That luxury is a tricky trade especially in India is something of a common knowledge with industry insiders. The market here is considered new, customers are still getting acquainted with international heritage luxury labels, and the amount of time it takes the brand to spread the word of its arrival in a diverse country like ours, are only some of the contributing factors. Considering this, it’s a tough, unpredictable business. But it’s a tightrope Dinaz Madhukar, executive vice president of DLF Luxury, Retail, and Hospitality, has walked comfortably. With her instinctive sense of what defines luxury and market experience that spans 11 years (she was with The Taj Group of Hotels for 25 years before that), Madhukar is the formidable force helming India’s biggest luxury shopping destinations, DLF Emporio, and The Chanakya, in Delhi.
DLF Emporio mall today is the country’s flagship luxury shopping destination, housing storied names like Louis Vuitton, Dior, Cartier, Fendi, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, and more. From their placement in the mall to the presentation, Madhukar is responsible for laying out a plan that appeals to the Indian sensibility. If Emporio has a mix of ultra-luxurious labels, The Chanakya, which opened two years ago, is all about a curated experience. Chanel recently unveiled a split-level store, rubbing shoulders with Ralph Lauren and Montblanc; soon to join are Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen. Madhukar has played a vital role in introducing these brands to the Indian market. From gauging their interest and investment capability to introducing them to the right kind of social media influencers, her involvement and approach is a multi-pronged one.
Lifestyle Asia spoke to Madhukar about what it takes to build and grow two of the buzziest luxury shopping destinations in India.
How do you decide to bring a brand on board?
You need to see what brands resonate with a market like India. With some brands, because they help make a statement, customers like to carry them and we always know they will work. There are certain brands such as Prada, Dolce, and Tiffany that you wish entered the country. But with certain brands which are niche, it takes time. You first need to create awareness of the brand and then bring them in. When Bottega Veneta came, people did not relate to it because it had no logo, but things have changed in the past couple of years. For niche brands, you need to educate the market. Each time I visit Europe, I ensure I meet new brands and when they show a keen interest in India, we start putting a word out through social media and through various luxury publications.
How would you define the Indian luxury consumer today?
In the west, luxury markets are more defined and so is the customer. But in India customers have not been exposed to that kind of luxury. They are not very familiar with the history of the brand. When you have not found your true calling, you tend to be more experimental with brands. International luxury is still a relatively foreign concept here; customers are still finding what suits them, and the market is gradually shaping up. With brands such as Coach and Kate Spade becoming an easy stepping stone owing to their affordability, today’s luxury customer is opening to the idea of premium luxury brands.
So, today the luxury customer is two kinds – a true connoisseur and then an aspirational one. Then there is the third rung too – people who have lots of money but don’t know how to spend it.
How has the Indian luxury market evolved?
I think luxury is about availability and being unique. Also over the past 15-20 years, where a brand sits, among what peer group, and it’s positioning, is what matters a lot. Over the past couple of years, brands like Mulberry and Coach have changed their positioning. There are certain brands that might start as accessible luxury but then they might foray into the proper luxury sector. When you see this evolution happening, it makes the definition of luxury very fluid.
What’s the India luxury retail space like today?
It is looking pretty buoyant at the moment. In terms of consumption trends, Delhi outdoes any other city in India. In the South, people look at investments, be it real estate or jewellery; it might not just be limited to fashion products. Mumbai is a mix bag – it is a great destination for luxury but not as Delhi. For any brand to enter India, they first need to see the economic viability. As compared to other countries in the world, India is still a new market.
What’s your strategy for allocating space to brands in your stores?
When we started allocating space at DLF Emporio, we were very generous. All major players such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, Giorgio Armani had 4,000 sq-ft space. Over the years, we requested them to optimise space so that we could allocate more brands. With certain brands, we know have reached a capacity deficit – they can perform better if they have more space. For example in case of Louis Vuitton and Burberry, we have given them additional space on the first floor in DLF Emporio. The Chanakya is a compact space where we wanted a bouquet of brands across categories. We never wanted to create the second footprint of DLF Emporio so you will not find Indian couture brands there. At The Chanakya, we wanted to link different kind of brands at every floor, that’s why Chanel and Ralph Lauren have split level spaces.