How far would you go to sell yourself without losing yourself? When you have to win over a new market, how many of their preferences will you imbibe without giving up on your own values?
In an age of increasing globalization, it is a natural point of evolution that luxury brands must cross. A few months or years after their entry into the Indian market, most luxury or high-end fashion brands invariably create a special piece dedicated to India, some symbolic tie-up to show they plan to invest in this relationship, to stay and be around for good.
And so Hermès created a sari in 2011, a six-yard Indian swirl of French elegance and exclusivity. A year later, Canali came up with a Nawab Jacket, an Indian design format adapted to Italian tailoring standards – only 28 pieces of the bandgala suit were reportedly created, priced slightly lower than its usual range of suits. Judith Leiber went all out, creating the Ganesh, Peacock, Maharaja Elephant and Camel minaudières – even going as far as to hire designer Suneet Varma for a special collaboration. Lladro brought out Ram-Sita and Hanuman figurines amongst many others, wowing cash-rich religious Indians. Jimmy Choo launched a ‘Chandra’ clutch and ‘India’ stilettos as part of its bridal collection, and the folks at Alexander McQueen are going happily to their bank’s Indian branch with the proceeds from the sale of their Rajasthan-inspired jackets.
According to a recent survey by YES Bank and ASSOCHAM of almost 300 luxury brands in India, 60 per cent of CEOs said their strategy for the Indian market was to develop and customise new products and services specifically suited to Indian tastes. But how far will they go? On his maiden visit to experience the newly launched bespoke services by Gucci at their Gurgaon store, fashion critic and sommelier Magandeep Singh was shown shoe options in some very expensive crocodile skin. “Impressed I surely was but couldn’t help wondering, ‘Who the hell would want yellow crocodile boots?’ Gucci may bring us world-class styling but some people will still shine like prize fashion victims.”
When India notified 100 per cent foreign direct investment for single-brand retailing with a caveat of 30 per cent sourcing from Indian SMEs, luxury brands said they would lose their exclusivity and character if they gave up the tight reins on their production values and traditional know-how passed on from generation to generation of European artisans. But when it comes to sales, the same brands are open to customizing products or creating all new lines for the Indian market, with production still based in their home countries.
It’s nice to have foreign luxury brands available at our doorstep, sweet that they create collections especially for us, flattering that they woo us with limited editions, even turning a blind eye to our lack of good taste at times. But there’s a fine line between customization and conversion. Like the Casanova who loves the thrill of the chase, caring naught once the girl is his, foreign brands must stay wary of becoming too much like us. We may just lose interest.