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Life in the Luxe Lane
Text by Sona Bahadur
Published: Volume 15, Issue 5, May, 2007
India is luxeploding. With iconic brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Ermenegildo Zegna and Moschino already here and others queuing up to tap the booming market of affluent Indians, the country has emerged as one of the hottest destinations for high-end products in recent times. Partnered by Verve, the Hindustan Times Mint Luxury Conference in New Delhi's Taj Palace on March 30 and 31 brought together the who's who of the Indian and international luxury world in intense dialogue on this decidedly rich subject, reports Sona Bahadur

How to steal a million? Irrelevant question. How to spend a million? That's more like it. For a growing base of Indians with deep pockets, money is no object. It's just a means to live up la dolce vita.

The breed is multiplying faster than you can spell upwardly mobile. Sample some numbers. According to a presentation by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), there are approximately 8 billion luxury consumers in India. The number of millionaires is pegged at 83,000. The global luxe market is estimated at $2.2 billion and growing at 20 per cent per annum. And according to Group Arnault's Concetta Lanciaux, 95 per cent of high-end fashion consumption comprises products rooted in India.

With disposable incomes and consumer confidence soaring, India has emerged as a strategic market for a plethora of luxury products ranging from perfume, crystalware, cognac, jewellery and garments. What's more, the country is a natural hub for manufacturers of fashion, design and lifestyle products because it gives economies of scale and offers local manufacturing resources thanks to its abundant man power. The recent revision of retail laws allowing foreign luxury companies to have a 51 per cent stake has further liberalised the luxury environment for foreign players wanting a foot in. This and more was the subject of discussion at the luxury event of the year - the Hindustan Times Mint Luxury Conference held in the capital on March 30 and 31 at Taj Palace hotel in New Delhi. As media partner, Verve was very much part of the inner circle.

The powerful opening speeches of Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry, Kamal Nath, and French minister for foreign trade, Christine Lagarde, set the tone for the dozen intense modules that covered every possible dimension of the subject from the definition of luxury and its future in the 21st century to India-specific debate on retail and the psyche of the Indian luxury consumer.

Speakers included heavyweights like Comité Colbert Chair-man and Chanel President, Francoise Montenay, Chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton Malletier, Yves Carcelle, Jean Paul Gaultier's President Christophe Caillaud, Comité Colbert President Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes, Salvatore Ferragamo's Michele Norsa and Didier Grumbach, President of Fédération Francaise de la Couture, among others. The hour-long modules were moderated by a high-profile team of journalistic talent including Hindustan Times' Vir Sanghvi, Mint's Raju Narisetti, CNN IBN's Rajdeep Sardesai and CNBC's Shereen Bhan.

Nearly all the speakers including Charme Investment's Matteo Cordero di Montezemolo, luxury shoemaker Christian Louboutin and Mark Henderson on Gieves and Hawkes listed India's rich tradition of luxury and its vast repertoire of handicrafts as major strengths. On the other hand, the lack of a suitable luxury retail environment was cited as the biggest obstacle marring the growth of the market. Ritu Beri, who moderated the session on retail, pointed to the paradox of India's burgeoning consumer class on the one hand and its glaring lack of luxury retail avenues on the other. As she pointed out, luxury retail for brands in India has been limited to five-star hotels but these have now reached a saturation point. Unlike New York's Fifth Avenue and Champs Elysses in Paris, the concept of high-streets is unlikely to come to India given the opposition to the commercialisation of heritage areas. Ergo, all hopes are now pinned on the spate of upcoming luxury malls that will hit the major cities by 2008.Lancome's Odile Roujol also emphasised the importance of stand-alone boutiques and dedicated counters in enhancing the presence of a brand.