Why have luxury goods gotten so absurdly expensive?

A Chanel handbag costs more than double in 2023 than it did in 2016

I finally made it to the much celebrated Jio World Plaza mall in Mumbai, touted as India’s first luxury shopping mall, even though the DLF Emporio, home to India’s largest Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Dior stores, opened in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj in 2008.

The Jio World Plaza, which opened its doors to the public only last November, is hugely underwhelming. To be fair, it is also a work in progress, since two to three years of the pandemic can cause major delays in infrastructure, logistics and the economics of the mall and its brands. One section of the Jio Convention Centre is now a mall, only recognised by a rather tongue-in-cheek sculpture by Jitish Kallat—a twist of highway signboards oddly named ‘Here After Here After Here’. Thankfully, one does not get lost inside. The ‘mall’ is just two levels of a straight promenade, lined with giant stores of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Gucci, and also a Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Bally, Ferragamo, Bulgari, Cartier, Pottery Barn and Muji. I say work in progress because there is just one functional restaurant here, a pizzeria, and a cafe run by the Muji store.

But hey, no one comes here to hang out obviously. One round of the luxury stores reveals that this is not a place for a browse or a trawl. Handbags from Bottega Veneta, Dior and Vuitton are mostly between Rs4 lakh and Rs5 lakh. A white cotton shirt at Balenciaga was priced at Rs1.6 lakh. A pair of sunglasses at most stores was around Rs45,000. And a sweet pair of garden flat slippers at Vuitton cost Rs75,000. Small mercy, YSL had a similar pair for Rs60,000. Oh, but they could not sell footwear, they informed me, as they needed a new licence for selling internationally made footwear in India.

The Gucci inside Jio World Plaza | Instagram@jioworldplaza The Gucci inside Jio World Plaza | Instagram@jioworldplaza

When did luxury goods get so absurdly expensive? More importantly, why did luxury goods get so absurdly expensive? I am not being a fool. I have been trawling luxury items for over two decades and they were always expensive. But they were just above the range of high street goods, you paid a premium for a luxury item just for exclusivity of the label or the quality control that a handmade piece assured you. For example, if a pair of leather shoes in a high street store cost Rs4,000, a pair of leather shoes at a luxury store cost Rs12,000. While high street prices have only trebled in the last two decades, luxury prices have increased at least ten times over. It makes no sense at all.

The New York Times calls this hike “unjustified” and quotes from the data company EDITED, which states that luxury prices have been raised by 25 per cent since 2019, with brands attributing the hike to everything from inflation to Ukraine to the pandemic to balancing out regional disparities. A Chanel handbag costs more than double in 2023 than it did in 2016.

An article in the Financial Times states that sneakers for $1,000 or so from Loro Piana, The Row, or Vuitton are not better looking or sturdier than those from Nike at $100, except that they signal to one group of people that you are rich and to another group that you are an idiot.

One cannot argue this. When luxury once meant handmade and high quality, now it only means you are buying into the brand’s flash appeal. Perhaps this is also why a growing number of customers in India are choosing a Sabyasachi Mukherjee over a foreign brand, simply because India still makes things with love, care and craft.