brands who would use “crystals" lower in quality, durability, visual appeal but could ostensibly be passed off to some consumers as Swarovski. Use of cheap crystals allowed for heavy crystal embellishment on lehngas at a very low price.

Consequently in India, I found our company in a counter-intuitive situation: the more designers or brands wanted heavy use of crystals, the less likely it was that they would use authentic Swarovski. They wanted low price points and there was availability of cheap alternative material to support this.

Over the past two years, we have witnessed another subtle dynamic which has contributed to what I term the “reorientation of Swarovski". This has to do with the evolving needs of the Indian luxury consumer—people who don’t always need to display what they own or how much they are worth.

While there is still a tangible gap in the savviness of luxury purchase behaviour on this front between consumers here and in the West, there is an increasing appreciation for draping, fabric, textures, craft, for other values of fashion and couture that is not just about shine. With this emergent dynamic, it is increasingly relevant that Swarovski be also seen as a core design ingredient .

That offered us a direction for the two-pronged approach we have recently launched. One, while we continue to embrace the sparkle and shine we bring to the table,we are evolving our palette to include opal tones, pastel shades, imperfect cuts with matte finish, patina effect and pearl tones. The patina effect is a special canvas for India which provides remarkable avenues to create a vintage old-world feel, with its distressed look, and it has been accepted already.

All of these are directed towards that segment of consumers who want to use Swarovski but don’t want their clothes to state it obviously. This evolution not only helps us offer an innovative twist to our existing consumer base, it also allows to bring in a new generation of consumers who are not traditional “bling-lovers" but are looking for sleek and contemporary edgy, with subtlety in form.

Also, since last year, we have started focusing on use of Swarovski in a select set of garments within a designer collection, where the use is unique, pure and raw in a sense. It stands out magnificently, thus eliminating the need for other embroidery or embellishment—which helps the designer manage the price as well, while creating something with spectacular impact.

Last is the relevance of environmental sustainability, one of the core values for a luxury brand in this day and age. Swarovski are the only crystals available which are 100% lead- and nickel-free. We also have a huge emphasis on water conservation, driven via green production processes as well as corporate social responsibility efforts. We are increasingly seen as a vanguard and vehicle for sustainability among our luxury client base in the West. I hope domestic luxury brands will similarly take notice of these aspects.

Vivek Ramabhadran, managing director of Swarovski Professional India, will moderate a session on New Frontiers of Design at the forthcoming luxury conference.

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