The luxury brands are at the moment focused on China but they see a lot of potential in India which has not been tapped due to various reasons including regulations. The importance the top luxury brands attach to India was evident from the galaxy of big names and personalities from the luxury industry who attended the two day Mint Luxury conference 2012 in Mumbai. It was the fifth edition of the high profile conference and it has gained in importance every year. The theme of the conference this year was ‘Luxury in India: At the Tipping Point’.
There were minor hiccups before the conference kicked off. The first two sessions had to be postponed as the minister of the Indian Government who was to inaugurate the conference arrived late. Taj Land’s End, Mumbai and its lavish environs was the ideal location for the conference. The elite of the Indian society and industry were in attendance. There were wide ranging discussion on practically every aspect affecting the luxury industry including the high duties and taxes charged in India on luxury imports and what men want. It was felt that the taxes in India were excessively high. The luxury goods have to bear the burden of taxes that are three times higher than Europe and twice as high as they are in China. The session titled What Men Want tried to decode men’s desires. Michael Perschke who heads Audi’s operations in India believed that it was too simplistic to say that it is all about women and sex. He believes that cars and bikes play a large role in the lives of men.
Saree was another attention grabber at the conference. Two leading fashion designers, Diane von Furstenberg and Angela Missoni admitted that they were fascinated by the Indian fabric. There were serious issues on the table as well. Armando Branchini, executive director of Fondanzione Altagamma which is the Italian association of luxury goods believes that the main problem with India is the prevailing high duties and tax regime which is stifling the growth of the luxury industry in the country. Diane von Furstenberg led the session titled The Mystique of Design. Furstenberg is a true American success story. The woman who started with an investment of mere $30,000 today heads an empire worth $200 million. She stressed that it was important to get into partnerships in order to manage the Indian market. Talking about her brand she called it a contemporary luxury brand. She said that she focuses on real design at affordable prices. She said that though the good designs don’t come cheap but they aren’t excessively expensive either. It is important for any brand to reach the interiors of a country and that can be possible only when it is affordable.
Angela Missoni was part of the session called Close Knit Style. She said that she was watching closely the Indian luxury retail space as she was keen to make an entry in the near future. India has great potential in terms of talented designers, fabric and craftsmanship. She believes that India has a large market for men’s wear and accessories. She hoped to unveil a selective range of luxury products in India soon. There was the British perspective also present in the conference in the form of Mark Henderson who is the director of Walpole, an association of British luxury brands. He accepted that British brands had been unable to push through the hurdles present in the form of taxes, regulations and lack of infrastructure. He conceded that the French and the Italian brands have the to-of-the-mind recall in India’s luxury market. The other British heavyweight in the conference was Michael Ward, Managing Director of Harrods. Participating in the session titled The Art of Luxury Retail. He said that selling luxury, even to those who have the financial means is an art. Christian Louboutin enjoyed a superstar status at the conference. The founder of the shoe brand in his own name was the star attraction at the session called World at My Feet. The man behind the red sole stilettos was all charm as he talked about sex, shoes and Kathakali. He was really impressed by the unique Indian dance form Kathakali and said that his next line would be inspired by the Kathakali dance.
Participants and speakers at the conference believed that catering to the diversity of Indian tastes was probably the biggest challenge. Important global players like Roberto Cavalli and Casa Décor believe that constant reinvention is the name of the game. Armando Branchini stressed that the regulations in India must open up further to make it attractive for new investors. Talking at the session titled The Future of Luxury in India Neelesh Hundekari, a consultant for luxury and lifestyle practice said that there are plenty of opportunities to be tapped despite the Indian economy slowing down marginally. However, he believes that most of the action is in Luxury housing followed by services. The minister of the Indian Government talking at the opening session The Importance of Luxury that the government was willing to help luxury brands coming to India if they help preserve the cultural heritage of the country. The brands who promote luxury with a local touch are bound to be more successful than the others who want to transplant European designs and practices in India.
The Mint Luxury Conference is the largest event of its kind in this sector. Mint is India’s leading business daily from the house of HT Media and they have successfully created a common platform to bring together all the stakeholders. This year marks the 5th Anniversary of the Mint Luxury Conference. The conference was successful in debating and analyzing issues that are restricting the growth of the luxury industry in India. The issue of foreign direct investment in single brand and multi brand retail dominated the conference. More initiatives are required both by the government of India and the luxury brands to tap the potential of the Indian market fully. Conferences like this serve their purpose in showing the path ahead for the industry.