People | The Collector

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The Collector
Text by Shirin Mehta and Photograph by Amit Dey
Published: Volume 18, Issue 11, November, 2010

Tikka Shatrujit Singh pioneered the entry of the international brand Louis Vuitton into India, and made a stupendous success of it. The great grandson of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala speaks to Shirin Mehta about his royal past and tryst with luxury

At a time when international brands were yet wary of entering the local market, Tikka Shatrujit Singh seamlessly paved the way for Louis Vuitton to enter India and made a stupendous success of it. Since then, the world’s largest luxury house has been in an amazing give-and-take relationship with this country, drawing from its heritage, giving in some measure. Tikka, who is one of the most glamorous of Indian princes, a lover of European fashion, jewellery and architecture, has in some measure contributed his own élan to the group. He speaks about his regal past and all things luxe and beautiful.

As the great grandson of one of the most glamorous and Westernised of Indian princes, what has your legacy of luxury been?
I have been privileged to have been brought up and lived in palaces constructed by my great grandfather. These palaces were built with great attention to detail and were full of charm and beauty. Merging Indo-French architecture and beautifully-laid out gardens inspired by Versailles, built by French architects they were considered amongst the finest palaces of India. They made you realise what a refined man my grandfather was. I think I can appreciate this even more now.
My legacy of luxury has been that I have a great eye for beauty and for beautiful things – crockery, cutlery, architecture, silver, the arts and crafts – an appreciation for exceptional things, made by master craftsmen. In the luxury business, there are no compromises and I understand exactly where they are coming from. Whatever Louis Vuitton has done in India has been of the highest standard. Business is very important but there are so many other elements in the business of luxury, like promoting art, architecture, design, talent. With my long experience in the luxury business, I can help in the development and promotion of Indian talent.

Has growing up in palaces affected your world view?
The time for living in palaces is over. Palaces have to become commercially viable entities. After all they belonged to the ruler of the state. They can no longer be homes. Converting them into hotels is the best way to keep their legacy alive. Tourism is the greatest employer of human resources. That way you would be contributing towards creating local employment and enhancing the historical prestige of the people of the state.
Most of what modern India has built is extremely ugly. We seem to have copied the worst of the West. Just look at the city of Gurgaon. Town planning too has collapsed. None of our cities are walker-friendly. I wish we could develop an ‘Indian’ school of architecture which would fuse the best of the Hindu-Rajput-Mughal-Colonial styles. Modern India needs to respect its incredible past.

Was it almost inevitable that you would take the ‘deluxe’ route?
No, I was banking before this. Circumstances, timing and chance – I believe in destiny!

How do you feel about being a part of the world’s largest luxury house?
I feel very responsible because Louis Vuitton is a world leader in the luxury business and it is important that we keep up the momentum. It is also all about building relationships. The brand gives you the freedom to look out of the box. They don’t put you in a straitjacket – you create the jacket, which is very interesting.

How would you describe your work mantra?
For me, every day is a new beginning. Every day is a new adventure. I keep it very simple: there is no magic in it. Goals have to be set and met! Just be yourself and be positive, a characteristic that I have always had.

Your favourite music...?
I just love music, be it anything. No genre is important. From the most bizarre like music created from the sounds of whales to Indian classical, Chinese opera, to hip hop…. My son’s music is so different and I am captivated by it. I tell him to put it on my iPod, on my computer. Music is music; I tend to appreciate the variety in the world!

What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about the protection of one’s heritage. I am amazed that in India there is so little interest in preservation. Our mighty legacy is just taken for granted. There is so much wealth of India that is being ignored. It pains me.
Near my home, there is a river called Kali Bein where, the legend goes, that Guru Nanak used to take a dip in the river. It was here along the ‘Kali Bein’ that the Guru composed the Japji Sahib. My great grandfather later built a most beautiful Gurudwara called ‘Ber Sahib’. Four hundred years of public neglect and indifference had left the river polluted. A man named Sant Sancherwal decided to take up the task of cleaning the 160-km river. Thanks to his endeavour, this holiest of rivers has been saved. Save the tiger, save the forests, our sacred rivers...these are things that my mother has been doing all her life. If we lose our tigers, our forests, our sacred rivers, our historical monuments, our cultural identity will disappear. I would like to end my days setting up in collaboration with business houses a foundation to save our cultural heritage.

Home to you is...?
Wherever my family and friends are....

You are a collector of beautiful artifacts.
I collect things that are India-inspired – things of the Raj Period or the Mughal Era. There were master craftsmen then, some of them nameless. Anything my eye takes to I collect but always with an Indian edge. My latest purchase was a month ago in an auction. A silver cigarette case that belonged to my great grandfather with our family palace enamelled on top. It gives you a sense of the great finesse my great grandfather had.

Do you believe in brand or style?
Style any day! If you have style, you can carry any brand you want.

How do you keep a finger on the pulse of the Indian market?
It’s a lot by travelling in India, meeting people of different generations, going to colleges, even nightclubs, keeping up with my son’s generation. See and walk and feel is what I believe in. Market reports are good but you can only ratify the findings by being in the field yourself. Indian fashion shows and movies too give you a good sense of style trends. Indian movie stars are beautifully dressed today.

What does luxury mean to you personally?
It means so much. Luxury is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes the best luxuries are simple things like hills to climb, deep water to swim in, or the goodly smell of rain on dry ground.... The ultimate luxury is to be one with nature.

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