The lure of luxe in 2021

I am no oracle, but the promise of a new year typically fills me with hope. Apparently, Bill Gates feels the same way; he told a US tech news site that, despite all that transpired this past year, he’s “upbeat,” because societies are making progress overall. To be honest, I wasn’t all that sanguine about 2021 a few days ago. As I sat in blissful Alibaug, outside Mumbai, thankful for a getaway, I did have some foreboding, what with a new virus strain emerging and renewed travel restrictions. That is, till I chanced upon a local pottery exhibition at Mati Moksh Ceramics, close to where we were staying.

At the show, I chanced upon a group of 60-something women sitting under the shade of a tree. They were chatting and laughing, all clearly old friends and long-time Alibaug-ers. As we struck up a conversation, one of them, Rina Singh, introduced herself as a dowser. “What’s that?” I asked. Apparently, it is someone who identifies the Earth’s negative energy and tries to heal it. Singh told me that the world’s “geopathic stress,” that is, its energy, is shifting for the better. I had heard of water diviners but not this. Looking at these friendly women, who were in the somewhat high-risk Covid category, but were enjoying each other’s company as they sipped wine, made me shake off my ambiguity about the future. If these women were so joyful, why shouldn’t I be?

The women at Alibaug

The women at Alibaug   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

At a time when an injection is the most coveted thing on the planet, are better days ahead? In a few months, will we once again dream of planning vacations, without worrying about countries sealing borders? Will we see family we haven’t seen in a while, get haircuts like in the old days, walk outside and into restaurants and stores with abandon? Go to the gym without worrying about head count? Will we feel safe standing next to the mask-less?

It would certainly seem so, with hordes of Indians travelling to Dubai, Maldives, Goa, and other local scenic destinations. Take Alibaug, which is booming. The Roll-On Roll-Off car ferry (RORO), initially introduced in March 2020, but closed due to the lockdown till September, has become wildly popular. In the last week of December, it was completely packed. I keep reminding myself that even though 2020 was ghastly, there were some positive developments, like this.

Vacay homes and fine wine

Despite the pandemic and economic distress, it is interesting to see how buoyant certain sectors of the luxury market were. Luxury homes sales in Mumbai, for instance, were stronger than expected, according to Anarock Property Consultants. Homes in Alibaug — to rent and to buy — are in huge demand. It is the same story in Goa. As people spent so much time at home and experienced a more inward-looking life, those with means spent on both art and decorative items. Auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Philips and Bonhams, which had to suspend live auctions during the pandemic, did well both digitally as well as in private sales. Bonham’s, for example, saw a 40% rise in buyers for its online offerings, including many under 40. Christie’s reported that 30% of its jewellery buyers were first-time purchasers. In December, a 21.86 carat emerald ring with diamonds sold for $3.7 million (against a pre-sale estimate of $1 million) at Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels sale. The entire auction brought in $46.9 million, the highest total for a Sotheby’s New York auction since 2017. Indian auction houses also reported solid sales and local galleries noted how tech enabled them to interact with many prospective clients. This goes for premium wine and alcohol too. An Indian friend who works for one of the largest liquor retailers in northeast United States told me that sales of top-end bottles had never been better. Asian buyers — especially younger ones — drove auction sales for fine wines and spirits, most of which took place online.

A snapshot of The Johri - Jaipur

A snapshot of The Johri - Jaipur   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Hybrid-electric cars and boutique hotels

As for cars, companies like Maserati, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Rolls Royce introduced pricey new models, some of which are hybrid-electric. Clearly, there are enough takers for vehicles costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Commercial air travel took a big beating, but private aviation looked rosy. According to an article in Forbes a few months ago, Jetcraft, the largest buyer and seller of business jets worldwide, saw an uptick in sales. Chad Anderson, president, told the magazine that “Covid-19 was a catalyst… I have customers saying they’ll never fly on a commercial airliner again, to protect the health of themselves, their families, and their employees.” Those who can afford to, will spend to make life more comfortable. The hotel industry is betting on it. Last month saw the opening of a fancy Anantara in the Seychelles and this year will see new luxe properties across Africa, Europe and Asia. Closer to home, my friend Siddharth Kasliwal just opened the Johri, a gem of a boutique hotel, converted from an old family home, in the heart of Jaipur.

The Anantara Maia in Seychelles

The Anantara Maia in Seychelles   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Taking fashion slow

And what of fashion? Will it go back to the way it was? Today’s consumer is more aware about the impact of their buying behaviour than in years past. Movements like #govocalforlocal and #slowfashion will continue, with people gravitating towards niche, homegrown brands. But there will always be a market for high-end luxury.

Even as we throw on kaftans and sweatpants, people will find an excuse to wear figure-flattering clothing. Once the pandemic is truly over, I know many who will want to dress up and go all out. After all, these are the same people who shopped their closet and put on their pretty frocks while stuck at home, just for a mood lift. So be ready for more Halpern-meets-Peacock style blinge-y party wear and body-con dresses. Given the focus on exercise and wellness, how else to show off our newly toned silhouettes? Everyone I know took to working out digitally online with their trainers or via apps and Zoom group classes. And companies like Physique57 Mumbai, an offshoot of New York-based Physique57, which uses ballet barre exercises to tone, dropped their rates for virtual classes and attracted new customers from around the country.

Workouts at Physique57

Workouts at Physique57   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Of course, the digital world is not an all-encompassing panacea to our woes. Restaurants and retail definitely need an in-person shot in the arm. As soon as a vaccine is administered widely, people ought to go back out to drink and dine. As for socializing, given that people continued to do so despite the hazards of Covid, I am sure it will be back with a vengeance.

Remember what happened after the influenza pandemic a century ago? In the aftermath of World War 1 and a pandemic came the Roaring Twenties, which gave the world the Jazz Age, significant art movements like Art Deco and Surrealism, and the Indian subcontinent’s growing movement for freedom. Of course, the party ended with the calamitous Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, but let’s not spoil things by being pessimistic. Here’s to the new year, because, let’s face it, anything’s better than 2020!

Gayatri Rangachari Shah will be back with Flight of Fancy, on the antics of the one percenters who defied logic to grow in wealth during the pandemic

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 11:58:22 PM |

Next Story