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As you walk into Delhi’s posh DLF Emporio mall on a weekend, the first thing you notice is the queue outside the Louis Vuitton store. The store is only allowing in 12-15 people at a time, and eager shoppers wait politely in queue. Move on, and you come face-to-face with a beautiful glass display case that proudly proclaims the brand Bvlgari. As you admire the gorgeous black onyx and pavé diamond necklace, your eyes travel to the word ‘Mangalsutra’ printed in bold letters below. The Italian luxury brand has launched its interpretation of the traditional, auspicious necklace worn by married Indian women in an attempt to attract the modern bride and get a piece of the country’s $50-billion wedding market. The brand, which recently appointed actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas as its brand ambassador, is looking to increase its India footprint in both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce in two-three years.
Keep moving, and in the atrium you notice much excitement created by a pop-up store. Gucci, which also has a permanent store in the mall, has set it up to display its latest collection to mark the company’s centenary. The collection — Gucci 100 — has been unveiled in India along with the global launch — something the company always does. Here, we bump into 36-year-old corporate lawyer Preeti Kapoor, who is excited about the new collection. “It’s marking a special occasion. I will also remember that I bought it post the pandemic,” says Kapoor, who has been buying luxury goods for the past six years. Following Covid-19 protocols, Gucci only allows a select number of people inside the store at a time. You need to scan a QR code and get a token. Kapoor was number 26 and had to wait an hour. “The thing with such collections is that they get sold pretty fast, so I don’t mind waiting as long as I get what I want,” she says.
THEY’RE BACK DELHI’S DLF EMPORIO MALL. DLF SAYS FOOTFALLS ARE BACK TO 80-85 PER CENT OF PRE-PANDEMIC LEVELS
Happy with her purchase of a Gucci 100 wallet in beige and green, Kapoor’s next stop is the Montblanc store on the first floor where she wants to pick up a wallet from its ‘Mix Tapes’ collection for her husband. The wallet is sold out, and she settles for a card case from the collection. Is Kapoor shopping for an occasion? “Just a treat for myself and my husband since we haven’t bought anything nice for over a year,” she says. “[Our] birthdays and anniversary were during the lockdown. I think I will now shop whenever I like something and not necessarily wait for an occasion.” This overriding emotion is a common factor driving the luxury shopper to the billing counter.
“There is almost 100 per cent conversion. If you have waited to enter a store, you have probably made up your mind on what to buy,” says Pushpa Bector, Executive Director of DLF Retail, adding that footfalls are back to 80-85 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. So, has the luxury goods market made a comeback? “Yes, I would say so. International luxury brands are doing sales of 50-60 per cent over their 2019-20 numbers,” she says.
That might be an optimistic overestimate, but the fact is that growth is back after a year of pandemic-induced mayhem. In 2020, India’s luxury goods market plunged 33 per cent to $5 billion, according to data from Euromonitor International (see Future Prospects). In 2021, this will likely grow to $6 billion, and will see consistent rise over the coming years. However, it’s only in 2023 that the market size will return to 2019 levels. That’s a four-year jolt for the industry, but still, no one’s complaining. Not with the return of the shopper.
Walk-ins for The Collective, one of the largest multi-brand luxury retailers from the Aditya Birla Group with nine stores across the country, are at 80-85 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, according to Amit Pande, Brand Head. E-commerce numbers for the company have grown three times and are helping add 20-30 per cent more customers every month. Darshan Mehta, Managing Director and CEO of Reliance Brands, says the online business of the company has doubled to 25-30 per cent of all sales from 10-12 per cent pre-Covid-19. “We think of ourselves as a digital-first company,” says Mehta, adding that distance-selling has also gone up 7-8 per cent compared to zero earlier. With nearly 70 international luxury brands in its kitty, the company is India’s No. 1 luxury goods seller.
“Brands are also creating excitement, launching new collections. I am quite bullish that things will look up from here,” says Neelesh Hundekari, Partner and Head, Lifestyle Practice, Asia-Pacific, Kearney, a management consulting firm. Adds Abhay Gupta, Founder and CEO of Luxury Connect, a brand management firm: “Globally, luxury is back to 2019 levels. India is also following the trend.”
With the festive and wedding season coming up, there is new-found hope in the market. “My expectation is that in the October-January period, Indians will get married in large numbers but with a small crowd. A lot of money will be spent in ‘upgrading gifts’,” says Mehta. That has made jewellers a happy lot. Titan, which has jewellery brands Tanishq and Zoya, has reported a year-on-year growth of 78 per cent for jewellery. In India, De Beers Forevermark expects to perform 12-15 per cent higher in 2021 compared to its best year, 2019. “While during the pandemic, weddings have become smaller in terms of the number of guests [200 maximum], wedding budgets have not gone down,” says Sachin Jain, Managing Director of De Beers India. “So, the percentage being spent on gems and jewellery has gone up.” As per a jewellery industry analysis, the market size of the Indian jewellery industry is expected to grow to over $100 billion by 2023 compared to $65 billion in 2019.
Then, destination weddings are on the upswing. The Leela Palace, Jaipur, for instance, is sold out on all wedding dates for the next few months. DLF Emporio is launching a wedding concierge service to provide end-to-end services to the bride. “People are enjoying the intimacy of the event. It could well become a millennial trend now,” says Bector.
Another factor leading to increased purchases in India is the restriction on international travel. According to Hundekari, Indians purchase almost 30 per cent of their luxury goods abroad. Now a percentage of that is being bought in India. “I would call it trapped buying. Consumers have nowhere else to go,” says Mehta. Bector adds that brands have reached out to customers who shopped abroad and connected with them. “You provide them a personalised experience and they will shop with you in the future, too,” she says.
Restricted travel has also meant that people haven’t been able to shop for duty-free liquor. This has led to an increase in domestic sales. Ipsita Das, Managing Director, Moët Hennessy India, says that between 2020 and 2021, sales have grown 2X. “Premiumisation is driving this uptick. People are celebrating in smaller gatherings. Since consumption is in closer knit groups, they are not compromising on the quality of liquor, leading to premiumisation. We believe this trend is here to stay.”
The beauty care segment has also returned to growth ways. As per Euromonitor International, the super-premium beauty and personal care market in India was around $313 million in 2019. It dipped to $210 million in 2020 and is around $240 million today. Brands such as Kiehl’s and L’Occitane have adopted modes such as video consultations to keep in touch with customers.
Big-ticket items such as luxury cars are also seeing growth. To be sure, luxury vehicles account for less than 1.2 per cent of total vehicle sales in the country. Mercedes-Benz has posted a 99 per cent sales growth in Q3 of 2021 with 4,101 units sold. Top-end products such as the Maybach GLS 600 and the new S-Class have witnessed high customer interest. At Rs. 2.43 crore, the Maybach 600 GLS had 50 units pre-booked and sold even before the official launch.
Brands such as Lamborghini and Maserati have also seen growth. “There has been a sizeable surge in demand for Maserati India in the first six months of 2021, and we foresee this trend to continue for the rest of the year,” says Bojan Jankulovski, Head of Operations, Maserati India. Apart from metros, demand is also coming from tier 1 and tier 2 cities. For Lamborghini, 25 per cent of its sales are now in tier 1 and tier 2 cities. In March, it delivered the 100th Urus, and recently celebrated 300 Lamborghini cars in India. “We expect the growth trajectory to continue for the coming years and are confident of 2021 being another record year for us,” says Sharad Agarwal, Head, Lamborghini India.
An increase in the luxury real estate market has been the direct result of the pandemic. Work/study from home has meant people want more space. India Sotheby’s International Realty sold over 50 homes costing $1 million-plus between August 2020 and August 2021. Sothebysrealty.com said in its January-March 2021 report that Indians are searching for multi-million dollar homes in various geographies, the top cities being London, New York and Paris. In India, destinations such as Goa and Shimla are the popular ones.
A MODEL IN A CREATION BY DESIGNER RAJESH PRATAP SINGH FROM SATYA PAUL. THE FABRIC USED IS CARBON ZERO TENCEL, A FIBRE THAT IS BIODEGRADABLE
Millennials and Gen Z consumers are seriously concerned about social and environmental causes. These consumers back their beliefs with their shopping habits, which is fuelling a rise in sustainability in fashion and luxury. In a significant shift, Bain & Company reports that millennials will represent 45 per cent of the global personal luxury goods market by 2025, and Gen Z could be responsible for 40 per cent of global luxury purchases by 2035, up from 4 per cent in 2019. Fashion and luxury brands have backed the trend. At the recent Lakmé Fashion Week, designer Rajesh Pratap Singh from Satya Paul showcased a collection of trousers, shirts, and dresses made with Carbon Zero Tencel, a sustainable fibre that is entirely biodegradable, its only residue being water. “What we wear is what we leave behind, and it is through this joyous collection that we explore the restorative effects of circular living,” says the designer.
Last year, Ritu Kumar’s Autumn-Winter 2020 collection, Nature’s Origami, used a sustainable fabric called Ecovero — a sustainable viscose brand manufactured only from certified and controlled wood sources and produced with significantly lower emissions and water than generic viscose. “Sustainability is built into the Ritu Kumar DNA,” says Amrish Kumar, Managing and Creative Director at Ritu Kumar.
Sustainability is playing a key role in the beauty sector as well. “There has been a spike in demand for sustainable products as more and more consumers are looking for products with natural ingredients and botanical extracts,” says Shikhee Agarwal, Assistant Vice President, Kiehl’s India. Adds Simi Dewan, Country Head (DGM), L’Occitane En Provence India, “Post-Covid-19, consumers are definitely aware and conscious of the products they are buying. They are also focussing on the socio-environmental impact of the brands and services they support.”
The other aspect of sustainable luxury is the market for pre-loved fashion. In the US alone, the market for second-hand fashion is worth $36 billion and is expected to reach $77 billion in the next five years, as per a report by ThredUp, a California-based resale company. In the US, Burberry and Gucci have joined hands with second-hand seller The RealReal to get closer to the environmentally conscious luxury consumer. A recent BCG survey of individuals from six countries suggests that the global second-hand market will likely grow over the next five years by a CAGR of 15-20 per cent. However, in India, the pre-loved luxury market is still in a nascent stage. “We expect it to grow. Indians are bargain hunters and we also have a tradition of clothes and jewellery being passed on from generation to generation,” says entrepreneur Pernia Qureshi who — in association with London-based hedge fund manager Shehlina Soomro — has recently launched Saritoria, a peer-to-peer platform for buying and selling pre-owned luxury couture by South Asian designers. The site has sold several designer garments.
A GUCCI POP-UP STORE IN DELHI SHOWCASES ITS LATEST COLLECTION WHICH CELEBRATES THE COMPANY’S CENTENARY
As you wind up your weekend odyssey at the DLF Emporio and head home, you can’t but miss the buzz in your head on the positivity all round, a light smile playing on your face. Keeping that smile in place will be the Holy Grail of the luxury industry’s purveyors, as India strives to go beyond the pain of the pandemic.
Story: Smita Tripathi
Producer: Vivek Dubey
Creative Producer: Raj Verma, Anirban Ghosh
Videos: Rashi Bisaria, Mohsin Shaikh
UI developer: Ravi Kumar, Mohd. Naeem Khan