Gianni Versace, the famous Italian designer perfectly described the quintessence of luxury when he said: "Don't be into trends. Don't make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live." The concept of luxury has experienced an evolution and a paradigm shift from being synonymous with wealth, status symbol, and aspiration, to now a more eloquent form of embracing values of quality, craftsmanship, design and personalisation. This has also gradually transcended into and holds relevant for luxury real estate.
The well travelled Indian consumer has not only been experiencing elements of luxury around the globe, but is also more appreciative of the art and meticulous detailing that goes into crafting a service or product. From the white-glove hospitality services of Trump (Towers) to the in-store buying experience of Hermes and investing in homes that offer more than just designs and spaces, the discerning Indian consumer is now ably distinguishing between true luxury, premium and high street brands.
It will soon be 2019, and as the current year advances, so do India's luxurious abodes. Beyond being a banal adjective for premium, grandeur or expensive, India's luxury residences are now embracing lifestyles that are more about bespoke products, service and experiences. These uber-luxury developments, built at the most desirable locations in the world, are created by master designers and crafted to the highest level of detail setting the benchmark for the world's finest real estate. Right from residences to community spaces, everything is orchestrated to provide tailored services and comfort. Be it gazing at the world's first Picasso artwork, standing below a gold-plated ceiling, or enjoying Burj Khalifa-inspired dancing fountains in the boulevard, every corner of such mansions and residences resonate with opulence.
Having said that, luxury also lies in exclusivity. Locations in India that host uber luxurious residential projects, as identified by various researches, include Mumbai's Golden Triangle of Nepean Sea Road, Altamount Road and Breach Candy; Mumbai's well connected hotspots such as Worli and Mahalaxmi; Delhi's Aurangzeb Road, Chanakyapuri and Jor Bagh; Bengaluru's Sarjapur and Koramangala; Kolkata's Elgin Road; Chennai's Boat Club Road in Alwarpet and Poes Garden; and Hyderabad's Banjara and Jubilee Hills.
For many luxury consumers, the decision of buying an exclusive residence goes beyond investment. It is mostly driven by the sentimental value of leaving behind an heirloom for the generations to come. They fancy living spaces that reflect their hallmark and heritage with a miscellany of the finest choices resonating with their lifestyles and attitudes.
It is these desires and expectations that demand a great sense of responsibility and prowess from real estate developers. In a city like Mumbai, where availability of land is a limitation, brands are constantly reimagining spaces that complement the consumer's desire to experience luxury by amalgamating avant-garde propositions and thorough planning.
Someone may want high-speed elevators to connect their four vertical floors and a staircase, while ensuring maximum usage of floor space. Someone else may want an infinity pool and private terrace garden to blend seamlessly with the lavish living room overlooking the Arabian Sea, from the 75th floor! Or, there may be a preference for on-demand services like an Uber-like service for private jets or 24x7 concierge at their doorstep. The extent of what a luxury consumer may want is infinite, which fosters a more innovative deliberation at the end of the real estate developers.
The second generation tends to be more indulgent than the first, and more disposed to spending on luxury housing. However, the younger generation - largely millennials, owing to their admiration for authenticity, craftsmanship, heritage and discreetness - have given shape to new concepts in luxury housing such as townhouses and bare-shell residences, within a development.
Beyond this, privacy and security are new influences gaining popularity and defining decisions. According to the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2016, 39 per cent of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals worldwide stated online privacy and security as an issue of concern when it comes to creating and preserving their wealth. From hi-tech centralised surveillance systems to off-Google Maps, technology is another factor aiding the demand for private homes in India.
With Generation Z and millennials collectively set to form 40 per cent of the overall luxury goods market by 2025, compared to around 30 per cent in 2016, an effective offline and online communication strategy is addressing the most pressing concern of every new-age luxury homebuyer - availability of time. Time saved through adoption of automation and artificial intelligence with the help of app-based services, voice commands and biometric access, among other elements, is the next trend defining real estate tech. For instance, one can pull his or her car into a condominium and watch it being whisked away safely to the automated parking area, no manual effort required. No fear of dings or scratches from valet parking or an attendant getting the keys.
From phone-enabled operations of home appliances, to integrated voice command systems like Alexa, these butlers of tomorrow play music, dim the lights, start the coffee pot, and lock the door.
Smart consumers are now using digital technologies to not only set the scene for an exclusive soiree before one arrives at the door, but also to minimise human intervention from time-to-time, while retaining the overall experience.
The real benefits that on-demand services and connectivity bring are diverse - there's freedom from the hassle of ownership and instant gratification. Luxury consumers aren't about to set themselves apart by opting out. Instead, they will push their mindset to new domains of consumerism. Be it functionality-driven errands (such as taxis, laundry or haircuts), extravagant dinner parties at the tap of a screen, or 'Uber for private jets', there will be inevitable variations of on-demand services.
Over time, the meaning of "luxury" in the consumer's mind has evolved towards exhibiting a personal expression of the term, and making intimate communication with it. Hence, for true luxury real estate brands success will lie in curating premium touch points by bringing best-in-class products, practices and experiences, that allow consumers self-expression while fitting their values and attributes.