India: Merging the past and present
By : | February 15, 2013
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As is often said, you need to be in touch with your past to create a better future. This is most true for India and its luxury. Not only have the seeds of historical luxury consumption germinated into a full fledged contemporary luxury buying pattern, but India’s culture has influenced its current luxury brands.

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh’s Patiala necklace, crafted by Cartier, is legendary now. Vacheron Constantin showcased two iconic watches in 2011, which they had created for Maharaja Bhupinder Singh. One was a 1909 pocket watch with a perpetual calendar, while the other a ladies wrist watch dated 1916. Both of them were special orders.

The past and the present are undeniably linked in India. The desire to have diamond and gold laden traditional jewelry is clearly evident in the buying behavior of Indian women today. The ‘heavier’ the jewelry, the more affluent the family is. Likewise, the inclination to customize creations is still visible in the Indian consciousness. Indians are proud of their history and take inspiration from it to signify their refinement.

Indian royalty’s penchant for western brands is well-known as well. Tukoji Rao II of Indore bought two beautiful pear-shaped Golconda diamonds from the French jeweler Chaumet. Ganga Singh of Bikaner ordered a belt buckle from Boucheron set with many diamonds, rubies and emeralds, and with a central brilliant of 3.60 carats (Allen 2005). It is claimed that 3,600 Rolls-Royce cars were produced in Britain between 1907 and 1947, and 1,000 of these were exported to India (Times of India 2011).

Indian royalty also encouraged the country’s rich handicraft industry to grow by leaps and bounds. It is this refined art and heritage that has led to the flourishing of India’s luxury market. India’s local luxury industry, as inspired by the past, can be majorly divided into the three main sectors of hospitality, fashion and jewelry. These industries use age-old Indian traditions and crafts as a muse today and develop them into unique, rich brands. An appreciation for all things unique – a passion shared by both the royalty and the masses – has made India welcome international luxury brands with open arms.

Royalty in India have given an impetus to luxury tourism in the country. Many palaces have been turned into luxury hotels. Falaknuma Palace, earlier owned by the Nizams of Hyderabad, was recently renovated and launched as a luxury hotel by the Taj Group. Likewise, Shriji Arvind Singhji of Mewar, converted his sprawling palaces in Udaipur into hotels which come under the HRH Group of Hotels.

The Indian fashion sector is not less developed. Veteran Indian designers such as Ritu Kumar and Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla have been successful in incorporating India’s rich textile heritage and stitching craftsmanship traditions. While Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla are much famous for their quintessential chikankari garments, Ritu Kumar gives patronage to ancient Indian handicrafts such as zardozi, bandhani and chikan work combined with naturally rich fabrics like silks, georgettes, crepes, tissues.

The sari is the hallmark of Indian identity with Indian designers such as JJ Valaya and Sabyasachi Mukherjee developing contemporary designs and silhouettes which are still inspired by traditional motifs and techniques. This six yard of cloth is gaining much popularity across the world with international celebrities donning them too. The Nehru Jacket is another example of an Indian trend. Worn by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for the first time, this single-breasted, hip-length suit shot to fame in 1960s. Obviously re-created and used by Indian designers in their works, even international brands like Canali and Ermenegildo Zegna have taken out special ‘bandhgala’ creations.

Indian jewelry is as elaborate as it can get. Composed of gold or silver and stones such as rubies and emeralds, and weaved together to form long, multiple strands, Indian jewelry is still made using traditional craft. Designs, however, have become slightly more contemporary, but always reflecting Indian aesthetics. Gold is still the preferred metal for Indians, as it was in earlier times. In fact, 20 per cent of the world’s gold reserves are known to be used in India for jewelry, adornments and even in saris (The Guardian 2011).

The craft of jewelry making was encouraged by the royalty immensely during their heydays. An example is the work of meenakari or enameling. Formerly, the best Indian enamels were manufactured in Lahore (now in Pakistan) by Muslim families. Raja Mansingh of Amer, Rajasthan, invited the Lahore-based skilled artisans to his kingdom, and the intermingling of their crafts came to be known as meenakari. Mughal emperor Shahjahan’s aesthetic vision and continued patronage further developed enameling into a sophisticated art. Another old-age jewelry craft, which is preferred by Indian women today as well, is kundan. Wearing jewelry is more of an everyday lifestyle rather than something occasional for Indians.

As we mentioned before, owing to India’s past, the Indian luxury consumer is broadly divided into two categories: those who understand luxury in their true sense, and those who are standing on the first or second rung of their luxury maturity. Brands have to tread over a fragile line and capture both the markets as best as possible. In a bid to woo India, Cartier referred to its early connections with Indian royalty when it launched in India – especially the Patiala necklace made for Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala.

Respecting India’s luxury history and attitudes is key to understanding today’s consumer and mindset. Quite simply, Indians like to mix western symbols of success with their traditional symbols of heritage and family wealth. Staying true to their luxury heritage, Indian consumers can identify unique designs, perfect craftsmanship and silky fabrics weaved by the most exotic threads. The degree of sophistication among consumers, however, varies. Understanding these varied consumer perceptions is the key to unlocking the true potential of India. – See more at: http://luxurynext.com/old-website/luxury-india-merging-past.html#sthash.Z54Ty4LT.dpuf

Soumya Jain is the Chief Editor & CEO of LuxuryFacts (www.luxuryfacts.com), an online magazine which lets readers retreat into the glamourous and heritage world of luxury across all sectors. LuxuryFacts also encourages discourse on how luxury brands can grow and increase their presence in certain markets. She is also the Co-Editor of The Luxury Market in India: Maharajas to Masses' (published by Palgrave Macmillan). Prior to LuxuryFacts, Soumya was a member of the editorial staff for the magazines MillionaireAsia India and Asia-Pacific Boating India.