Bollywood can sell hair oil to a bald man

Luxury insiders say their brands are profitable in India

In 2013, Alia Bhatt graced the cover of Harper’s Bazaar India wearing Gucci from top to toe, and the headline went: “Alia Bhatt Steps Into A New Role”. It had to be prescient, because here we are, 10 years later, with the young and talented movie star just announced as the global brand ambassador for the Italian luxury fashion label.

Bhatt’s international assignment comes just a year after Deepika Padukone was announced as the global brand ambassador for the luxury behemoth Louis Vuitton. Padukone was already the international model for Cartier, Qatar Airways and Levi’s. But a brand ambassador is a huge deal, and let’s face it, there is no bigger deal than Vuitton. In 2021, Priyanka Chopra was announced as global ambassador for Bulgari, with the jewellery house even introducing a modern-day mangalsutra for its Indian audiences.

Going by the celebrated appointments of India’s top three actresses, one would think India’s luxury market is flourishing. But we have only taken over from China its mantle of being the most populous country in the world. In every other notable box—growth, GDP, cost of living, life expectancy, internet usage, health care—China is miles ahead. As are many other countries in South East Asia.

Alia Bhatt at Gucci’s Seoul show | Instagram/aliaabhatt Alia Bhatt at Gucci’s Seoul show | Instagram/aliaabhatt

The global luxury market as of 2021 is worth $262 billion, according to leading data researcher Statista. The US is the world’s largest luxury consumer, closely followed by China. India was anticipated to reach $14.7 billion in 2015, according to a 2010 report by CII-Kearney published in The Economic Times. But in 2022, Euromonitor announced that India’s luxe market was estimated at just $8.5 billion.

But India’s rich are certainly getting richer. From 102 billionaires in 2019, we now have 169 of them, making us the country with the third-highest number of billionaires in the world, after the US (700) and China (495). Curiously, Germany is close at our heels with 126 billionaires. In an interview to CNBC-TV, Sathyajit Radhakrishnan, CEO—Luxury Division, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited (ABFRL), says India’s fashion market may comprise just 15 per cent of its luxury pie, but that number is growing at 20-25 per cent each year.

That said, there is also the impact of social media marketing on consumer perceptions. For example, Bhatt’s announcement earned the Gucci Instagram handle eight lakh likes, whereas otherwise they notch up 20,000 to 50,000 likes per post, and stars like Serena Williams have earned them over one lakh likes.

This is key consumer engagement for brands, even mega brands, trying to break into new markets. Gucci’s Seoul show last week (Bhatt made her debut here, and her video garnered over seven lakh likes for the label) was its first since its star creative designer of over a decade, Alessandro Michele, had departed. Gucci is a brand in transition, trying to return to its classical roots and breaking away from the maximalism of Michele. In South Korea, where the average person spends $325 on luxury goods each year, Gucci was inspired by street-wear as well as by K-pop and K-dramas.

India is also seeing newer luxury labels open stores here. Valentino opened its first store in Delhi, and Balenciaga is expected to soon (both under Reliance Brands). Dior is looking to open a new store this year in Mumbai, too. ABFRL is bringing the legendary Parisian department store, Galeries Lafayette, to India shortly.

Luxury insiders say their brands are profitable in India and are performing better than they have ever been. The luxury business, though small, is finally supporting itself. They have also finally understood that, in India, mighty Bollywood can sell hair oil to a bald man.