Last week, at a dinner that included all the genres of the people who create the, let’s use a sewa-sector word, stakeholders in India’s luxe game, I was asked: is luxury on its way back?
On it’s way back? I shuddered. But since this was asked of me by a housewife-turned-designer, I immediately forgave her and smiled. I, as you will notice, always forgive housewife-turned-designers for any question.
Luxury, I tried to explain, had never gone away. Never will. It just shifts a little, here and there, and always find the nook and neckline that it wants. The question is: should we be interested in luxury again? Should you buy? If yes, why? If yes, what?
Well, the first is easy. If you have money, it is always good to buy luxury. Unless you are severely conned, you will get great quality. It is nowhere close to value for money, but ah, well.
So I thought I would tell you, yes, you who perhaps buys luxury every weekend; or you who perhaps only thinks about it with your eyes closed in the shower, what I believe are the cardinal rules of buying and enjoying luxury in the new world.
(What is the new world, you ask? Well, the new world is the green world. Where we will learn to embrace the sustainable, the green, and understand that the only time we are not prejudiced against big is on our bodies, a new world of normal women and small cars, a new world that runs off gas and swears by green.)
So here they are: Five rules in this column and five more in the next one. The new rules of luxury: what you should pay for, why and what you definitely must ignore.
Wear local, think global
If you buy luxury in the new world, you must wear local but think global. If you are aiming at buying python, then you are a little better than Elton John and considerably worse than Imelda Marcos. But for everything else, it is a great idea to push local crafts and clothing. When you buy luxury in the new world, remember that like in art, you, the customer have the power to change the industry.
Change what is supported, whether traditions live or die. This is possible in luxury because luxury is always about small volumes. A few patrons can keep demand high and increase the scope and earnings from traditional crafts.
And take a global view on your purchasing power; the world of luxury is small, powerful and can drive the image of a nation (think of France) you can support or decimate the way global luxury trade progresses and what it creates or rejects. Fur is out. Forever.
Fuel the Age of Sartorial Patriotism
You are an Indian customer. You love luxury. You have the good fortune of being born into one of the most luxurious traditions in the world. Before you reach out for brands, remember luxury in the new world is no longer just about brand power.
Luxury in the new world is about: niche, bespoke, exclusive and unique.
What does this mean? This means luxury is being redefined, undergoing a paradigm shift from SHOW to FEEL, highlighting the importance not of appearance but of experience.
This means luxury should also include a sense of contribution as it inevitably does of gluttony. This also means that there is a backlash to the McDonaldisation of luxury. Culture-blindly sweeping the world with clone handbags is the old definition of luxury, as old as Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko.
The value now is in finding, preserving, reinventing and experiencing unique ideas.
So, here’s a small suggestion: chuck the brown Louis Vuitton handbag and support the dying Varanasi silks.
The business of luxury, not premium
Do you know which brands do rubbish business in India?
Not the usual suspects like Hugo Boss and Salvatore Ferragamo. They also suffer but the real torpedo is for brands like Gas, Gant, bag brand Kipling. These brands have sunk in India because they have no really defined differentiator.
(The only contrarian example is Ed Hardy but that is because tattoo designs are a distinct differentiator which Bollywood stars have adopted en masse.)
Why would you go to Gant if you can get very similar clothes, of almost the same quality, at our very own Wills Lifestyle.
Clearly Louis Vuitton — yes, I know I dislike the brown bag — does not have that problem.
So in future, it will be more difficult to sell to us — you know, us, the gasping for brands developing world — premium brands and pretend that it is luxury. The most hilarious and irritating example of this is the early days of Marks and Spencer in India where even this tinker-tailor-soldier-sailor brand pretended that it was this great label and tried to charge us pots of money.
Thankfully, we, all of us, the mall shoppers, kicked them and now they have drastically cut prices and are getting some footfall.
So the business of luxury in the new world will be just that — the business of luxury. Unless it is truly a unique proposition, do not bother buying it.
Outsource ideas, not garments
True luxury in the new world will follow in many ways the Champagne Syndrome. This simply means that its USP, the intellectual property right is geographically specific and to really appreciate it, you must derive from its local attributes that make it unique.
Therefore, all the ideas of the handwork, time-consuming garments, personalized care and attention and breaking the assembly line motive will be re-questioned.
This is luxury going back to the roots. This is not about everyone coveting the Birkin bag. This is about the handcrafted leather shoe and the pashmina shawl. In the new world, outsourcing is key but only in ideas, the work will have geospecific definition.
This follows from the last point. There will be more than ever before, an exchange of ideas that will enrich luxury and that will bring value to a whole new range of products.
So the more the multi-culturalism, the greater the creativity, the higher the value. Let me end then with an example of this. India adopted the “fashion week” from the West about a decade ago. Now, ten years later, India’s Lakme Fashion Week has made the fashion week distinctly Indian.
Around the world, collections shown at fashion week hit the stores a good six months later. So in a weird fashion world way, in summer, winter clothes are shown at fashion week and vice versa.
But the trend in India — derived I suspect from the old tradition of running to the neighbourhood tailor and getting things copied — is for stores, buyers and customers to immediately demand the clothes.
So from now, at LFW, summer will show summer clothes and immediately take them to the stores. What you see, you immediately wear! That’s the future of luxury. Be demanding.
Hindol Sengupta is Associate Editor, UTVi