‘Brands are creating experiences to drive sales’: Akash Sheth

  • Homegrown experiential event Luxury Lifestyle Weekend comes to Delhi this year, after two editions in Mumbai
  • Akash Sheth, founder and managing director of LLW, spoke over the phone to Lounge about expansion plans, India’s growing luxury market, and the importance of storytelling and experience

In February, a rare Patek Philippe 18k pink-gold chronograph wristwatch made its way to Mumbai. Reportedly one of just four such pieces, the watch came from music legend Eric Clapton’s personal collection and was brought to India by auction house Christie’s for a special display at the Luxury Lifestyle Weekend (LLW, 22-24 February). But Clapton’s watch wasn’t the only showstopper at the event.

Over two years, the weekender has put together an experiential luxury event encompassing categories like fashion, automobiles, watches, jewellery, food and beverages, and real estate. Following the second edition of the weekender in Mumbai, LLW will make its debut in Delhi this year. Akash Sheth, founder and managing director of LLW, spoke over the phone to Lounge about expansion plans, India’s growing luxury market, turning the focus on luxury, and the importance of storytelling and experience. Edited excerpts:

How has the weekender evolved over its first two editions?

It took us about four years to put this concept together primarily because of the kind of investments this project requires. Our first challenge was to convince brands to believe that we could put up a show at par with any international show. Once we overcame that, we had to focus on creating impeccable production and a uniform design language. Our biggest challenge was going to be the audience, and hence we built a lot of experiences around the show—the opening evening, closing sundowner, masterclasses, power panels. Many brands hosted lunches and high teas (for select guests) as well.

We would like to believe that it was a successful show—almost 100% said they would like to participate again. In 2019, we wanted to maintain the luxurious experience and ambience but also let homegrown brands and conscious labels coexist. In year 2, we had 169 brands, almost twice as (many as) year 1, and close to a 25,000 audience over three days.

Experience is the new buzzword in luxury. How do you create an experiential event, especially for product-driven brands?

If you look at the global luxury market, (approximately) half of it is driven from experience. People are spending more on holidays, dining (out), theatre…brands that are product-driven are creating activations and experiences to drive sales. That’s what we wanted to put together as well—let the audience engage with a brand, learn more and decide if you want to be a loyalist or not. The whole curation is done in-house and we had unique experiences across categories which enabled the audience to know more. We had 17 installations in 2019 and a space dedicated to art. Panerai had a watchmaker flown in, Christie’s offered an evaluation for antique timepieces and automobile brands like Aston Martin had new displays.

What is the business side to such an experiential show?

In 2018, we were not claiming that this would be a transactional event. Our pitch to brand was that we would try and put up something spectacular. We didn’t want to be called an exhibition, but it was experiential with unique pieces for people to see. Luckily for us, a lot of the brands saw transactions. Our highest-performing category was jewellery. But products like real estate and fashion did well. Not all of these were on-ground transactions. A lot of the leads generated in 2018 materialized in the rest of the year. It also helped us double our categories in our second edition. We are experiential, but we are also becoming a transactional show.

The 2019 edition included homegrown and conscious brands. How significant was their presence?

That was a big hit for us in 2019. When we were starting, I was wary of the step—on the one hand, you had luxury brands, and on the other, there was a brand from Jaipur. Allowing them to coexist in the same space was a challenge, but it was a very successful move. We are a luxury and lifestyle event—so we do have a lifestyle component and some of these (home-grown) brands are highly sought after. We had about 26 brands and all of them sold out. We are bullish on making it a larger part of the show.

What are your plans for expansion?

We are growing in size but we want to go larger. We have to create an experience to wow (brands and audience) rather than being repetitive and creating the same thing over and over again. The format will be much more disruptive in edition three, which will be between Mumbai and Delhi. In August, we will announce the dates and venue for LLW Delhi for the last quarter this year, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Do you also have plans for expansion in other cities?

Once we are settled between Mumbai and Delhi, we would like to do pop-ups across Indian cities in smaller but different formats. These will be very bespoke, depending on what the city has to offer and what they desire in terms of products and experiences.

What is your observation about the Indian luxury market?

In India, we still don’t have access to everything. The collections in Indian stores (of international luxury brands) are not the same as what one finds in Paris or London. Even for watches, most retailers don’t stock limited-edition watches. But if brands are able to create storytelling and experiences, and give the consumer access to a larger inventory and collection, people are willing to make the purchase.

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