Remember that scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), when Audrey Hepburn, glamorous in a Givenchy gown, eats a Danish out of a paper bag, right outside the Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan? There was such longing in her eyes as she gazed at the luxurious jewellery inside the shop. Today, you don’t have to eat your Danish outside, like Hepburn had to do. There is an eatery inside Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue store called Blue Box Café. Shops are no longer just about… well… shopping. They are there to provide an immersive experience because customers want to be inspired and entertained. They want stories over stuff.
But the offline experience is no longer enough in a world in which digital is threatening world domination. According to a Bain & Company report, online luxury shopping grew 22 per cent in 2018 to nearly €27 billion, and it now represents 10 per cent of all luxury sales. Today, many luxury brands like the Italian fashion retailer Yoox Net-a-Porter and menswear label Bonobos have more of an online presence than physical. They are at the helm of exciting innovation.
Globally, the luxury market today is impacted by several factors, says Vivek Ramabhadran, vice president, Asia South and Africa Region, Swarovski Professional. “The trade wars, the current situation in Hong Kong, the drop of the yuan against the US dollar… these are massively impacting luxury spending today,” he says. “Even other strong luxury retail regions like the Middle East are sluggish because of the uncertainties in the political and economic situation there. We are probably entering a more minimal design phase for the next year, after a focus on ‘fantastical’ design.”
India, too, is feeling the heat. According to Euromonitor, there was a slowdown in the Indian luxury market in 2018. Luxury brands are adopting various strategies in this changed scenario to attract customers. Luxury hotels, for example, are experimenting with hyper-localisation. “Today, it is all about abandoning traditional luxury—the brands that everyone has known and appreciated all these years—and becoming the flag-bearer of your destination,” says Saurabh Rai, an executive vice president for Preferred Hotels & Resorts. “Hotels have the opportunity to go deep and find out what is the best of local luxury.” Many hotels in India have embraced hyper-localisation to varying degrees. At ITC Royal Bengal, for example, the artworks are by Bengali artists, Sanjay Bhattacharya and Paresh Maity. The Brass Room pays tribute to Kolkata’s heritage of jazz, blues and western music. The Darjeeling Lounge offers the finest teas from the region.
With luxury getting a makeover, traditional business houses in India are changing with the times. And helming these changes is the next generation of entrepreneurs. Like Avni Biyani, concept head of Foodhall and daughter of Kishore Biyani, founder and CEO of Future Group, and Samyukta Nair, designer and hotelier and daughter of Dinesh Nair, co-chairman and managing director at Hotel Leelaventure.
- “I grew up listening to dinner conversations about the business”
- “I wanted to forge a path of my own”
- “A home should reflect who you are”
- “I was five when i started visiting the properties”
- “Luxury is to be able to keep all the fun things of childhood alive”
- “For me, research is travelling”
- Precious experiences
Avni, for example, has introduced the concept of experiential retail with Foodhall, the food superstore chain that is the most premium offering from Future Group’s portfolio. While one goes to Big Bazaar, the group’s flagship retail brand, with a grocery list and an air of impatience, one goes to Foodhall to luxuriate in the experience. Foodhall has offerings like Party Chef, where you can personalise your parties with Foodhall’s bespoke chef service. There is Blue Ribbon, where gifting experts help you choose customised gift hampers for friends and family. Then there is the Cookery Studio, which offers everything from certificate courses in bakery to fun sessions cooking pasta with friends.
In many ways, these young scions of luxury are ushering in the future. Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, executive director of the Historic Resort Hotels (HRH) and son of Maharaja Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur, is focusing on personalising your stay at HRH. “You don’t want to check into a hotel when you are travelling,” he says. “You want the experience of a home in a hotel.” Samyukta has transformed the traditional luxe of the Leela hotels, founded by her grandfather, Captain C.P. Krishnan Nair, into the hip, millennial vibe of Bombay Bustle, the restaurant she started in London in 2017. For these next-generation entrepreneurs, luxury is not about an expensive handbag or a watch. As Samyukta says, everyone has the tangibles. The real luxury is in the intangibles. “It could be something as simple as sharing a cup of tea with a loved one,” she says.