Luxury labels from the West are entering Chennai’s retail space in a big way. T. Krithika Reddy gets an update

The tobacco-tone strappy stiletto that reflects Jimmy Choo’s haute gypsy glamour is just the kind of footwear that can make even the most stylish dress jealous. The clean lines and pop hues of Furla’s latest collection in lustrous PVC is the perfect arm ‘Candy’ when you set sail on indulgent cruise holidays. The crisp summer shades of Canali’s sharply-tailored suits are sure to induce smiles in the boardroom… I’m not sauntering about fashion houses in Milan. Or reviewing ramp shows in Paris. I’m checking out the Western luxury brands that have entered Chennai’s retail space in a big way — in Express Avenue, Phoenix Mall and Bergamo. From Louis Vuitton and Burberry to Canali and Etro, there are over a dozen labels now available in standalone stores or multi-brand fashion outlets. And this is just the beginning.

Is Chennai ready for this big brand blitz? “You cannot have preset notions about the market. The city will surprise you. Chennai-ites are mature shoppers. They are well-travelled and not afraid to pay for quality,” says Ajay Agarwal, Managing Director, Bergamo, the city’s exclusive mall for luxury brands on Khader Nawaz Khan Road.

Agarwal, who has studied the retail scene carefully before launching Bergamo, explains that the city is a pioneer in trying out new retail concepts. “Spencer’s was the first large-scale mall in India. Saravana Stores is one of the first value discount stores. Chennai embraced the concept of department stores much before the other metros did. We went ahead with Bergamo with a gut feeling. It’s not just the ambience. Shoppers in this category don’t like being hustled. This is where an exclusive luxury mall scores. Besides, this market doesn’t cater only to Chennai. It attracts shoppers from Madurai, Coimbatore and other southern cities who have weekend homes here.”

Nowadays, it’s not unusual to spot women from Chennai’s social circuit in a Chanel dress. If you scan the other logos closely, they could also be wearing LV shades and clutching a metal-hued Jimmy Choo. The mindset has shifted from save to spend. And it is this burgeoning group of big spenders who will change the dynamics of retail in the personal luxury goods category. These customers are status-driven and have deep pockets. Luxury is their dream and they enjoy the speed at which money is converted into style.

At Italian brand Furla’s launch at Luxxe Box in Express Avenue, guests gaze covetously as friends buy the captivating Candy bags. “Traditional south Indian wealthy families did not believe in such conspicuous consumption. But Gen Next wants to indulge in its favourite brands. This prompted us to enter the market with Luxxe Box, a multi-brand outlet,” says Sanjay Kapoor, Managing Director, Genesis Luxury. Besides Furla, Luxxe Box showcases a range of high-end brands such as Canali, Tumi, Armani Jeans and Paul Smith. “We have long-believed in Chennai’s potential. The positive response prompted us to launch Canali and Jimmy Choo as standalone stores in Bergamo.”

In the luxury market, there are no posers, only serious players who are conscious about their markets. Much of what’s available in Chennai is pretty much the same collection that’s showcased internationally. “Because of the legacies built by big brands, people understand that we display only the latest,” assures a salesperson. “Taste is no longer a trivial pastime. Customers are constantly updating themselves.”

My next stop is the newly-opened store by Swiss luxury watchmaker Tag Heuer at Phoenix Mall. And guess what, I hear the Carrie Bradshaws of Chennai are already headed there. “As far as brand consciousness goes, Sex and the City was a major influence,” smiles a nattily-dressed woman, gazing at the display outside Burberry in Express Avenue. “Look, all clever classics.” And I can’t disagree. Because when you pay for luxury, you pay for timelessness.