Where the rich are investing 2016

Refined Elegance

Tikka Shatrujit Singh of Kapurthala on his affinity for made-in-France luxury and his efforts to give back to the state 

Tikka Shatrujit Singh of Kapurthala needs no introduction to the world of luxury. This March, he received France’s highest civilian distinction, the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour), which was created by Napoléon Bonaparte in the early 1800s for service rendered to that nation. It’s not surprising, given that as chief representative of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy in Asia since 1995 (today he is advisor to the chairman), he’s advised other LVMH brands such as Dom Pérignon, Dior, Fendi, Berluti, and Givenchy among others for their foray into India. “I’m deeply honoured by the French government,” he tells us from the plush living room of his south Delhi home. “My great-grandfather Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala, and my grandfather are both recipients of the Légion d’Honneur. This makes me the third generation to receive it – the French Ambassador didn’t know of any other family where this has happened. I hope my son will continue this tradition.”

If you’re Tikka Shatrujit (known as ‘Tikka’ to his friends), luxury and great taste are literally in your genes. Clad in a blue custom-made shirt from Jermyn Street in London, and Berluti shoes, he sits with a collage of ancestral portraits behind him, the largest being that of his larger-than-life great-grandfather. A great Francophile, he was also a highly cultured human being, Tikka tells us. “His tastes were very refined, like Shah Jahan, everything had to be perfect,” he says. “He had refined the art of receiving people, entertaining, and serving beautiful wines, champagnes, and cognacs. He could host an elegant European dinner as well as a sumptuous Indian dinner.” The Maharaja modernized his Kapurthala palace to resemble the Château de Versailles as “France was the reference point for sophistication, modernity, and grandeur” for him. He was an avid traveller who recorded the minutae of his travels in a diary written in French, that Tikka is very proud of. “His first travels were in 1893, and he published a book called My Travels to Europe and America, which made for extraordinary reading,” says Tikka. “Here’s a man who was highly inquisitive, wanted to learn about different cultures and histories, and bring back best practices to help his people.” So not only would he visit the great fashion houses, with suits tailored at Savile Row, and shirts at Jermyn Street; in France he loved fragrances, Baccarat crystal, Cartier, and Lalique, among others.  

Moreover, he helped his subjects and modernized his State. “Unlike our ministers who go on freebies and come back with nothing, he took a retinue of ministers with him so they could learn,” says Tikka. “Can you imagine going to Paris and visiting jails? Seeing how prisoners are treated and fed? So he could do the same. Or he would go see Louis Pasteur, and the best doctors, to see how penicillin was made.” Of course, he voyaged on steamers in style in this “golden age” of travel, with 80 trunks made by Louis Vuitton and Goyard, all bearing his name and crest. Today, Tikka has inherited some of those trunks, as well as his buttons, cufflinks, tie-pins from Boucheron, Chaumet, and Cartier, watches, and brocade sherwanis (some made by master tailor Amar Singh in Kapurthala). His own wardrobe includes double-breasted suits from Berluti and Savile Row, and blazers from Dunhill, with Indian bandhgalas from Tarun Tahiliani, JJ Valaya, Raghavendra Rathore, and Rohit Bal. 

Like his great-grandfather, Tikka, who now also manages hedge funds along with duties at LVMH, travels a fair bit, around 12 times a year. Paris remains close to his heart. “I’ve always stayed at the Bristol since the last 25 years, whereas Maharaja Jagatjit Singh stayed at the Ritz.” He loves to discover new scenic routes by the river Seine, walk around the Marais, re-discover the Musée d’Orsay, and browse the beautiful stores. Last year, Tikka took his son Suryajit to Bordeaux, to a winery called Château d’Yquem in the Sauternes region. “Five generations of my family have had the pleasure of drinking Château d’Yquem wine,” says Tikka. “Through his diaries, I found that Maharaja Jagatjit Singh was serving it in 1897, so these links with these great brands are unusual for an Indian family and very emotional to me.”

But Tikka’s heart beats for Punjab. Like his great-grandfather, he wants to give back to his home state. He already runs a music festival in Kapurthala. “My dream project is for Punjab, which suffered terribly, through drug addiction, and poor governance,” he says. “It’s a state with so much history. Compared to Rajasthan,Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat, very little has been done to promote tourism.” Millions come to see the Golden Temple, but there are few places to stay. “Punjab could be an important spiritual centre. We have gurudwaras that people don’t even know of. In our tehsil, Sultanpur Lodhi, Guru Nanak obtained enlightenment, where Sikhism was born. My great-grandfather built a gurudwara to honour that. Ek Omkar Satnam, the first verses began there. The Guru took a dip in the Holy river and came up with this wonderful verse. Maharaja Jagatjit also built a mosque for his Muslim subjects, which is historical.” 

Tikka, like his ancestor, wants to bring people together, providing the government listens.