'Progress is when luxury becomes necessity': Gautam Singhania

Luxury in India is different from what international luxury is, Singhania says


Q/ How exactly have luxury consumer tastes changed since the pandemic?

A/ Consumption of luxury has gone up across the board. People saved money during the pandemic and are now ready to spend. I think people are spending money, people are going for self-gratification. We are seeing quite a bit of that.

Q/ In India, do you see any particular trend different from the global pattern?

A/ The trend is in the right direction. If you see luxury in India, the one thing that catches my eye is the amount of destination weddings that are taking place. It has gone up exponentially. Every luxury hotel around wants to sell wholesale (bookings) and don’t want to sell retail (individual rooms). There is so much of demand.

Q/ As far as the luxury market is concerned, do you think there has been a shift that has happened in favour of experiences, more than buying products and labels?

A/ If you see, travel has significantly increased. I was trying to book in Cambodia for March, and there is nothing available. I was trying for Croatia for next August, and was told that if you don’t book right now, nothing will be available for next year! So people are travelling, people are going in for experiences. Accommodations are getting booked out all over the world.

Q/ If we trace the evolution of luxury in India, would you say it opened up with the international brands coming in?
A/ Luxury in India is different from what international luxury is, while conceptually it is the same. If you think the foreign brands are selling any large quantities in this country, the answer is no. But are Indian brands up there in the luxury segment, the answer is yes.

Take individual designers in this country. Earlier, they had shops that were 2,000-3,000 sqft. Today they have 25,000 sq.ft. shops. That shows the designer has moved up the luxury value chain, and he sees that there are so many more consumers coming, and therefore it takes (that big a showroom) to offer such a nice experience. Luxury in India is also moving. The Indian consumer is travelling; he is seeing in the media and he is seeing it everywhere.

Q/ The exposure itself has grown exponentially. From social media to TV to the fact that we are all travelling more. I think all that contributes to the evolution of the market.

A/ A guy on the street has a mobile phone, he’s got access to Instagram, he’s got Facebook, to everything. I was driving in Arunachal Pradesh a few years ago — a kid took a simple video of the cars going by and we got millions of hits in a couple of hours. It’s crazy! The definition of progress is when is a luxury becomes a necessity.

Q/ When the pandemic happened, it seemed that the luxury market was facing an existential crisis. Because people were so focused on their health, in surviving and getting through the pandemic alive. Since then, the market has exploded. As you said, people had saved up money while being stuck at home, and all the more reason they wanted to experience. Would you say this is correct?

A/ As I said, it is all about self-gratification. They have been so cooped up at homes for (so long), they (have realised), boss, let’s do life! There is no certainty to life, (you never know) when you (will) go.

People are now slowly realising the value of living every day. And when you realise the value of living for the day, you (start saying) ‘I don’t mind spending a little bit more, but let’s be happy for the moment.”

Q/ There was once a belief that luxury and digital were twains that will never meet. But since the pandemic, would you say that has changed, with luxury brands also (being forced to) go online. What’s your take on this trend?

A/ Luxury is all about the experience, you know. It was going to happen. Online is there, you can’t take it away. But luxury is all about the experience, the touch-and-feel.

Q/ How have luxury businesses transformed since Covid?

A/ I don’t see anything specific. Where the luxury market is suffering today is on the supply side.

Q/ You are getting into luxury realty. Why do you think this is the right time to venture into this field?

A/ The Address by GS (Raymond Realty) is a premium real estate product. It is a value-for-money luxury real estate.And it seems to be doing reasonably well. Post-Covid we see that (more and more) people now want their own homes. The demand for real estate today is very, very high.

Q/ When do you think we can see a mainstream Indian luxury brand emerge from India?

A/ What do you mean ‘from India’? I think India has lots of luxury brands. The volume of sales we can do here are more than that of many brands internationally, because India has so many more people. (India) has tremendous amounts of luxury brands, whether it is in the aviation space, whether it is in the hospitality space or whether it is in the retail space. Even in the telecom space. Just because it is not in (say) the UK, doesn’t mean it is not a luxury brand.