Swapan Seth starts a dialogue with Luxortium

I am expecting Swapan Seth to be late. It is a 10 am appointment and no Delhiite worth his salt ever shows up on time. To my surprise, he is already in his ‘transparent’ office, typing away with his forefingers, surrounded by art and lots of natural light from the super-clean glass walls I am sure I am going to clumsily walk into.

“I have a day job,” he says, later in the conversation, which means he has to juggle his newest venture, Luxortium — a platform for luxury brands to meet and mingle — with running digital agency ThisContent. Seth is an ad man, with an apparent love for long form. “I’m one of those unique people who’ve been in the wrong business for most of my life. Advertising interested me, but it was not the seed of my soul, so to speak. I’ve always been interested in consumption, in luxury,” he says. He has worked on Taj, Hazoorilal, The Oberoi, Schweppes, Reliance Capital, Coca Cola, Tata Steel, and numerous other household names.

At 19, he dropped out of college to get a job at JWT Kolkata, won his first Cannes at 22, and a Clio at 23. At 24, he became creative director, and at 28, he started Equus. With Luxortium “it’s like hosting a great party for all your buddies. I see it as one tremendous holiday with all the brands, so they get to know each other,” he says, of the 100-odd ‘friends’ he sees coming together. Excerpts from an interview.

Swapan Seth starts a dialogue with Luxortium

How would you describe Luxortium?

It is a constellation, a collection, a congregation of values and beliefs, experiences, brands, people, technology, design, aesthetics, and large plans.

How did you conceive it?

My definition of luxury is not the conventional one, which is all about expensive things. My definition is more expansive. It is no longer about products; it’s about experiences. The world has changed, so I think slowness is also a fantastic luxury. That’s the axis around which I conceived Luxortium.

Who is part of the steering committee?

I believe that the company you are is the company you keep, so I was very clear about which brands I would include in the first year. Deepa Harris of BrandsWeLove; no one in this country knows luxury better than her. If you look at art, there’s no better person than Aparajita Jain. Similarly, DLF is such a fantastic luxury mall. And then you have Reliance Brands, which is Darshan Mehta and now Sanjay Kapoor. It’s a formidable combination. And finally, as the jewel in the crown, there is American Express.

What are your plans for Luxortium?

It’s currently a B-to-B organisation. I wish to make it a B-to-C. I hope to have a wonderful online marketplace, which will sell great products and experiences. I plan to put together a Luxortium summit next year, where I plan to call some of the most fascinating names that have never stepped into India. One name I’m desperate to get is Tyler Brule of Monocle. I have a Monocle envelope opener, and it’s of no consequence, but the sheer joy of using it — that’s real luxury.

Swapan Seth starts a dialogue with Luxortium

Who are you looking at?

We must look out for the 22- to the 35-year-old. These guys aren’t buying homes or cars like stupid people like us. They are buying experiences; putting their money down for great clothes, great shoes, and great holidays. As a country, we’ve changed because of travel.

What is luxury today, and how is it different from yesterday?

I think luxury in India is going to change dramatically, given the fact that you’re going to have 410 million millennials and Gen Z in 2020, and they would be spending $330 billion every year. So can you imagine the opportunity that exists for brands. I also believe cool is the new luxury. Take Vollebak. They’re a company you haven’t heard of, but they make the most extraordinary technologically gen-next hoodies and T-shirts — solar-powered tees that glow at night, and T-shirts made from a material that’s won the Nobel prize.

In perfumes, I’m not looking at Jo Malone; I’m looking at Perfumer H, which is Lyn Harris. There cannot be any conversation about luxury without Virgil Abloh, without Supreme, without Off-White. This is the new pantheon which is very removed from the old set brands. And even if you look at the old brands, like Burberry or Berluti, they have made a complete transformation. Gucci, which was a brand of our generation, is equally a brand of my son’s generation. Luxury has decided to become cool because cool is the buyer of luxury; cool has become a currency.

Swapan Seth starts a dialogue with Luxortium

What international brands would you like to attract?

Handvaerk — they make beautiful crew T-shirts. It’s run by a guy who used to run a hedge fund. Candle brands like Cire Trudon. Artisanal gins — there’s this beautiful one from Finland called Napue. A bottle would cost you about $100, which is much cheaper than a lot of stuff. At the backbone are formal brands like the ones from Reliance and DLF. My idea is to throw a party and say, “Meet this slightly older friend of mine, DLF, and this young friend, Perfumer H. It’s about bringing a lot of interesting people together.

Once they meet, what then?

I see a lot of learning happening. I am investing the money we get into global research. I bought one of the most rigorous research studies on the millennial, from a company called Trendara. I’ve also commissioned research from Third Eye, out of Mumbai, in terms of how Indians react to luxury. I don’t think we’ve been able to understand how consumers are going to consume luxury, because gone are the days when I go to a particular shop and buy a particular bag. Chances are I might do it online, though numbers in India, at 10%, are incredibly low. The intent is to be a learning organisation and a cross-selling organisation. So Vollebak probably wants to come to India but doesn’t how. Luxortium can be a great conduit of opportunity and business.

Swapan Seth starts a dialogue with Luxortium

Are there any specific Indian brands you are looking at?

I am, but they’re small luxury brands you probably haven’t heard of. In cosmetics, I’d look at Ayca, an artisanal brand; a chocolate brand called All Things, run by two girls in Jaipur. Our contribution to luxury from an Indian perspective must be to the young, internationally-benchmarked brands. When you buy something in Sweden, you don’t ask, “Does this have a Nordic vocabulary.” So why do we get so excited about Indian-ness. A truly great Indian brand is one that is likeable and purchasable anywhere in the world.

What is this new language then?

This T-shirt I’m wearing. It’s from a brand called Asket, a Swedish brand. It has a lovely touch to it. The label tells you what the cost of manufacturing this T-shirt was and what the profit they’ve made on each T-shirt is. They talk about honest luxury. They have priced luxury through transparency, and that’s a wonderful thing.

What is the difference between luxury in India and abroad?

The categorisation of luxury abroad is vastly different. In India, it’s still a function of products, of a few brands. In other countries, it has gone to experiences and artisanal brands that are more special and have a certain quirkiness and evocativeness. We’re still a very badgified and badgificated country. But I think we’ll find our hygge, our fika, our ikigai.

Swapan Seth starts a dialogue with Luxortium

Bigger brands are trimming the fat, and getting rid of smaller entities.

The word I hate from the core of my being is scale. Fish has scales. The artisanal store is the haven of luxury. Look at Market, the restaurant in Chanakya. It sells the best ramen I’ve ever eaten. I’d go there for the ramen – that’s my luxury. They will continue to exists. Tragically, some will be bought by the larger ones. And then one doesn’t know where they’ll go. Mass is the death of dignity.

What is the result of conglomerate monopolising fashion in India?

Conglomerates are appropriating everything. Berkshire has bought into PayTM. Who would have thunk? Look at the juggernaut that Reliance has become, and fantastically so. Or that Amazon has become. It will finally work in favour of the consumer.

What do you see the future of luxury?

This is perhaps the most value-conscious, rational, evaluative generation. They make logical choices. So they’ll wear a pair of sneakers for six months and then sell it to their buddy on eBay and make some money off the entire thing. They will sort luxury out. We weren’t able to. They are the kind of guys who will say, “Let’s not spend so much money flying first class, but if you can save that money, I’ll buy a pair of Gucci shoes.” It’s very well-apportioned, adequate allocation of capital. The planks of luxury will be transparency, honesty, sustainability, which are not the three words you use when you describe luxury.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 6:35:01 PM |

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