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Now, Luxury Comes Calling

Updated on October 8, 2012

It is not a hard task at all for consumers to justify their indulgences and luxury purchases these days. Hedonistic indulgences, construed as wasteful and likely to evoke guilt and anticipated regret, are a thing of the past. Indulgence is in. These days, consumers are less likely to search for legitimate reasons to justify luxury purchases.

The indulgent consumer is everywhere. She’s likely to redeem points for hedonistic rewards (a cruise or a pampering massage) rather than for utilitarian rewards (daily essentials). The pressures of modern life are driving people to cozy up to life’s little and big pleasures. The kinder, gentler ʼ90s were one big guilt trip and nobody talked of indulging themselves in anything.

Now, it’s all about excitement, personal fulfillment and indulgence without apology.

Yet, unlike the over-the-top extravagances of the ʼ80s, more often than not the new indulgences have more to do with self-preservation than self-promotion.

Consumers, who earlier believed that they needed a good enough reason to permit themselves to indulge, are now passé; People are clearly ready to indulge every whim!

The luxury goods industry is growing at a very rapid rate today. It is no longer the preserve of the celebrities, aristocracy and the superrich.

The concept of acquiring and enjoying luxuries has now seeped into society in quite an intense fashion. The current trends of society and scenario of the global economy support the growth of the industry all over the world, India being no exception.

Times of Growth

It is common knowledge that these are the times of great growth and vertical career graphs. So, consumerism in India is also on the fast track. India has a large working class, second only to the USA. The working class population of the country amounts to 17 per cent of that of the world. Even the rising contribution of agriculture to its economy has been a key factor in the rise of the living standards of its inhabitants, and is bound to rise further. Over and above that, the multiplier effect of the media is a key driver of the luxury industry in India.

The Indian market is attracting the attention of the world’s most luxurious brands. Major companies such as Ferrari, Kohler, Gessis and Grobes, and BMW are either already or will soon be rolling out their India operations. Gucci, Prada, Armani, Moschino, and Jimmy Choo – you don’t need to travel to Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia or to the West to shop for these brands. The new Indian consumer, who is high on style, will soon be able to shop and bathe in luxury. Cartier’s MD (West Asia and South Asia), Patrick Normand says, “Since the winds of change are sweeping across the country, we believe that India has started to develop as an important luxury network in the same line as Paris, New York and even Dubai.”

Luxury is something that is beyond being a necessity. It is about aspirations and emotions. Although a very relative concept, involving a high degree of personalization, luxury is more about indulgence and evidence of wealth. All luxury purchases indicate a desire for status, a self-pampering experience or celebrating an occasion. Luxury no longer means extravagance and desire. Today, luxury and necessity go hand in hand and the gap between them is being bridged fast.

The word ʻluxuryʼ and its exclusivity are diluted when used discriminately. Today, luxury is universal and growing rapidly. “There has always been an unnatural link between India and luxury,” said Gianluca Brozzetti, group CEO, Asprey and Garrard, at a recent luxury conference. Describing India as a ʻcountry of diamondsʼ, he explained why India has emerged as a challenge for high-end luxury brands today. “Over the past 75 years, there have been multiple factors like regional conflicts, taxes and duties, population density, low cost products and limited shopping locations which have posed challenges to such brands.”

Bollywood celebrities, great hotels, urban development and a growing economy have catapulted India to where it originally belongs – in the thick of luxury. And, when it comes to jewellery, Indians are known for their love of gold and diamonds. Also, luxury jewellery is not new to Indians.

With the aura of generic malls fading, more upcoming malls are beginning to see sense in segmenting their market. And an increasing number of people are tending towards luxury malls that promise to stock nothing less than the A-listers, catering to a niche but luxury audience. “There is a huge demand for such brands in India,” says Sonica Malhotra, director, MBD Group, which opened Zephyr, a luxury mall-cum-hotel in Whitefield, Bengaluru. “Malls,” she says, “should go beyond higher disposable incomes and lure the strata of the society which simply does not shop in India because the country does not have the brands theyʼd like to sport.” Malhotra, who finalised Canali for her premium Ludhiana mall, says sheʼs in talks with what reads like a list ofthe whoʼs who of high fashion – Chanel, Escada, Prada, Gucci, Ferragamo, Jimmy Choo, Jean Paul Gautier, Louis Vuitton and more.

Select Citywalk Mall and DLFʼs venture in Delhi and UB City in Bengaluru are growing to offer the Indian consumer luxury shopping outside the walls of a luxury hotel.

“What we are offering the consumer is luxury retail in the confines of a luxurious environment,” says Pranay Sinha, CEO, Select Citywalk. Luxury malls outside the ambit of 5-star hotels are expected to attract more footfalls. “When people think 5-star they think the prices will be prohibitive,” says an industry insider.

Indiaʼs contribution barely touches one per cent to the over $80-billion world luxury market. But, with almost 25 million people being added to the middle-class every year, high-end brands are hoping to tap the deepening pockets. That India is passing through exciting times is a known fact. What is not known is that major unprecedented changes are underway, especially for Indiaʼs growing middle class. The economic growth will reshape the lifestyles of Indian families and within two decades, India will be a nation of upwardly mobile middle class, points out a new study by McKinsey Global Institute. And, as the huge middleclass moves up the ladder, there are bound to be changes at other levels of society too.

And guess who is spending the most these days? South Mumbaikars and South Delhiites? Wrong! When it comes to big-time expenditure, the old rich donʼt come within touching distance of the new badshahs of Noida, northern suburbs of Chennai or south-west Delhi. In a ranking of the districts that make up Indiaʼs six metropolises – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad – in terms of per capita spending, Noida is right on top with an annual spend of almost ` 70,000, South Delhi has barely half that and the three districts that make up Mumbaiʼs urban sprawl – Mumbai, Mumbai Suburban and Thane – donʼt even make it to the list of the top 10.

Next to Noida comes the South-West Delhi district, which includes areas like Safdarjung Enclave, Sarojini Nagar, Vasant Vihar, Vasant Kunj, the Cantonement area and stretches up to Najafgarh. Third is Thiruvallur (the urban part), which encompasses Chennaiʼs northern outskirts. Chennai, in fact, is the only metro in which every district makes it to the top 10. Hyderabad and Kolkata, like Mumbai, donʼt have a single district in the top 10.

A look at the Forbes List of Billionaires will give you the rising figures of Indians featuring in it. The prediction is that there will be more individuals in this country with that kind of spending power within the next decade. To cater to the myriad tastes of this population, actual or potential, a host of luxury brands of everything from kitchen sinks to handmade shoes have been making their presence felt in the Great Indian Bazaar.

Wallowing In Luxury

And all this is being lapped up by not just the super-rich – the huge segment that is the salaried middle class is wallowing in the freedom and luxury of being able to shop for what has been, for a very long time, just a distant advertisement in a glossy magazine, be it a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, a Louis Vuitton handbag, a Zegna suit or a Versace frock. They have the money to buy what they want to buy and that hunger to buy is reportedly growing fast. Retail consultancy group Technopack finds that over two million households in India are willing to spend $10,000 every year on purely luxury purchases.

Spending money on nonessentials is not new to the Indian ethos – from the Cartier baubles that the erstwhile maharajas acquired to the bushels-full of firecrackers burst by the average family to celebrate Diwali, we as people like extravagance, spectacle, creating an impression. ʻOld moneyʼ no longer frowns on ostentatious display of wealth, perhaps because it is no longer unusual to show off with a latest-model Mercedes or a meal at a 7-star restaurant. The days of Gandhian simplicity are fading fast and self-denial or abstinence seem to be a thing of the past. The message in the bottle of bubbly has changed: If you canʼt get no satisfaction, just go buy yourself some! Luxury is very easily available today. And a lot more people can afford to find it, guilt-free and with the greatest pleasure.

But what is luxury today? Is it about owning a brand that everyone envies? Is it about finding products that make life a little happier and far more comfortable? Or, is it something intangible on which a price tag cannot be attached?

A random survey would show that true luxury is not what comes easily, but what needs hard work, striving, effort. It tends to be almost unattainable, rare and so more greatly prized. If you can buy it, it is practically a necessity. And, as author-socialite Shobhaa De says, “Necessities are hard to define!”

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