Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Zara's India plans (finally!)... and what happens to Gucci?

Online retail newsletter Retail Angle says that Tata's retail arm Trent Ltd has formed a 51:49 JV with the Spanish Inditex Group, which owns Zara.

As part of the memorandum of understanding (MoU), Inditex will hold 51% in the JV, while Trent Ltd will hold 49%. The first of the stores will be opened in 2010 in New Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities of India. The agreement was inked at the Inditex headquarters in Arteixo, Spain.

In other news, Armani has apparently shelved plans for India's first Armani Cafe in Bangalore. Says Retail Angle:

For over a year, Giorgio Armani India, a 51:49 joint venture with DLF, has been reported to be working on setting up a 10,000-sq ft Emporio Armani store accompanied by an elite cafe-cum-bar at The Collection Luxury Mall, a part of UB City on Vittal Mallya Road, promoted by UB Group and Prestige Developers. This was to be India's first Armani cafe, which normally operates as part of the large format fashion retail stores. Media reports now say that the plans for Armani store and cafe at UB City have been dropped, for the time being at least. The decision to slowdown new stores was taken as a result of deteriorating consumer sentiments, and given the fledgling nature of India's luxury market. In late 2008, Armani had opened its first stores at DLF-owned Emporio luxury mall in New Delhi and was expected to roll out stores in Bangalore and Mumbai in 2009.

And finally, the Economic Times recently reported that the Murjani Group may sell its stake in the Gucci India business. The newsletter continues:

The Mohan Murjani family's Indian arm, Brand Marketing India Ltd (BMIL), is preparing to divest the Indian operations of Gucci. They have appointed an investment banker to help them find a strategic partner for the Gucci business. The Mumbai-based BMIL operates with a number of domestic licensing rights for international brands like Gucci, Calvin Klein, French Connection, Jimmy Choo, Bottega Veneta and La Perla. In recent months, BMIL has given away the rights for Jimmy Choo and Bottega Veneta stores in New Delhi and that of the yet to-launched French luxury intimate wear La Perla. The move to divest Gucci comes at a time when speculation has been gaining ground about the liquidity position of the Murjani company.

Monday, December 01, 2008

IHT Luxury Conference postponed

Due to the horrible terrorist attacks in Mumbai last week, the IHT Luxury Conference (scheduled to take place on December 2-4, 2008 at The Imperial Hotel, New Delhi) has now been postponed to next year.

An article in Reuters confirmed:

"We had already put in place security measures but we are, of course, sensitive to the safety concerns of all our conference participants following the terrorist attacks on Mumbai," said Stephen Dunbar Johnson, Publisher of the IHT.

"We felt it was inappropriate to hold this conference at such a difficult time for India - but we plan to be back as soon as the situation is stabilised," he added in statement issued on Thursday.

The IHT said it was "fully committed to bringing its conference to New Delhi early next year."

The Conference is expected to be back on track in New Delhi by March 2009, however, the dates are yet to be confirmed. Stay tuned for more on this.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Armani, Diesel on Indian shores

Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani have finally opened shop in Mumbai. On Monday (Oct 13), the two stores were launched at the Emporio Mall in Delhi. According to an article in DNR, the stores are managed through a joint venture between Armani and real estate firm retail arm, DLF Retail Brands Pvt. Ltd.

John Hooks, commercial and marketing director of the Armani Group, said the company is "playing it fairly carefully" as the country is developing slowly. "We need to be in [Mumbai], and we need to find the right location," said Hooks, noting that real estate space has been one of the main issues preventing an expansion in India.

"DLF has got some big plans for malls in Mumbai, and we are also tempted by Bangalore," said Hooks, noting that he had seen some locations there, but eventually chose not to take them. "We need to get to know the country, the market and the consumers," said Hooks. "We have no preconceptions."

Earlier this year, Cristiana Ruella, director of general affairs at Dolce & Gabbana, said the company had signed an agreement with DLF Group to secure spaces in the Emporio mall for that company's first boutiques in India. Salvatore Ferragamo SpA also said it plans to open 10 stores in India by 2013 — including three this year — after launching a joint venture with DLF. This year’s units are slated for New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. Ferragamo opened its first own-branded Indian store in 2006 at the Grand Hyatt Plaza Hotel in Mumbai. Gucci is planning its third Indian location at the Emporio mall this year.

Diesel in 2009
Meanwhile, Diesel is also looking to expand its business in the east and plans to enter India in spring 2009. To do so, the Italian apparel company has formed a joint venture with Reliance Brands Ltd., controlled by Reliance Industries Ltd. Diesel will hold a 51 per cent stake in the partnership. Stores will initially open in Mumbai and Delhi, followed by Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chandigarh.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

India considers lifting limits on foreign luxury brands

One of India's top economic policymakers said the government would consider lifting a law that limits foreign brands from owning more than 51% of their operations in India.

"We are considering it, seriously," India's Trade Minister, Kamal Nath, told a meeting of French luxury executives in Paris. Reuters says that in addition to inadequate infrastructure and excessive red tape, luxury brands operating in India face import taxes that can reach 500%.

Within India, significant political pressure exists from the country's 12 million or so small shop owners to protect India's domestic retail industry from foreign competition.

Meanwhile, a McKinsey study released last week predicted that these barriers to foreign firms will indeed fall, paving the way for organized retail to earn 14-18% of India's $450 billion market by 2015.

By comparison, the Financial Times currently estimates organized retail at 20% share of market in China and 36% in Russia.

Source: Luxury Brand Network

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

IHT to host '08 Luxury Conference in Delhi

After Paris, Moscow, Istanbul, Dubai and Hong Kong, the International Herald Tribune will hold the eighth edition of its annual Luxury Conference in New Delhi, India. The topic for this year's conference is 'Sustainable Luxury' and will take place at the Imperial Hotel from December 2nd to 4th.

The focus will be on three key areas: how to sustain brands in an increasingly crowded market, how to sustain profitability in a challenging economic environment and how to sustain environmental performance throughout the supply chain.

IHT's fashion editor Suzy Menkes has said in a statement:

"India is a unique marketplace for luxury and its heritage and culture of exceptional objects goes back in an unbroken line to the Mughal era. Yet at the same time, modern India brings a feisty, entrepreneurial spirit both in creating and selling fine goods. India also relies on its own exceptional craftsmanship, which, in turn, is used by international designers as an important resource."

The confirmed list of speakers include Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, Francois-Henri Pinault (Chairman & CEO, PPR), Christian Blanckaert (Executive VP, Hèrmes International), designers Manish Arora, Dries Van Noten, Roberto Cavalli, Viktor & Rolf, Nicolas Ghesquiére (Balenciaga), Tomas Maier (Bottega Veneta), Elizabeth Hurley, Mohan Murjani (Chairman, Murjani Group), Charu Sachdev (CEO, TSG International Marketing), Patrick Chalhoub (Joint Chief Executive, Chalhoub Group), among several others!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Kenzo debuts in India; wants to woo the sari

Kenzo, the luxury label of Japanese origin now owned by LVMH, opened shop in India at the luxury mall Emporio last week. And Jean Keller, the brand's wholesale commercial director, was at hand to launch the store and spin stories about how Kenzo wants to permanently endear itself to the Indian woman.

In an interview to Business Standard, Keller said, "We are in discussion to start a range of saris. Kenzo did the kimono, so why not the sari? Kenzo is a multi-cultural brand."

The interest in the sari, apart from being a pragmatic approach towards design and silhouette, also shows an astute (astute because few other luxury brands have been able to understand this so far) understanding of how the Indian woman consumer spends.

Points out Keller, "Women here still prefer to wear Indian designers. The Indian designers are very strong in that segment and are strongly established."

You don't say, Sherlock.

The brand hopes to introduce its entire range in India in the next five years. To begin with, the Delhi store will stock men's ready-to-wear, accessories and accessories for women.


The brand has simultaneously opened a Mens store at the JW Marriott in Mumbai as well.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Luxeletter - July edition


Molton Brown magic in Mumbai
The British luxury lifestyle and beauty brand Molton Brown, one of the original au naturale companies, has opened shop in Mumbai. Step into Good Earth at Raghuvanshi Mills to enjoy the Molton Brown experience, infused with products created through unexpected combinations of natural elements and creativity. From black peppercorns to kaffir lime leaves and Zambian malachite, each product fuses natural science with exotic flowers, plants and marine extracts sourced from around the globe.

Fashion with a heart
Continuing its love affair with India this year, Hèrmes has introduced its 2008 Autumn/Winter collection with a stunning series of scarves inspired by the subcontinent. Bold contrasting colours, floral and geometric patterns and traditional motifs on the Beloved India silk twill scarves reflect the country’s vibrant culture. What’s more, a collaboration with the Lesage embroiderers of India has resulted in a shawl made of cashmere and silk, embellished with sequins and glass beads, called the Shiny en Désordre, reinterpreting the iconic “Brides de gala” scarf. Hèrmes has pledged a percentage of sales of their latest twill scarves to help educate children in India.

Genesis gets a $25 million boost
Genesis Colours Pvt. Ltd., the holding company of designer brands like Satya Paul, Deepika Gehani and Shobhaa De, has received US $25 million (Rs 110 crores) investment from Sequoia Capital, Mayfield Fund and Silicon Valley for expansion plans. Apart from expanding retail operations for Satya Paul in India and overseas (the brand’s first international store is set to open in Singapore this month), plans also include promoting the newly-formed entity, Genesis Luxury. The luxury arm of the parent company, Genesis Luxury markets and distributes European luxury brands Canali, Kenzo, Paul Smith, Just Cavalli and Aigner in India. The company plans to open nearly 50 luxury retail stores across the country in the next four years.

Donna Karan being wooed
Madura Garments, the Aditya Birla group company, is in talks with American fashion company Donna Karan to open stores in India. According to newspaper reports, the Madura team is slated to meet Donna Karan representatives early this month to firm up plans for the partnership. Stores for the luxury Donna Karan Collection and the high-end Donna Karan New York (DKNY) are on the anvil for the Indian market.

Government ensures smooth sailing
Aiming to increase India’s share in the global luxury shipping tourism business, the government has approved a Cruise Shipping Policy to grab a larger portion of the US $14 billion industry. Globally growing at 12 per cent every year and with a passenger base of 10 million, luxury cruise shipping in India has a share of only two per cent currently. With the adoption of the policy, cruise shipping will help showcase India as a major tourist destination along with generating enormous growth in related sectors. With India’s economy developing at a steady pace, an increase in middle class disposable income means a greater amount spent on leisure activities like sailing and luxury boats.


Gulfstream’s latest Jet flash
Gulfstream has introduced a speedy new G650 corporate jet to its glitzy collection of high-speed aircrafts, which is set to take the lead as the world’s fastest civilian aircraft. With a top speed of almost 700 mph, the G650 can fly 8,000 miles nonstop, carrying eight passengers. The stand-up cabin is the industry’s widest, at eight feet across. Even the windows will be bigger than anyone else’s. The airplane will fly for the first time late next year, and deliveries are scheduled to start in 2012. Price is about US $59 million.

Discerning women prefer Bottega Veneta
Bottega Veneta’s perception as distinctive, elegant and less than ubiquitous has resulted in high net-worth female consumers rating it the Most Prestigious Women’s Luxury Fashion Brand. According to the 2008 Luxury Brand Status Index (LBSI) survey (from the independent New York City-based Luxury Institute), respondents said Bottega Veneta is very upscale, timeless and very well-made. Other brands that found favour with discerning wealthy women were Valentino, which ranked second, followed by Prada, Chanel and Hèrmes. Giorgio Armani was in sixth place, with Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Louis Vuitton rounding out the top 10.

Ferré finds a new niche
Gianfranco Ferré SpA has entered into a joint venture with Dubai-based real estate firm GIO Developments to develop and design property—the first being a US $1.2 billion commercial and residential tower in Dubai. The venture will guarantee Ferré a minimum of US $23 million and 10 per cent royalties on the sales of interior furnishings designed by its team. The 60-story-plus tower—named Gianfranco Ferré Stresa, after the town where the late designer had his summer residence—will include luxury apartments, a museum featuring collections from the Ferré archive and a spa. The tower is slated for completion in 2011.

Versace, Lamborghini up the ante
Long-time collaborators Versace and Lamborghini have announced the launch of the new Murciélago LP 640 Roadster and its exclusive collection of accessories. Individual clients can create personalised sports cars, choosing the equipment specification, the colour of the exterior body as well as the interior fittings. The limited edition Lamborghini comes in pastel white with the Versace Greek motif on the lower part of the door. The cradle seats are clad in black and white leather, while hand-embroidered nappa has been used to upholster the instrument panel, doors and console. The car comes with a complementary Versace Collection range of accessories in black calf skin, and includes a trolley bag, suit carrier, sports bag, suitcase, gloves, driving shoes, beauty case, and a pair of jeans, among other things.

Vanessa Paradis is the new 'Miu'se
The Milan-based fashion house Miu Miu has unveiled its Fall 2008 campaign with French singer and actor Vanessa Paradis. Better known to the rest of the world as Hollywood actor Johnny Depp’s partner, the 35-year-old Paradis was chosen by creative head Miuccia Prada because she possesses a “certain powerful innocence”. Previously, Hollywood actress Kirsten Dunst starred in the brand’s Spring/ Summer 08 campaign.



MBA Luxe: The new business mantra

Arming yourself with a specialist degree in Luxury Brand Management can give your career a nudge in the right direction. Zahra Khan reports

Move over vanilla MBAs. There’s a whole new world of opportunity waiting for those willing to go beyond the obvious. And the likes of Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, among several other luxury brands, are increasingly hand-picking graduates from business schools that provide more than just strategic outlooks and general business perspectives. Welcome to the world of the Luxury MBA, where you can learn everything from how to manage an international luxury fashion house to a vineyard in the South of France.

And with a strong heritage for haute couture and other prestige products, European business schools are taking the lead in grooming MBAs with lofty ambitions. Says Denis Morisset, Executive Director and Professor at the Paris-based ESSEC Business School, which started its signature MBA Luxe programme over a decade ago, “We developed an expertise in luxury brand management in 1991 with the creation of Chair LVMH, a luxury teaching and research track part of ESSEC’s general MBA. Later, ESSEC felt the need to develop a complete MBA programme catering to the needs of the luxury industry.

We conducted an international feasibility study with the most prestigious luxury brands and all of them supported the idea of launching a specialized MBA in International Luxury Brand Management, which was launched in 1995. The reason why the luxury industry was interested was because they were looking for a generation of managers with not only strong academic skills and relevant work experience, but also a particular product sensitivity, motivation and passion for this industry.”

IUM Campus in Monaco

Further south of France, in the tiny but prosperous principality of Monaco, the International University of Monaco (IUM) has just successfully bid adieu to its second graduating class from the Master of Sciences in Luxury Goods & Services. Say Sandrine Crener-Ricard, the Director of the MScLGS programme, “In 2003, we introduced luxury specialization courses in our MBA programme. This first experience, coupled with the fact that Monaco is one of the most luxurious destinations in the world, and that the global luxury industry is booming, encouraged us to develop a programme dedicated to luxury.”

Both agree that the advantage and relevance of programmes such as these is that it combines the best general academic credentials expected from a top MBA school along with the best sharing of industry experience thanks to the involvement of lecturers from the luxury industry, including interactions with CEOs and marketing directors.

Looking beyond the glamorous surface
Back home in India, there’s a veritable ‘luxeplosion’ going on with some of the biggest players in the international luxury industry now making a mark in India. Needless to say, finding the right kind of talent can be a challenge for these companies. That’s where a programme such as the MBA Luxe or MScLGS come in. Says Mr. Morisset, “Our programme is a great induction for managers looking to move into the luxury sector. What is particularly relevant for luxury brands and for participants coming from emerging luxury markets is the fact that this programme takes place in Paris. This enables participants to gain a deep understanding of the European heritage of most luxury brands thanks to a number of interactions that the programme facilitates with various brand headquarters during the year.”

Adds Ms Ricard, “Dealing with luxury products, services and brands requires specific skills. Luxury companies are usually extremely selective; they recruit only the best of the best. You need to not only have a sound academic background, but also the ability to understand luxury in its non-material, emotional and subtle dimensions. At IUM, we give our students a very strong business background, but we also teach them to go beyond the glamorous surface of luxury; it is often more sophisticated and complex than it seems.”

The 2008 Graduating class from IUM

Which is one of the reasons why the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) has also jumped into the fray. Starting this year, IIM-A has established a Global Management Programme in Luxury Management, in association with ESSEC. Specially targeting executives from the luxury industry, the two-week programme takes place in Ahmedabad and Paris, and is as much about providing in-depth training as it is about sharing knowledge between the Indian and European industries.Says Dr Piyush Kumar Sinha, Chairperson, Centre for Retailing, IIM-A, “We have started the journey with Management Development Programmes (MDPs). As we move ahead, other activities will emanate out of it. We recognise that while the general MBA may also address many issues of the luxury business, the nuances can be captured only through a specialised programme. We have taken a pioneering step and are sure of setting up a new path for others to follow. The demand for this kind of education and training will definitely surge, not only in India but across the world.



Where are the American luxury brands?

The Europeans have a head-start over American luxury brands in conquering the Indian luxe market, writes Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza

The SS08 ad campaign from Oscar De La Renta

According to the most recent Merrill Lynch Cap Gemini World Wealth Report, in 2006 India had 100,015 millionaires, up 20.5 per cent from the 83,000 high net worth individuals (HNWIs) recorded in the previous year. The wealth may be new, but the taste for fine luxury goods and services has always been a part of India’s elite and an integral part of its rich culture. With India’s local economy thriving, millions of highly educated young Indians entering the work force, and millions of Indian nationals returning home with skills and resources to achieve further success, the continued strong growth of luxury goods and services in India in the coming decades is almost certain. Seizing the opportunity, French, Italian, German and Swiss luxury brands, from Louis Vuitton, to Canali, to Mercedes, to Rolex, to UBS, have entered India, either on their own, or via partnerships, to curate and deliver luxury goods and services to eager consumers who are quickly evolving into seasoned luxury connoisseurs.

But where are the American luxury brands?
Certainly there are practical reasons why we don’t hear so much about American luxury goods brands in India. Americans do not have such deep historical and cultural links with India as the Europeans do. Today, Americans and Indians are forging strong links via technology and outsourcing, but that does not affect luxury directly. In addition, while American brands tend to dominate in mass consumer goods and services, the same is not true in luxury.

Wal-mart, Starbuck’s and Citibank will probably have a very strong presence in India over time. Coke and Pepsi and Colgate already do. Yet, there are only a handful of American luxury brands such as Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Coach, and Marc Jacobs. Even some of these, such as Coach and Ralph Lauren, are more high-end brands than luxury brands. Clearly, the Europeans have the dominant credentials in luxury goods and services. My colleague Frank Zambrelli, the current creative genius behind Judith Leiber handbags, and who has worked at Chanel under the tutelage of design mavericks Karl Lagerfeld and Dominique Moncourtois, as well as at Cole-Haan, Coach, and Ralph Lauren, explains why:

“The challenge is changing minds about America and Americans as a source of luxury, not just a cache of consumers. I don’t even mean that from a manufacturing standpoint, but more from a branding and talent base. There is a built-in global paradigm (and we’re just as guilty of it here) that America is the land that invented sportswear (which is probably true), and as such is generally not a standard font of luxury. There is a dearth of American luxury brands, especially those playing a large role in the global fashion and related industries. Of course they exist, but if I ask a luxury consumer to name eight or ten globally recognized Italian names that are inarguably luxury brands, it would take them as many seconds to do so. Now try that with American firms, even outside of fashion.”

Tough situations
Further, the regulatory limitations of ownership for retailers until recently made it less hospitable to control your own destiny in India, scaring off the Americans. It doesn’t help that America’s economy is essentially in recession and the dollar has devalued so dramatically, making it tougher for American luxury brands to generate capital to invest overseas. American luxury brands see India as one of the best opportunities available for growth.

The SS08 ad campaign from Ralph Lauren

They are currently pursuing China, but will soon turn their focus on India. The approach will probably be to see how the Europeans fare, preferring to be on the leading edge, but not the bleeding edge, since many European brands are reported to be losing money so far in China and India, even though it is early days.

We expect a great deal of innovation from American luxury brands, and great designers such as Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, and Zac Pozen are proving us right. Unfortunately, it will take a long time until America rivals the likes of Europe in luxury.

To top it off, the Indians and the Chinese have their own ideas about playing a major role with their own luxury brands in the global arena soon. Their vast and growing private equity funds may just acquire lots of European and American luxury brands anyway. Long live global luxury, no matter who the originators or shareholders happen to be.

Milton Pedraza is the CEO of the New-York based Luxury Institute, a research group that publishes TheWealth Report and consults senior management of companies targeting the wealthy

Luxeletter - June edition


Hermès readies for Indian launch

Legendary French luxury house Hermès is all geared up for its first store in India at The Oberoi in New Delhi. The luxury marquee held a soft launch at the store in the last week of May, and will soon be open for business. Promoted in India by Neelam Khanna of Khanna Specialty Retail Pvt Ltd, the Hermès store is spread over 120 square meters and will stock leather products, men’s ready-to-wear and accessories, fragrances, jewellery, watches and its famous silk scarves. Prices will be about 20 per cent higher than Paris due to high import duties, with wallets starting at US $450, and the average price for the famed Birkin being US $9,000. The Oberoi in Delhi also houses Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Bvlgari.

High style on the high seas
Earlier this year, hotelier and sometime-actor Vikram Chatwal launched a boutique hotel on the high seas, called the Fathom. Based in the South of France for the summer, Fathom is a sleek, white 135-foot yacht that’s designed to be a luxury destination on the ocean. If a budget of US $250,000 a week is within your budget, you’ll get a Bond-worthy boat with underwater cameras, water ski and jet ski gear, an eight person Jacuzzi and a crew of nine at your disposal. Did we mention Fathom will winter in the Maldives?

Estée Lauder to launch four stores this year
Estée Lauder is set to open the first of four freestanding stores in India, a boutique in Mumbai’s premier luxury mall, the Galleria, this month. Over the next six months, Estée Lauder is also scheduled to launch a store in Bangalore’s luxurious UB City Mall and two more stores in Delhi. All stores will feature the brand’s best-selling products, as well as products specifically chosen for Indian consumers. Specific initiatives implemented for India include six additional shades of Double Wear liquid and powder foundation, developed specifically for Indian skin tones, and a colour collection called ‘Jewels of Summer’, created by Aerin Lauder, Senior Vice President and Creative Director, Estée Lauder.

Ferragamo on a spree
Salvatore Ferragamo SpA has big plans for India. Having signed a 51 per cent JV deal with local real estate company DLF, the Italian luxury goods company has announced that it plans to open 10 stores in the country by 2013. This year, new stores have been planned for Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. DLF, India’s largest real estate company, has also inked JVs with Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana in India.

'Stud'ied selection
Burberry is scheduled to open its second store in India at the luxury mall Emporio in New Delhi this month. Ardent shoppers can find for the first time in India the Burberry Prorsum women’s wear collection, along with the full range of ready-to-wear for men, women and children from the Burberry London collection. What’s more, the entire accessories line, including the hot-selling ‘Warrior’ bag, will be up for grabs.


Couture calling device for Dior
Taking a leaf out of its heritage, Christian Dior has indulged in a couture brand extension. The luxury brand has launched a stylish new mobile phone called Diorphone, a clamshell jewel-like device, which will retail for approximately US $5,100 starting this month. Adding that this is a luxury approach to mobile phone design, Dior’s CEO Sidney Toledano has said that the Diorphone comes with a miniature “twin” that a woman can clip to her purse or wear as a pendant, to avoid digging through her handbag to answer a call. The mini “My Dior” phone boasts impressive sound quality and has a mirrored display screen that can double as a compact.

Chocolates for the discerning customer
After bespoke clothing, footwear and fragrances, here’s your chance to customise chocolates to your heart’s desire. English chocolatiers Sir Hans Sloane Chocolate House in Surrey consult with clients to learn their preferences in a variety of spices, wines, fruits and fillings, before being offered a tasting of different couvertures, or chocolate coverings, and fillings. Master chocolatier Bill McCarrick then creates a chocolate profile for each customer and maintains records for future orders. Finally, 60 customised chocolates are presented in a handmade rosewood and maple inlaid box, and another 60 are held in reserve, all for a cool price of US $2,400.

Bottega Veneta: Mixing the old with the new
Bottega Veneta has inaugurated a new boutique on Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes, in the south of France. The ultra-stylish 648-square foot store features aerodynamic, vertical window louvers made from palm wood and steel, ultra-suede covered walls, mohair upholstery and custom-dyed, pure New Zealand wool carpets. Housing handbags, footwear, jewellery, small leather goods and home accessories, the store will also be home to the travelling exhibition, “The Knot: A Retrospective,” which celebrates the 30th anniversary of the brand's iconic clutch. The exhibition will display over 50 versions of the rounded box clutch, before moving on to other flagships worldwide.

Davi harvests luxury skincare line
Mondavi, the brand synonymous with California wines, is now making its mark with luxury skin care. Established last year by Carlo Cesare Robert Mondavi, Davi Skincare is made from a blend of natural ingredients, including by-products of the winemaking process called Polyphenols. This is a naturally occurring antioxidant believed to combat free radicals that cause aging. The derivative is combined with grape and fermented wine extracts, green tea, raspberry, black currant and bilberry extracts, among other ingredients, to create Meritage, which is at the core of all its products.

De Beers: Diamonds and legends
Jewellery brand De Beers has unveiled a 13-piece high jewellery collection inspired by the mythical Indian Valley of Diamonds. The collection features exotic cobras, a Komodo dragon and a diamond-studded phoenix, all in keeping with the fabled tale of a beautiful valley laden with diamonds, guarded by walls of fire, birds of prey and snakes. De Beers’ designer Raphaele Canot has combined rough and faceted diamonds in shades of brown, yellow, and white, with the King Cobra ring featuring a 7.62 carat rough brown diamond set among 15 carats of diamonds. The collection ranges from US $30,000 to $200,000.



Nashik: The Napa Valley of India

The Nashik wine story is bubbling over with action. Zahra Khan raises a toast to luxury wine tourism in our very own wine country

Sula Vineyards at dusk

Bacchus would be proud. The sleepy wine region of Nashik in northwestern Maharashtra, long famous for its unique grapes, is today at the heart of a US $100 million wine producing industry. What’s more, it’s been steadily growing at over 30 per cent in the past three years, thanks to more-than-ideal climatic conditions, well-irrigated land resources and a growing middle class that has been consumed by the heady intoxications of superb quality Shiraz, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Says Sula Vineyards CEO Rajeev Samant, “Nashik wine has been a stupendous success story. Sula was the pioneer when we planted the first wine grapes in the late 1990s and produced Nasik’s first wine in 2000. Today, there are 35 wineries in Nashik and I wouldn’t be surprised if the number hits 100 in the next five years. Quality-wise, Nashik wine is considered the best wine in India. The climate is incredibly versatile, allowing us to grow many different grape varieties, a lot of which are expressing terrific varietal character.”

Which brings us to that often-quoted moniker for the Nashik wine region: The Napa Valley of India. Is it fair to make such comparisons just yet? Says Ranjit Chougule, Managing Director, Champagne Indage, one of the oldest wine producers in the country, also based in Maharashtra, “Indage’s winemaking operations have been based in Narayangaon since 1982, almost two decades before the first winery in Nasik. With our crush exceeding 18,000 tons in various parts of Maharashtra, including a small portion in Nashik, Narayangaon is the largest wine producing region in terms of winemaking. The tag for Nashik being called the “wine capital of the country” emanates from a large number of small producers as well as several table grape farmers exporting the fruit to the overseas markets.”

Samant is optimistic about Sula's future in Nashik

However, Samant says that even though it’s a bit premature to hail Nashik as the Napa Valley of India, he’s optimistic about the future of this region. “Napa makes some of the world’s best red wines, and Nashik has quite a way to go, but in just eight years Nashik has made tremendous strides. We are compressing into a short period of time what would have taken other regions many more years to do,” he avers.

Luxury wine tourism gets a push
Considering how the Indian wine story is bubbling over with action, major wine manufacturers are now going beyond making wines to promoting their vineyards as tourist destinations. Vineyard hopping over the weekend is fast gaining prominence, giving luxury wine tourism a much-needed push in the right direction.

Rest and rejuvenation at Tiger Hill Spa and Winery

While Samant has recently launched Beyond, a stylish villa just outside his vineyards, Indage has launched a winery and boutique spa resort called Tiger Hill, named after the region where its wine is produced. In fact, Ranjit Chougule says Tiger Hill is a first step in the direction Indage has taken to invest heavily in building and creating world class leisure and F&B facilities in Nashik. “We are also planning to expand our vineyards by 5,000 acres in the region through new and existing contract plantation,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Tiger Hill winery and spa, conceptualised and promoted by the older Chougule brother Vickrant’s designer wife Kavita, ably reflects the stylissima’s desire to create a modern and vibrant wine brand. Says Kavita, “I’ve always aspired to create a world-class wine brand that embodied new world winemaking techniques and my skills in fashion and avant garde trends, hence Tiger Hill wines. The spa is an integral extension of our wines, where guests can get a tangible experience of the brand’s promise. With a record number of guests visiting Tiger Hill, it’s clear that such a facility was required in Nashik.”

Sula Vineyards' Beyond is giving vineyard hoppers a reason to cheer

Adds Samant, “We have so many visitors coming to our Tasting Room— almost 600 on some weekends—and many ask us about accommodation, so it was inevitable that we would open a place like Beyond. It is stunningly beautiful, bang in the middle of a Zinfandel vineyard, with a swimming pool and a wonderful lake view. It's exactly the kind of experience one wants in wine country. Anyone going there is never going to forget the experience, and of course, that is a great thing for Sula!”



'Net'ting gains online

Fashion Industry expert and writer Imran Amed thinks it’s only a matter of time before the Web 2.0 revolution hits luxury in India

The e-commerce site for Neiman Marcus

After consecutive years of explosive revenue and profit growth, many luxury brands and retailers are beginning to grapple with the consequences of what could prove to be a challenging 2008.

The economies of North America and Western Europe are experiencing varying degrees of softness, and the much-vaunted luxury explosion in Asia, while still promising, will take years to deliver a return on the large investments that have been made, even with astronomical growth rates. Empty luxury shopping malls in China and ongoing structural challenges in a nascent Indian market are proof of this.

Thankfully, there is a bright spot on the horizon that is still undeniably promising for the luxury sector in the West. Just consider these striking facts: The Saks 5th Avenue website is now the second largest contributor to revenues after its iconic New York flagship. Its closest competitor, Neiman Marcus, reported that its online site generated revenues in excess of US $500 million in 2007. European luxury brands from Gucci to Louis Vuitton are also reaping the bonanza of the online luxury frenzy, recognising the luxury consumer’s increasing comfort with and desire to buy goods online.

But in India, luxury e-commerce has yet to take off. For now, Indians seem to value the experience of walking into a bricks-and-mortar store more than the convenience of shopping online. Even if customers wanted to shop online, broadband internet penetration in India remains stubbornly low and unreliable, meaning that it is harder to use bandwidth-intensive shopping experiences that have become standard fare on pioneering luxury e-commerce sites like Net-a-Porter.

The good news for India is that the potential for luxury on the internet is not limited to e-commerce. Today, a luxury brand’s homepage is arguably the single most important point-of-call for consumers looking to learn about a brand’s heritage, products and DNA.

Unfortunately, when consumers turn to many luxury brand websites, they often don’t find anything new and different. Sure, they can find recent ad campaigns (which are already in every magazine), images from the most recent runway shows (which are ubiquitous on the internet anyway), and a video or two (these are few and far between). What consumers really seem to be looking for is an opportunity to engage with the brands and each other.

Let’s talk!
In recent years, a wave of emerging interactive technologies has transformed how people spend their time online. Referred to generally under the umbrella-term Web 2.0, online tools such as blogs, social networks and wikis have marked a shift from an era of one-way ‘read-only’ communication on the internet to one which is characterised by a collaborative dialogue among groups of individuals.

Net-a-porter's online fashion magazine, Notes

In the luxury space, passionate groups of consumers, in their millions, are talking about luxury brands on blogs and social networks. In France, Café Mode’s independent perspective on the latest runway shows and fashion trends has become so influential that L’Express, a leading daily newspaper, now houses the blog on its own website and pays its blogger a salary. Manolo, an American who writes a popular blog on shoes and celebrity, earns a six-figure salary from his blog and has a column in the Washington Post. Every month, hundreds of thousands of Japanese visit @Cosme, a Japanese consumer review website dedicated to the cosmetic industry. The recommendations are so influential that they can make or break a cosmetics brand in Japan.

Some of the most prolific participants in these communities, said to be about 1 per cent of internet users, may know more about the brands than the brands even know about themselves. As trusted authorities, these experts have the potential to become a brand’s most fervent evangelists — or detractors. What’s more, through the active engagement of these passionate communities, luxury brands can also gain valuable feedback to understand what consumers want and what they expect.

But where is the ‘Blogger’atti?
It’s a mystery to me that India (a country that loves nothing more than to debate and discuss everything) does not yet have an indigenous fashion blogosphere. Indians are notoriously chatty — the Indian blogosphere is already buzzing with technology and Bollywood news. Indians are smart shoppers who like to research before they shop. They actively seek recommendations from friends and family, making word-of-mouth recommendations extremely powerful. Finally, blogs and social networks are not bandwidth-intensive, so are still easy to access even in India’s low bandwidth environment.

Given all of this, it’s only a matter of time before Indians, particularly those of the younger generation, like their luxury compatriots elsewhere in the world, begin to actively turn to the internet to learn more about luxury brands.

The only question is: Who will be the first to answer their questions? The luxury brands, or the bloggers?

Imran Amed is an advisor to the fashion industry and is Editor of The Business of Fashion at www.businessoffashion.net



'Hyper-consumption' is out, 'unique experiences' are in

Futurist and Love Travel Guides author Fiona Caulfield holds forth on the future of luxury travel

The serene Amanpuri from Amanresorts

The future of luxury travel is defined by five core elements: Time, Privacy, Involvement, Exclusivity, and Authenticity. Brands and companies that understand these concepts, deeply and truly, will be the ones that delight discerning customers and succeed in the decade ahead.

As one gets older, the clock ticks louder and seemingly faster. In this accelerated, Blackberry-fuelled world with over-scheduled lives, it is clear that our most precious commodity is time. The luxury traveller does not have time to waste on bad experiences, and every minute counts.

Brands that understand the currency of time will provide real value. Anticipate exponential growth in private aviation, helicopter shuttles, iris scanners at immigration, in-room check-ins, 24-hour concierges and personal shoppers.

Wellness experiences that deliver ‘feel younger’ as well as ‘feel better’ results will be particularly successful. Also, expect to see a rise in anti-Jet Lag services and products. Who has time to feel anything other than great?

Swimming naked in a pool in Rajasthan for the second time in as many days, it dawned on me: Being nude in India is the ultimate in luxury. Complete, 100 per cent privacy in a country of over a billion people is true luxury. Each hotel room at the new Aman in Delhi has a pool, each offering complete privacy and bare bliss.

Brad and Angelina could have gone anywhere and everywhere in India; all Presidential and Royal suites opened their doors to the Brangelina brood. Nevertheless, in lieu of everywhere, they chose to spend their personal time elsewhere. Elsewhere, in Goa, a low key, simple cluster of bungalows, guarantees total privacy. A peak luxury experience with not a gold tap, 1,000-thread count sheet, or Husein painting in sight.

Monacle magazine awarded the Peninsula Hotel the best room innovation for the delivery hatch: a true enabler of guest privacy that secured a spot in the Travel Top Ten. India’s “high touch” mantra in many luxury hotels appears to me, to be a touch too much.

Many believe that luxury is defined by things, owning more and more of the so-called right things. Wrong! This is so last decade (or was it even the decade before?). Future Luxury will shun hyper-consumption and instead embrace unique and involving experiences. Philanthropic Travel will become a cornerstone of luxury travel.

Owning the latest monogrammed handbag is so Posh! We wouldn’t want to be seen with one. We would, however, want to build a clinic in the Karakorams, research marine life in the Seychelles, learn Flamenco in Argentina, or master Ashtanga in Mysore. In India, one may hang out with head-hunters in Nagaland, track Bengal Tigers with the head of the World Wild Life Fund and tour the New Delhi Railway Station with a street kid, which raises awareness and money for the Salaam Baalak Trust.

The Gem Palace in Jaipur, where you can design your own jewellery

At the pointy end of life, the true way to impress is not simply to do, but to do things few others do: like shuttling into space or climbing K2. Sailing around the world is no big deal, unless you are with Craig Venter on his boat Sorcerer, tracing Darwin’s original voyages and discovering new life species.

Exclusivity and bespoke customisation are now the green fees for luxury travel. A round with Tiger and a set with Venus would be ideal. Greaves and Cazenove Loyd are two outstanding UK travel consultants that consistently over deliver on accessing exclusive Indian experiences for their clientele.

In India, design your own jewellery with Munnu Kasliwal, owner of the Gem Palace, who does this for only two visitors annually. Else, play elephant polo with India’s best team, or dine with a Maharajah.

New luxury recognises the lust for the authentic; it is not about creating a homogenised and pasteurised bubble of 7-star sameness; we luxuriate in what makes our destination unique, the essence of the place.

Chai at Triveni in Delhi, a Paratha at Samovar in Bombay and a breakfast of Idli Vada at Brahmins in Bangalore, all make the luxury travellers life richer, for only a few rupees.

Luxury vagabonds want authenticity, albeit in style, safety and comfort. They effortlessly mix the high and the low, the 7-star and the no star. They search for the hyper-local and when shopping, the provenance of the object will matter as much, if not more, than the object itself. In Mumbai, they shop at Bombay Electric, Shrujan and Dhoop. In Delhi, at Intach and Kamala, and in Bangalore at Cinnamon and The Ants.

Fiona Caulfield is the author of India’s first luxury travel guides. The series comprises Love Delhi, Love Mumbai and Love Bangalore. Love Chennai, Love Kolkata and Love Rajasthan are her upcoming titles. For details, log on to www.lovetravelguides.com

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Luxeletter - May edition


India will soon wear Prada
Its IPO plans may have been delayed yet again, but that hasn’t stopped the Prada Group from planning an entry into the Indian market. Thanks to the current boom in the country’s luxury sector, Sebastian Suhl, CEO, Prada , Asia Pacific has said that there’s tremendous potential for the brand in the subcontinent. “We’re continuing our search for the right opportunity to launch our brands in the market. India is a longer-term project compared to China—development comes at a slower pace,” Suhl has said to WWD recently.

Couture eye candy
The €300-million French couture brand Guy Laroche too is eyeing a piece of the Indian luxury pie. The brand is currently seeking Indian partners for commercial retail of its women’s ready-to-wear line, and also manufacturing and distribution licensees for products sold under the Guy Laroche brand, including leather goods, shoes, belts and ties. The company has plans to open standalone boutiques in major malls and is also looking at creating shop-in-shops in department stores, CEO Hendrik Penndorf has said.

'Phone'y tunes
Taking a cue from Prada and Armani, Tag Heuer too is going the brand extension way. A division of the LVMH luxury goods empire, the brand is all set to launch luxury mobile phones in the Indian market. Positioned at the top end of the spectrum, the phone will come at a hefty price tag of €3,500 or $5,500 (Rs 2,21,000), just a few thousands short of Vertu’s cheapest luxury phone. What’s more, LVMH has recently announced plans to invest over a billion rupees in India over the next three years, increasing the number of Tag Heuer boutiques from 12 to 30 by 2010.

Emaar plans Armani Residences in India
While DLF has firmed up plans of introducing Giorgio Armani to the Indian luxe lover, the Dubai-based Emaar Properties is planning to launch private residences, designed by Armani himself, to India. A spokesperson for Emaar Properties has admitted evaluating the possibility of introducing Armani Residences in India, with the project possibly being developed by its Indian JV, Emaar MGF Land Limited. Recently, Emaar unveiled 144 Armani Residences at its iconic Burj Dubai development, predicted to be the tallest man-made structure in the world.

India: Asia’s goldmine?
According to The Global Emerging Markets Survey report prepared by the London-headquartered real estate services firm C.B. Richard Ellis (CBRE), 27 per cent of the 300 international retailers surveyed have opened their first store in India in the last year or are planning to do so soon. The report has cited India as the most sought-after global emerging retail market, with Ukraine, Russia, Malaysia and Turkey rounding up the top five spots. Over the past year, the Indian market has recorded the second fastest growth in the number of high net-worth individuals (a staggering 20.5 per cent), according to the 2007 Asia Pacific Wealth Report.

Ferrari to zoom into India with six stores
Luxury Italian automobile company Ferrari has announced that it will be opening six showrooms in India by 2010. Recently, the brand sent out two 612 Scaglietti super cars to tour the sub-continent’s pot-holed roads to showcase the strength and reliability of the car. Spread across 57 Indian cities over 64 days, about 13,000 kms will be covered during this tour. Ferrari has five models which range between US $276,280 on the lower side to US $363,120 at the upper end.


Hublot snapped up by LVMH
Luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton is all set to acquire Switzerland’s Hublot watch group from founder Carlo Crocco. An LVMH spokesperson has said that Hublot is “a very complementary acquisition” as its high-end positioning, selective distribution, financial performance and growth potential make it a rising star. LVMH already has a successful watch portfolio which includes Tag Heuer, Zenith, Dior Montres and Louis Vuitton.

Million dollar fantasy
For those of you who want to travel in luxury and style, the Leading Hotels of the World is offering a US $1 million trip around the world over 28 days. This includes being housed in the group’s most opulent hotels and resorts, private air transportation and customised luxury experiences throughout. Dubbed ‘Around the World in 80 Ways’, the trip starts in London and follows Phileas Fogg’s journey in the Jules Verne classic, going on to Paris, Dubai, Mumbai, Jaipur, Udaipur, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Honolulu, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. Highlights include a camel safari in Dubai, dinner at Le Jules Verne restaurant at the Eiffel Tower, and a private visit to the Gem Palace in Jaipur to see the jewels of the maharajas. Ten per cent of the cost of the trip will be donated to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Crystal gazing
The famed Parisian crystal house Baccarat has commissioned two designers to create special collections for 2008. New York interior designer Vicente Wolf’s ‘Latitude’ collection includes rippled crystal vases, bowls, and candlesticks, while Stéphanie Balini, who won the Comité Colbert’s Young Designer’s competition with her ‘Damoiselles’ glassware for Baccarat last fall, has produced the 12-piece collection for spring. The distinctive crystal glasses (US $2,500 for a set of four) feature garlands of flowers on clear crystal, scattered with wheel-engraved designs in both black and white.

Keep a watch on this auction
After setting nine world records at a vintage Rolex auction last month (and netting more than US $8.5 million), Antiquorum is readying another auction. This time around, the auction will feature a private collection of more than 700 contemporary watches, with prized timepieces like the F.P. Journe’s Sonnerie Souveraine and Tourbillon Souverain à Remontoir, Vacheron Constantin ‘Saint-Gervais’, Patek Philippe ‘10 Days Tourbillon’ Ref. 5101P and Glashütte Original ‘Julius Assmann - Tourbillon 3’, and Richard Mille “Tourbillon RM003”, to name just a few. The auction will be held at the Richmond Hotel in Geneva on May 10 and 11, with previews in Monaco, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Claire Danes: New Gucci girl
Gucci has signed Hollywood actress Claire Danes as the new face for its fine jewelry ad campaign. To be shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, the ads will appear in magazines worldwide in the fall. “Claire Danes is a modern icon and one of the most interesting young actresses on the international scene. Claire’s sensual, confident beauty and her passionate, independent and strong character embodies today’s Gucci woman,” said Gucci creative director Frida Giannini.



The business of celluloid chic

Ahead of the release of the Sex and the City movie this month, Zahra Khan deconstructs the stylish union between luxury fashion and films

Thanks to the footwear-obsessed ladies of the American TV series Sex and the City, luxury shoe brands Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik became part of the global style lexicon and highly influenced the relationship between pop culture and luxury brands. Next came The Devil Wears Prada, instantly catapulting the Italian brand to superstar status. Now, with luxury brands once again wooing the makers of the upcoming Sex and the City movie (releasing May 21st), industry insiders are hoping this will translate into stupendous sales for the brands associated with the movie.

Louis Vuitton trunks in Karan Johar’s film Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna

Closer home in Bollywood, filmmakers like Karan Johar and Farhan Akhtar have lent a stylish edge to their films, with Indian designers and international luxury labels adding that extra dose of flair to the characters. While Johar has a long-term agreement with Louis Vuitton and Alfred Dunhill (he is also the brand’s Indian spokesperson) to promote the brands in his films and on his talk show Koffee with Karan, the directors of the recently released Race (among other directors like Aditya Chopra and Johar) entrusted Vogue India Fashion Director Anaita Shroff-Adajania with the task of styling all six characters in the movie. And the results couldn’t have been more spectacular.

Says Anaita, “Brands help give life to characters and establish the reality of the world they live in. For example, Saif Ali Khan, who played a suave businessman in Race, carried a Burberry briefcase and wore Marc Jacobs sunglasses; while Bipasha, who played a model, carried the Dior Gaucho bag and wore a Cartier watch. That’s how these characters would dress in real life too, so there’s a lot of attention paid to the smallest of details. Naturally, people in the press were talking about this, increasing the audience’s appetite and awareness for the film and the brands.”

Adds designer Neeta Lulla, who has dressed Aishwarya Rai in most of her films (most recently Jodha Akbar) and has also designed her wardrobe for the Cannes Film Festival, “Fashion and films go hand in hand. Without the right look, the film is incomplete; and without the film creating a style statement, the fashion is incomplete.”

Without a doubt, fashion and films compliment each other. However, there’s more to this stylish union than just photo-ops and huge press interest. Being prominently placed in films means big business for brands and is just as important to the attitude films want to portray. “It’s a very strong association and can lead to profitability for all concerned; while brands gets tremendous mileage, films gets extra marks for being cutting edge and stylish. It makes great business sense for brands to be part of big films because it is the biggest advertising campaign for them and helps them sell at no cost whatsoever. What’s more, they are assured of being projected in the right manner to the discerning public eye,” says Anaita.

A still from Jodha Akbar, with costumes by Neeta Lulla

In India, Bollywood films are the biggest influencers of fashion and star power is very serious business, which is why they are pursued so ardently by Indian and international brands. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. “When Shah Rukh Khan wore DKNY shirts and tees in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, people started relating to the brand and bought it on their trips abroad. Fashion statements like that create the right kind of aspiration for the brand and give it the best possible mileage in terms of reaching out to consumers,” adds Neeta.

However, Anaita cautions, "I think it's a natural connection, but it needs to be real. Brands are more than happy to give you their merchandise, but there has to be a strong connect to the film, the character and the situation. After all, you don’t want to be making the wrong kind of style statement!"



'There's far too much hype and not enough cause for consideration'

Guy Salter of the Walpole Group tells Zahra Khan why luxury brands should be cautious about entering India

Walpole Group, the respected British luxury collective, will be holding its first seminar of the year on May 21 in London, with the subject du jour being ‘East… Or Bust’, concentrating on the main markets for luxury in Asia with a particular focus on China and India. We spoke to Guy Salter, Deputy Chairman, Walpole Group, on what he really thinks of the Indian luxury market.

Can you give us an idea about what the Walpole Luxury Summit will talk about this month?
Over a period of time, the Walpole Group has been increasing the amount of seminars because we feel the luxury industry is at a very important stage of its development. The first phase, which was a rather easy one, is coming to end and the industry is now entering a more complex phase. On the one hand, mature markets are fragmenting between very discerning customers and entry-level customers, and emerging markets are growing tremendously. We feel we have to shift from being just an organisation that brings people together to also having a point of view, which we call Luxury Thought Leadership. So we will have two seminars in London this year. The first one (in May) will focus on China and India because they are the few areas of potential growth and revenue upside for the industry. In October, we will host our annual luxury online seminar, which we feel has tremendous untapped potential and also revenue upside for luxury brands.

There’s been a lot of talk about how India is the next China in terms of luxury consumption, but what do you think is the real picture?
There’s far too much hype and reckless enthusiasm and not enough cause for consideration as to how to enter the Indian market. It’s very interesting when you look at China: lots of people are rushing in and losing a lot of money, and indeed some of the bigger names are not making a profit in China. So it’s a good warning to those who are thinking of entering India to approach it in a cautious and carefully considered way.

In fact, that’s what we are aiming at getting across to people at this particular seminar. Firstly, we are trying to set India in the broader context of the global luxury market and of history, which is why we have Amin Jaffer (International Director of Asian Art at Christie’s), who has written the book Made for Maharajas: A Design Diary of Princely India, as one of the speakers. The idea is to get people to understand that India has always been a luxury market and luxury brands are not entirely new to the country. Secondly, we want to get across the tactical detailed steps required to enter into the Indian market, which is why we have speakers like Mohan Murjani (Chairman, Murjani Group) and Nicolas Coleridge (Managing Director, Condé Nast) who have first hand experience of setting up businesses there.

What according to you are the attitudes that drive the Asian market?
Obviously, the most important aspect is consumer attitude, and we have done lots of work on this. In 2005, we conducted a piece of research where we looked at wealthy consumers across a number of mature and emerging markets. We discovered that there was one common theme in all markets. Basically, wealthy consumers were buying luxury items because they wanted two key things: love and respect. In other words, even a sophisticated customer buying Bottega Veneta wanted the love aspect, i.e. the passion, desire and fashionability aspect from that bag, but also respect from other people who would recognise a Bottega bag. The same thing applies to a new customer buying an entry-level Gucci bag.

However, there were also very significant differences in terms of how this love and respect manifested itself in different markets. For example, we found a very superficial desire to associate with obviously expensive luxury brands in the Chinese market, whereas in the UK or Japan there was a more sophisticated and subtle approach. In between that study and now, surprisingly little has changed in the case of China. It is still an entry-level market and the brands doing well there are premium brands. It is still to become a true luxury market, with the exception of Hong Kong, and evidence of that is very clear. All you have to do is take a walk around the country’s luxury shopping malls and see how empty they are.



Giving India a luxurious image makeover

Noona Smith-Petersen, one of Europe’s high profile PR forces, wants to change the country’s perception in the West

By Zahra Khan

“I’ve been here seven times, and it’s amazing how things have changed in India! I remember there only used to be Burlington’s at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower. Today there’s Zegna’s huge store, Louis Vuitton, Moschino, Canali and several others,” declares Noona Smith-Petersen, as we sit down to chat about all things luxury on her latest trip to the country.

Born to an Italian mother and Danish father and based in Milan, Noona speaks six different languages and is a 24-year-old veteran of the international fashion and luxury industry. “The industry has been booming since I was here last, and you can see how fashion and luxury is evolving. Internationally too there’s a huge interest in India but the country is still associated with poverty. It’s time that image gets a makeover,” says Noona.

She should know a thing or two about makeovers. After all, Noona is one of Europe’s highest-profile public relations forces, and has headed the press office and PR activities for some of the biggest names in the business, including Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Calvin Klein, Gianfranco Ferré, Zegna and Tod’s.

'Demonstrate your commitment'
Having spent eight years at Armani and eleven years at Calvin Klein, Noona says, “At that time, we didn’t have strategies and big budgets.It is only now that the industry has become corporatised. It’s another world now; there’s big money involved and there are budgets for everything. However, both Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein are hardworking perfectionists with tremendous drive. In fact, Armani is like a machine. He’s been so systematic in building his brand and has extended it into so many things. Today, everyone is following his lead.”

Which brings us to the India story. In the last few years, pretty much every major luxury brand has opened or is in the process of opening stores here. The new darling of the luxury world, India is poised to take over from China as the second largest consumer of luxury goods in Asia. In fact, the arrival of fashion bible Vogue has cemented the international interest in India.

Says Noona, who helped organise Vogue India’s launch party at the Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jaipur last year, “I am trying to convince Zegna to do a big event in India this year. I think it’s important to do it soon because most major luxury brands are coming to India and you need to create buzz around your brand to stand out. In fact, with Formula One now getting an Indian-owned team (Force India), there’s great opportunity in dressing the driver Giancarlo Fischella and demonstrating the brand’s commitment to India.”

She adds that it’s also important to bring big names in the international media like Suzy Menkes (of International Herald Tribune), Cathy Horyn (of New York Times) and others from Europe and America who are curious about India to these high-profile events. “It’s the right time to bring them here and show them what India is all about. A lot of people have misconceptions about India. I remember Calvin didn’t want to open stores here. Then he came to India for three weeks and returned with a completely different notion.”

While advertising is the biggest tool for communicating the message of a brand to the audience, Noona says PR and communications is what helps drive the message home. “It’s very important to give one message and create a dream; the product has to be very desirable. When you talk luxury, it shouldn’t be accessible to everyone. From the price tag to the campaign, everything has to translate into the luxury experience,” she says.

India on her mind
So what does she think of Indian designers turning into successful international brands? Noona says, “There’s huge opportunity but it’s going to take time. It took Armani nearly 30 years and Valentino 47 years to get where they are today. I think what has worked for them is having successful business partners like Sergio Galeotti (Armani), Giancarlo Giammetti (Valentino) and Barry Schwartz (Calvin Klein), who let the designers concentrate on creativity alone. Bringing down global press for the Indian Fashion Weeks is another important aspect. Fern Mallis of IMG has been doing some good work and taking some designers from India to New York, but I don’t think that’s enough. You need to create awareness about your brand and get into the radar of American, French and Italian Vogues. Maybe I can help them with that!”

Which is when she opens up about her India plans. She says, "I have very close ties to India. I got married in Goa and have many close friends here. I’m here to understand the market and see what I can offer. I’m currently holding preliminary talks with this company who wants to bring 10 top Italian designers to Mumbai for a show at the Gateway of India and invite 10 Indian designers to be a part of it. What’s more, Zegna will celebrate its 100th anniversary in two years and they would like me to help. Maybe we could do something special for India then!"