Affluenza: Spot the white swans

Being rich is more about the mind than the body. In the new world, being rich will be more about vision, the ability to visualise and drive big ideas...

August 07, 2010 05:26 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 06:58 am IST

Creating iconic brands...

Creating iconic brands...

Let me tell you my favourite luxury story. It's about one of the most decadently visionary rulers ever. His name: Louis, the XIV. In France, he is known as the Sun King. Many of the great French ideas of luxury came from this man who also brought the royal court, bedazzlingly, to Versailles.

His reign, one of the longest for a European monarch (from around 1643, though he started actually governing from around 1660, to 1715), is certainly the chic-est in the history of France. Louis XIV was as good a marketeer as he was monarch. He gave France the idea that it could be the connoisseur capital of the world.

He introduced, for instance, white swans in Paris. Very expensive imported white swans in the then grimy Paris placed on a small island opposite the Cours la Reine promenade all for what the Sun King called the idea of Paris.

He wanted the idea of Paris being the centre of the refined world -- which it certainly was not at that point -- to become more critical than the reality of Paris. So, shunning critics, including I am guessing some environmentalists, that the dirty Seine is exactly where you do not want white swans, Louis XIV prevailed. He got his swans.

He got his image of Paris, indeed France.

And it is not the swans that died but the city, the country changed around that image and became as the Sun King had hoped, the elegance capital of the world. The country of impossibly thin, impeccably tres chic people.

I had promised, in the last column, that I would write a five-point list to Being Rich in the New World. Three points in the last column and two kept for this one. So my first point this time is, let's call it,

The White Swan Principle

My point is simple; well, at least I think it is: being rich is more about the mind than the body. To much of being rich has been about the physicality of having money, as it were, the size of the finger-rock, the length of the car, the number of credit cards (the number of cards, period), the exclusive suite, the private jet, bling, bad behaviour - it's all so tactile.

The White Swan Principle argues that in the future being rich will be more about the vision, the big ideas, the ability to visualise and drive big ideas than just being able to buy that car, that plane, that brunette ala Bond.

The White Swan Principle argues for the return of the cerebral in the pursuit of, as a Romantic Fatalist I usually skip into saying happiness but curbing the urge, I shall say, hedonism.

The White Swan Principle - and with that my quota of using the term three times to begin three paragraphs ends - argues, even dreams, of the witty wealthy, the heretic hedonist, always ready to question and blaspheme the hand that mollycoddles their high living.

I am arguing for, demanding, the return a premium value to intelligence in money making, not merely quantumisation. I demand the rich who deride richness, the out-of- the-box rich rather than the over-the-top-rich.

Unless the rich in the new era are visionaries, able to illuminate rather than merely dazzle, they ought to be shunned, kept away in the isolation of their palaces and pent houses where they lord over but can never reign.

The rich in the new world must endeavour to show us white swans where we only view dirty waters. That is the test of the wealth of their abilities.

The Alika Act

Days before I wrote this column, I went to meet someone I have known for more than 10 years. The designer JJ Valaya and his brother TJ are the robust sardars of Indian fashion. When they started out, no one thought a Santa Claus sardar could make a style statement.

But with the sang-froid of their race, the brothers have built one of the most structured fashion businesses in India, in the process giving themselves a coat of arms and, in a clever twist of tongue, transforming the family name from the common north Indian surname of Ahluwalia to the exotic Valaya.

I have always liked the brothers for two things: they have been ahead of the curve in their business sense and, in the sickly-sweet bitchy world of fashion, they remain refreshingly upfront and unpretentious.

This time before lunch at Delhi's when-will-the-Raj-return hotel The Imperial, TJ Valaya tells me how he has decided never to work with a major jeweller because “for all their ads in the papers, their cheques always bounce!” The farcical world of fashion is replete with the pompous paupers but few would accept their existence.

And even in their understanding of fashion, and indeed its ephemeral business, the Brothers Valaya are the genuine article. They were one of the first designers to introduce a trademark that could be adapted to the lining of the garments to margin design on their stationery; among the first to create a one stop-one head sampling unit in Manesar outside Gurgaon; divide their business into autonomous independent units focusing on ready to wear, bridal, western formals and eastern formals; and brand each unit differently.

Now they have again pushed ahead by attempting to create a Valaya classic outfit. They call this the Alika jacket. Alika being the woman they are thinking of. The idea is to create a garment that is remembered with the brand, a silhouette that is constantly updated and re-tweaked so that it becomes a brand icon. Their inspirations, naturally, are the classics of fashion — the loafer from Gucci, trench coat from Burberry, the Armani black suit, Chanel tweed jacket.

In this one decision — and another to create a wedding outfit that took 1,200 hours and 100 craftsmen with gold, Madagascar onyx, Peruvian pearls among others — the House of Valaya slips into learning how to deal with the future of luxury.

1. Attempt to create iconic items that build the brand and are easily scaled up and down.

2. Aim for the super exclusive.

This is again one of the first attempts by any Indian fashion brand to create their own distinct identity through one silhouette. This, hopefully, will stop some designers from trying to make a black suit better than Armani.

Hindol Sengupta is the author of two books on luxury. E-mail him at

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.