Has the recession had an impact on India’s fledgling luxury industry? You’d expect marketers to be nervous ahead of the festive season, but this year’s spending trends are a cause for speculation rather than disquiet. The first trend is a definite downturn in consumer sentiment, resulting in discounts on everything from watches and automobiles to perfumes and alcohol. The second? As long as the discount is good, members of the upper crust will continue to loosen their purse strings. So, how are India’s luxury marketers looking at their buyers? Here’s a worm’s eye view:
The Dilwallah’s Delhi
No one can spend like the aspirational Delhiite. Luxury shopping is at its best in the NCR with malls like the Emporio, the only true-blue home for heritage labels, and hotels sprouting across Gurgaon like acne on a teenager’s face — Gucci’s store at The Oberoi is its largest in India. Delhi’s jetsetting crowd likes to spend on clothes and jewellery and the look is firmly Indian and flashy. They like their watches and aren’t slowing down on their Macallans yet, though rare and vintage premiums are no longer their favoured sips at the bar.
Among women professionals, the bag and the watch are the ‘it’ items they slog for. Changing seasons mean that the menswear range moves fast, and made-to-measure is a big fad among the capital’s high spenders. The Dilliwallahslike their cars, but prefer SUVs even more. Oh, and they’re big on makeup — men included. The farmhouses are gaping maws for branded furniture and home accessories, and, like the clothes, these get a makeover every time the weather changes.
The Mumbaikar’s mantra
Mumbai was made for the red carpet, which is why it’s here that Western fashion gets aired the most, though it’s a curious mix of resort wear and Oscar formality. But, while the women mostly get it right, the men, alas, prefer their tees even for formal parties. The city must have the highest concentration of shoes — wonder where they store them — with even wannabe celebs swearing by their Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks. Less flashy than their Delhi cousins, Mumbaikars like premium beverages, know their wines better, don’t mind splurging on accessories and jewellery for their Page 3 moments, and, though you may not see them on the roads, have a secret passion for fast cars.
Who would have thought Chennai had it in it? The unmistakable whiff of money well-spent is becoming all too apparent as Chennai mamis go about in their kanjeevaram sarees teamed with Bottega Veneta bags. The solitaires in their earlobes still come from the family jeweller, but you can bet they’re up to style with their Louis Vuittons. Audis are choking up Chennai roads, restaurants at tony, new hotels have long queues snaking outside and family banquets resemble film award functions. Subtle style? Nah, Chennai has discovered the power of spending and isn’t shy of showing it off.
Kolkata’s secret fling
Hoardings announcing Kolkata’s tryst with luxury are everywhere — ‘Porsche showroom opening soon’ — but you won’t find proof of it anywhere. That’s because the city is so famously discreet about its wealth, it doesn’t mind its secret spends turning into heirlooms in the cupboard — but actually taking them out doesn’t merit consideration: that would be crass, right?
Flash it like Punjab
There was a time when fashion designers made their money from trunk shows in Ludhiana and Jalandhar. Now, they invite their clients from Punjab to the front row for couture and bridal shows in Delhi and Mumbai. Cash is flash. Mums-in-law-to-be demand trousseau-loads from the designer of their choice, the whole band, baaja, baraat. Chic city girls might have to work for their Burberry trenches and Birkin bags, but the lasses from the land of five rivers don’t believe in half measures — they prefer their toys in multiples of a dozen to share with their “nears and dears, puttar”.
Spending in the hinterland
The IT industry has shed some of its silicon, which could be why young techies are into premium rather than luxury fashion — more Paul Smith than Zegna or Boss — but in Bengaluru and Hyderabad, it’s technology that rules the roost.
From Indore to Ahmedabad and from Kanpur to Jaipur, they might be conservative where their clothes are concerned, but the high spenders are drawn most to lingerie (not only do entire families of Gujaratis shop at Victoria’s Secret stores overseas, they also pose for photographs with the mannequins), women’s bags, aftershaves (hoarding them like their city cousins hold on to their malts), makeup and expensive chocolates. Oh, and diamonds. Women still prefer to have them around their necks, but the men think little of carrying them in pouches in their pockets — like so many credit cards.
The author is a Delhi-based writer and curator