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Boarding the Wedding Express

Chitra Narayanan     August 28, 2015


A dazzling sight greets you as you enter the DLF Emporio during the Treasury of Trousseau festival week - a shimmering, glittering 18-feet coloured glass and wedding mandap, studded with over 44,000 Swarovski crystals. You could call it a designer venue as this spectacular creation that lights up a wedding has been put together by artists Gautam Seth and Prateek Jain of Klove Studio.

So why has Swarovski spent nearly Rs 1 crore to create this extravagant, overindulgent venue? It's because the Austrian crystal brand is now seriously chasing the big fat Indian wedding market, offering a bespoke Swarovski experience. "We developed the crystal mandap to show what can be done to create an entire Swarovski-wedding experience for the bride and groom," says Vivek Ramabhadran, Managing Director, India, Swarovski. From tiny trunks studded with crystals, in which invitation cards are placed to be sent out to guests, to silver napkins for the dinner table, Swarovski has teamed up with designers to put bling into every little item that goes into a wedding.

More of this bling could be seen at the BMW India Bridal Fashion week where designers like Tarun Tahiliani and J.J. Vallaya were showcasing their wedding couture lines. Interestingly, the international brands are also jumping on the megabucks Indian wedding business, and trying to be part of the trousseau or the setting. For BMW, a fashion collaboration - especially wedding fashion - is an interesting pairing, because, at high-end events, everything from the car you arrive in to the bag you are sporting, is a statement. And through the event BMW has found a lever to get into this lucrative market. As Swarovski's Ramabhadran says: "Luxury marketing in India today is entirely driven by occasions - especially weddings. And that's why MNC brands want to be part of the action."

Vivek Ramabhadran, MD, India, Swarovski, leaning against the crystal mandap. (Photo: Vivan Mehra)
Move across the city into the Taj Palace where the Vogue Wedding show was on and, here too, a host of international brands were pitching furiously for business. For instance, Christian Louboutin has tied up with designer Sabyasachi to create bespoke footwear for weddings. "International brands have successfully permeated the wedding market," says Gaurav Bhatia, Marketing Director, Moët Hennessy. "You see Louis Vuitton luggage as part of a bride's trousseau, her wardrobe having a mix of Indian and international designer wear - a mix of Anamika Khanna and Dior Haute Couture," he says. Of course, Moët Hennessy is pitching hard with its champagnes. But it's got competition from other liquor makers.

{quote}For instance, the first sight that greets you at the entrance of the Vogue wedding show is a giant Johnnie Walker Blue Label bottle*. The high-end liquor brand is also edging into the market to set up luxury bars at opulent weddings.

'Weddings are becoming more exclusive, and highly experiential events', says Chinmai Sharma, Chief Revenue Officer, Taj Group of Hotels
The spirits will flow, of course, but what was a tea sommelier doing here at this wedding festival extravangza? Amid all the ubiquitous jewellery brand and fashion designers pavilions, tea sommelier Rupali Ambegaonkar's exotic whole leaf tea brand Tea Culture of the World looks incongruous. But then, she brews bespoke tea experiences based on your tastes - something that will stand out during weddings. She says her exotic teas packaged in a flamboyant fuschia box or a mint green box, and arranged in golden tins are also a much-in-demand gift item at weddings. At Rs 3,000 for a small box, it's a wonderful return gift or an invitation gift.

Though as far as gifts at luxe weddings go, that's small change. Wedding invites are getting seriously innovative - classy affairs in scented gilt edged parchment that are rolled up and placed in intricate boxes accompanied by choicest of sweets and gifts that can run into tens of thousands of rupees. For instance, a Delhi businessman sent out monogrammed wallets for men and scarves for women, along with the wedding invites, which cost between Rs 35,000 and Rs 80,000, according to Kotak Wealth Manage-ments report Top of the Pyramid.

'Our exotic teas are a much-in-demand gift item at weddings', says Rupali Ambegaonkar, Owner, Tea Culture of the World. (Photo: Sumit Sharma)
You will be surprised at how much thought and effort goes into invites. Designers Yogesh and Suraksha Gajwani, who have won several awards for their innovative wedding invitations and worked for clients like G.D. Goenka and Analjit Singh, spend months researching themes and concepts. "We try to personalise each invite so that it can be a keepsake memento," says Yogesh Gajwani.

But before the invite, it's all about choosing the destination and venue. Exotic destination weddings - set in Venice and Puglia in Italy to Chantilly in France, and island locales across Asia - are a growing trend for the A-listers, but Indian chains are trying hard to retain these events on home soil, piling on the offers and deals.

Taj Group's Chief Revenue Officer, Chinmai Sharma, makes no bones about the fact that the group is pitching hard to host luxe weddings at its palace properties, especially the Umaid Bhawan - a hot favourite already with big industrialists. The Taj puts in a lot of time studying trends and has something called a wedding barometer. "Weddings are becoming more and more exclusive, the size of the wedding groups are reducing and it's becoming highly experiential events," says Sharma.

There's a reason, of course, why literally every luxe player is seen at wedding extravangazas such as these. In an otherwise sluggish market, weddings are one of the few growth drivers. Taj's Sharma says that, according to their calculations, the trackable annual spend at luxe weddings is somewhere around Rs 1,000 crore. Vivek Ramabhadran says according to Swarovski's guesstimates there are at least 500 weddings in India where spends are over Rs 10 crore.

But read the Kotak report and it pegs the figures much higher - spends hover around the Rs 20 crore to Rs 40 crore mark at weddings hosted in India, and are far higher at exotic destination weddings.

When you take a look at what all goes into our weddings, its just extravagance - be it the way the bride and groom make their entries (BMW may be pinning its hopes on this part, but brides and grooms are now arriving in helicopters, speedboats and even popping out of giant lotuses) to choreographed sangeet (a Moulin Rouge themed sangeet for instance) to creating selfie corners at the event.

And of course, in this day and age, the digital world is not far behind with app makers also trying to crash into the party. So we have wedding apps created specially for an event, which only invited guests can download. Here, one can share pictures, or view who else is invited, what gifts can be given, the menu, and so on.

As they say, weddings are the only recession-proof market in India, so you can't blame the marketers for such furious match-making.

*An earlier version of this story mentioned the spelling of Johnnie in Johnnie Walker Blue Label bottle incorrectly.

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