First feat forward

INDIA IS the business buzzword for luxury retailers today! The country tops the wish list of CEOs — of Guess, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, and Cavalli, Diesel, Gap, Zara — by offering the finest returns on investment opportunities for luxury retail companies.

By Soniya Kirpalani (Contributor)

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Published: Mon 19 Mar 2007, 10:50 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:28 AM

firstAs an organised retail infrastructure takes shape, fuelled further by changing lifestyles, the growth of disposable income and favourable government policies, India is dubbed "the world’s fastest-growing market across categories and sectors." True enough, a mall is announced every nano- second and brands have become daily routine ‘shops’ for the rich and restless as well as the middle-class and mundane.

Even before the COO’s feasibility reports are in, retailers are sussing out store space, working on regional partnership. The government has allocated permissions for up to 51% FDI in single brand retailing. It’s very interesting to see the way retailers are positioning luxury; its fashionable, fun and with a distinctive feel good factor, where the stores are as critical as the product itself. A walk down Corso Como, Rue St Honore, Fifth Avenue, or Bond Street bears witness to the ambience needed for the chic store spaces paved along. Teasing the imagination of the super spenders, retail spaces have to provide the opulence and ‘snob appeal’ that stimulates exclusivity and generates the whole six yards of experience.

Amidst this conundrum of commercial smattering a significant ‘retail and luxury’ segment is being surreptitiously designed between retailers and property magnets, hoping to cater to cosmo-cultural Indians with ‘luxury & lifestyle’ offerings. An interesting ‘luxury consumer’ profile emerges — social climbers, style aficionados, fashion functionalists and the hip n happening — all of whom seek frill thrills. Gone is your ‘friendly neighbourhood darzi’ — today’s cosmocrats seek ‘brands’ not just as ‘bags and ball gowns’ but all the aspiration and dreams they emulate. Yet despite the creation of spatial spaces, international brands — with the exception of few labels — are finding it tough to penetrate the luxury market in the way their ‘white papers and financial pundits’ had predicted.

The Indian mind-set seeks the excitement of ‘non-Indian shore shopping’; added to this is the heavy import duties, the backlash of income tax scrutiny that makes shopping in India a bit trickier. Natural extension ‘tax- free shopping’ destinations provide holiday spots with far more exclusivity and privacy and are tempting buyers away. While labels are lining up aplenty, there is another equation that’s titillating the interest of the super conscious spenders. Gestated by formation of FDCI a nascent Indian designer industry is stepping out of their ‘cottage culture’ structure and onto red carpets. From its hesitant steps in 2000 — after the launch of the first India Fashion Week — the fashion fraternity has gained momentum, winning audiences both regionally and internationally.

Regional brand awareness, the sense of developing ‘Swadeshi identity’, media tempered aspiration levels, the neo-consumer spending power meshed with the page three factor, have all propelled the retail revolution green-lit by FDCI. Shining the spotlight on homegrown labels WIFW has become a massive glamour event that brings electronic and print media to a standstill with hours of viewing time and thousands of square columns of space devoted to it. Today, eight years later, designers like Soni & Sabyasachi are setting trends in NYC, Manish Arora and Monisha Jaising in London, and Tarun Tahiliani, Hemant Sagar, JJ Valaya are dazzling buyers from Mumbai to Beirut with their unique vocabulary of exquisite eastern embellishments, textile techniques meshed with international silhouettes.

1Realising the competitiveness of the future market, these designers have rolled up their sleeves and are working with new maturity. Rethinking creativity, they are targeting both international and regional couture and demi couture for the classes; they are also actively designing prêt for masses. Aiming for quantity that makes a broad based impact instead of just exclusive solitary high priced garments, these designers have widened their design directory to cater to natural extension markets. This in turn launched multi brand multi designer stores like RSH-Bombay Se (Singapore), Shatoosh ( Spain), Boho (London), Kimaya, Aesthetics, FAE, BE ( Dubai), Sanskriti (Hong Kong) aimed at the interest of the diaspora as well as the local populace.

Suzy Menkes commented that 'Indian fashion gets stocked only on the second rung of European boutiques', which may have been true in the initial stages. Today the presence of Browns, Maria Lusia, Collette, Saks, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Galleries Lafayette, Sunmotoyama, Tsum, along with over 170 international buyers — slated for this season — reflects directly on the evolving popularity of Indian designers in the international markets. However despite increasing popularity, the labels are not considered mainstream enough and have no ‘flagship stores’ to boast of internationally. Despite the fact that India exported $13 billion of textiles — from raw fabrics to manufactured apparel for retailers like Gap, JC Penney and French Connection — less than 10% of that business came to the designers.

This season ramps witnessed Armani’s collections peppered with Indian silks and motifs; other designers are also consistently drawing inspiration from India — paisley prints, gypsy skirts and cotton tunics — borrowing much without compensation or credit. Consciously showcasing individuality, using their rich heritage of embroidery and embellishments, visibly working with international stylistics as they seek to tease the attention span of a world, where ‘What’s New’ is a normal dictum — often the first words uttered by both buyers and media moguls — at any fashion week across the world. India too is putting out her first fashionable feat forward.

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