Starting out with modelling for fun, and moving on to being one of India’s leading fashion choreographers with over 2,000 shows to her credit, Kolkata-born Liza Varma has been part of the Indian fashion and glamour circuit for several years. A member of the Fashion Design Council of India and a choreographer for Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, Varma has organised events across the US, Europe, the Subcontinent and the Middle East for over 12 years, working with designers and Bollywood celebrities for fashion shows, corporate events and private parties.
The former Femina Miss India runner up and actress found an interesting new outlet to her event-management skills when her cousin Amit Dutta, managing director of Luxury Hues, which has the sole franchise in India for the globally acclaimed UK-based Quintessentially Lifestyle Group, offered her the position of CEO of their Indian events division. The eight-year-old Quintessentially group, headed by Catherine Hurley and Anabel Fielding, has over 65 offices around the world and arranges luxury events for clients like Gucci, Dior, Chanel and Dom Perignon.
Married to Mukul Varma, CEO of skincare brand Tatha, and mother to a daughter, Varma – who was also an award-winning marketing professional at Citibank – has been with Quintessentially since March 2012; her team of 15 has already managed and organised various HNI parties, besides corporate and luxury events. She talks to us about the business of partying.
After specialising in fashion events, what made you enter the Indian wedding market?
I have been an integral part of the fashion industry working with designers for over two decades, where creativity plays the most important role. Dealing with designers over the years on a personal level to showcase their imagination on stage in the best possible manner has been my passion. Moreover, I have been organising private parties for the last five years for occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, New Year, Diwali and Holi, so it is just a natural extension for me to get on to planning weddings. I thoroughly enjoy the process. Now that I also have my daughter Vidya on board as my creative director, we work hard on the best of decor ideas. And being associated with a leading international wedding planning company, we surely get an edge on coordination for destination weddings.
What is the nature of your partnership with Quintessentially in India?
In India, our partnership brings in international artistes, talents and designing ideas. Having offices in other countries definitely helps us to arrange international destination weddings conveniently.
How old is the organised wedding planning sector, and where are the big wedding spends coming from? What’s the average budget a client comes to you with?
The organised wedding-planning sector is just about 10 years old in India, in my opinion. The clients are mostly business families, builders, farmland owners, exporters and so on from Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Jallandar, Ludhiana, Kanpur and of course, Delhi and Mumbai. Most of my clients are referred by my (fashion) designers; they are well-established and prefer to have a lavish wedding. So it’s not surprising that the Indian wedding industry is growing every day – in HNI society, everyone wants to outdo the other. The average budget is Rs 1 crore and above.
Very much for local affairs; it is more fun with lesser hassles as wedding planners can manage all your logistical issues. And Indian wedding clients are always demanding: they want seamless coordination. They also like to check out on every detail including things like fabric for upholstery, chandeliers, floral arrangements, lighting, gifting, invitation cards, and so on.
What’s the key difference in entertainment and wedding event trends in India versus in the West?
The key difference for an Indian wedding being arranged in US and India would be a fusion look in terms of decor and entertainment. The other thing we notice is that the permissions procedure is much more organised in Western countries, and guests there are more punctual in terms of timing. The equipment for sound and light, and the marquees used for tenting are also of marked higher quality and standard abroad compared to what is available here in India.
What is your marketing strategy in India? Do you feel that word-of-mouth recommendations are better than commercial advertising when it comes to luxury wedding planning?
Word-of-mouth definitely matters the most. But it is a long-term process so simultaneously advertising and participating regularly in exhibitions around the world showcasing one’s creativity and organised working skills would definitely work very well. When it comes to running a company, one has to make a five-year plan to keep investing in the business. Profits come after at least four to five years in the service industry.
First published in the January 2014 issue of BlackBook magazine