Luxury in India | Not just a cut-and-paste

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While China may have the unyielding focus of many Western luxury brands today, many players are already beginning to set their sights on India for the next wave of expansion. But, as global luxury players begin to tentatively test these Indian waters, they are finding that India, which has its own vibrant indigenous cultural scene, may require a different expansion strategy altogether.

With Bollywood stars and local Cricket legends that get more attention in India than their Western cultural equivalents, there is no blank canvas in India upon which to paint Western tastes. Locals on the streets of Shanghai and Beijing have, by and large, adopted Western dress, but those in Delhi and Mumbai  are more likely to fuse East and West; a Tarun Tahiliani kameez paired with Seven for all Mankind jeans, Jimmy Choos and a Gucci bag or a Sabyasachi sari paired with Harry Winston jewels and Bottega Veneta minaudiere.

For international luxury brands, therefore, conquering the Indian market will require a lot more than a cut and paste — and, there is some formidable local talent to contend with.

On this note, Vogue India’s Bandana Tewari called my attention to an insightful article written by Adam Levin, of The Times of South Africa, who delves into India’s nascent luxury brands, which are using their local knowledge and savoir-faire to stake their own claims in the Indian luxury market land grab. What’s more, some of the best indigenous brands may even have the potential for taking their world-class craftsmanship to a global audience, something that Western brands have done furtively for years.

Sabyasachi_mukherjee I caught up with Bandana, who is in London this week, to learn more.  “India’s design signature has more to do with the quality of fabric and intricacy of workmanship rather than the silhouette,” she told me. “I don’t expect the Indian sari to be a sell out in Paris for instance. However, imagining say, a resort collection using the intrinsic fluidity of the sari with tempered down Indian embellishments is absolutely plausible.”

To wit, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Manish Arora have already developed international profiles based on this kind of approach. Next-generation Indian designers like Namrata Joshipura and Anuj Sharma have managed to catch the attention of international buyers and press at the two competing Indian fashion weeks held recently.

But, as Bandana notes, “Indian designers selling abroad still have a lot to learn, especially from the likes of Dries Van Noten, Etro and Kenzo-designers who continue to reinterpret ethnic influences by making them culturally exciting not ethno-centric.” Until then, Indian brands will continue to fight the good fight in their homeland, while the international brands may use their own advantage to bring Indian craftsmanship to the world.

Sabyasachi A/W 2008 images courtesy of Getty Images, International Herald Tribune and Michael Rubenstein (www.mrubenstein.com)