NEW DELHI, India - When Priya Kishore and Bombay Electric hit Mumbai a few years ago, Mumbaikars didn't know what was coming. No sooner had Kishore arrived than she became a beacon for Bombay's new creative elite - one with a rightful place on the world stage.
A friend while she lived in London, Priya always had this wonderful creative streak, dressed in quirky clothes and popping colours. No wonder Mumbai has taken to her so well - she shares her love for colour with many of the denizens of India's most populous city.
Of course, all hasn't been rosy of late. With a terrorist siege that lasted well over three day, Indians have been in the streets, exercising their rights, in this, the largest democracy in the world.
But life goes on. Priya just opened Pocket Electric, India's first pop-up store in New Delhi. Could she be testing the grounds for a Delhi invasion? We reached her there to find out more in our latest CEO Talk, a BoF Exclusive.
BoF: Why did you set up Bombay Electric in the first place?
When Bombay Electric was conceived, there were only a handful of luxury brands in India, and the domestic fashion market revolved around wedding wear.
Three and a half years ago, the market for ready-to-wear was nascent at best, non-existent at worst, and it was virtually unheard of to base a store’s selection on design alone. It seemed obvious to us that Mumbai needed a veritable design-focused platform to represent the emerging designer talent in this country, as well as offer our discerning clients international brands with a focus on design over label.
Bombay Electric was the first store to offer a curated, tightly merchandised environment in India. I had expected a good reception from Mumbai, but was delighted at the overwhelming response, and fast spreading word-of-mouth. We now have a cult following amongst our clients and Bombay Electric is a brand people are emotionally attached to.
Last week a client wrote in our visitor’s book “I found myself in this store”.
BoF: What is the product and brand mix in your store? How does this differ from what is on offer elsewhere?
Bombay Electric carries established Indian designers such as Manish Arora and Rajesh Pratap Singh, but is also well known as the first to spot rising new talent. Our international brands are cherry picked for their focus on design, and include Comme des Garcons, Pauric Sweeney, Surface 2 Air, and United Nude.
We aim to carry clothes that you can wear anywhere in the world, which means that you will find very little fully traditional or conventional Indian clothing. By amalgamating tradition and modernity, we encourage designers to develop special collections for us. I have developed close relationships with designers and I often encourage them to base a collection for us around a single concept, colour or texture.
BoF: Bombay Electric is right around the corner from the Taj Mahal hotel, site of a long siege during the recent Mumbai attacks. How has been business been since then and what do you think this means for the future of luxury in India?
We opened the Monday after the attacks as a symbolic gesture, but were delighted that many clients, supporters and friends visited and shopped. Thankfully business is back to normal now – it is hard to crush the spirit of Mumbai.
The luxury industry has taken a temporary slowdown, but at the end of the day, you can’t argue with sheer population numbers (1% of 1 Billion) and the growing spending power of its emerging middle and upper middle class.
The demand is still there, and although the speed of growth has been slowed, the growth itself has not. The potential of the luxury industry in India is huge; something that the IHT has recognised by deciding to host their luxury conference in India.
BoF: And, what about the impact of the global economic crisis?
We have not noticed a drop in sales during the economic crisis – what I have noticed, though, is an almost overnight change in Indian consumer tastes.
The Indian consumer remains very discerning, even our wealthiest clients consider their choices greatly. They do not think as western consumers, nor do they have similar tastes – recognizing this is the key to success for luxury brands in India.
BoF: New luxury malls are popping up in India, including DLF Emporio in Delhi, attempting to bring Luxury brands together in one place as is found in other markets. Do you think these malls have a real future in India, or could street shopping districts actually emerge?
Whilst the mid-market malls are perennially packed full of middle class shoppers, luxury malls such as Emporio are virtually empty every time I visit.
During the 5 days of Delhi fashion week that I spent at Emporio I only saw two people with shopping bags. I have had similar experiences at UB City in Bangalore. It is too soon to say whether the luxury malls will be a success or not, but it is clear that shopping is a core leisure activity. What the Indian malls need to do is realize this, and perhaps look to the experience-focused marketing strategies of Dubai Malls for inspiration. Luxury malls must be a destination in themselves – I have not seen this happen in India yet.
The high street is a more intuitively Indian concept, integrating preferences for local services, but the true dilemma lies in availability of good real estate which is virtually nonexistent in Indian metros, especially Mumbai. We were very lucky to find our standalone heritage building on what is now known as ‘the Bond Street of Bombay’, but spaces like ours are now virtually impossible to come by.
BoF: Now that you have established a bonafide business, what can we expect from Bombay Electric in the months and years to come?
Our latest news is the opening of Pocket Electric– India’s first guerrilla store. We’ve taken occupation of a space at the Garden of Five Senses in New Delhi, and I’m quite excited about the result. We see Pocket Electric as Bombay Electric’s rebellious kid sister – an espresso shot of the best of the flagship’s collections, but with a distinctly new edge from our new collaborations, most notably with Bharat Sikka, one of India’s most progressive photographers.
A temporal space allows you more creative freedom, and permits you to suspend your client’s belief as they walk in through the door – or rather window, as is the case for Pocket Electric. The store soundtrack features unreleased tracks from Talvin Singh, who is also set to perform at our official launch party, and the walls are adorned with Bharat Sikka’s otherworldly visions of Delhi.
CEO Talk is BoF’s forum for in-depth discussions with the fashion industry’s global decision makers, conducted by founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed.
This interview has been edited and condensed.