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Mumbai: Gone are the days when luxury was all about dressing up, good champagne and chandeliers. These are common in today’s urban living. Luxury now is about creating experiences, rare moments people connect with. It is about choosing something that reflects your values.

These were recurring themes at a session on the new frontiers of design, featuring Dutch designer Marcel Wanders and Indian-British hotelier Sonu Shivdasani in conversation with Swarovski India managing director Vivek Ramabhadran at the Mint Luxury Conference in Mumbai on Friday.

“The world is changing. And so is the meaning of luxury," said Shivdasani, adding that “Luxury today is about time, space, privacy, fresh air, fresh food."

“Urbanization is happening at a rapid pace and people in the urban world are all living similar lives. They live in similar spaces and they eat the same kind of food. If you look at London, Paris, New York and Shanghai, there are the same set of designers making the same kind of hotels and restaurants that serve the same food. So, where is luxury there?" asked Shivdasani.

At Soneva, the group of luxury resorts of which he is chairman and CEO, Shivdasani said, they create “rare moments that are honest and that would touch a chord in the hearts of our guests". “We have food fresh from our farms and the sea, a sand beach for a restaurant, open air instead of AC. That’s what luxury is in today’s context," he said. “Being able to walk barefoot for a week is a luxury today."

For Wanders, luxury is more about personal values than functionality. “If you make a chair, functionality is important and its value will increase if there is a connect with the buyer. But when you are designing a home, functionality is given. Then, it is all about how the buyer feels about the house," he said.

Wanders recalled his childhood days and that he liked gifts a lot. But getting gifts taught him a couple of things about them. Whether or not you like a gift, it shows on your face. “A good gift celebrates the relationship between two people. And design for me is like that. It is my gift to the world," he said.

In hospitality, services are becoming more important. How you reach out to clients, engage them and curate new experiences and how you make your business model more sustainable are things that matter more than how many hotels or restaurants you have, Shivdasani said.

The issue of sustainability also kept coming up during the session. “We can’t use things and throw them away as we wish anymore. We need to reduce wastage," said Shivdasani as he summed up sustainable measures taken by Soneva, which includes recycling water and waste and a carbon levy for guests—an additional charge of 2% of room revenue.

“At this time, we can’t afford our sustainable development goals to be soft," he said.

Wanders said for design to be sustainable, people have to create things “that can’t be thrown away". And people will never throw away things they care about. So, it becomes important as a designer to explore the link that connects the buyer and the buy. The passion to find that link is what he stands for and advocates. The things he created in his studio in Amsterdam over 20 years ago are still as relevant today, Wanders said. “I draw massively from the past. The history, traditions and cultures are very important to me. That’s one way of staying relevant," he said.

For Soneva, India is a very small market, said Shivdasani. “But it needs to be corrected." Much of India’s elite are first-generation, self-made rich. “As the market matures, there will be more people wanting to invest in our philosophy," he added.

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