India's Luxury Tzarinas
We don't need statistics to tell us India has a voracious appetite for luxury. We can see it on the superbly-styled Sonam Kapoor, darling cover girl of magazines; in malls like DLF's super-luxe Emporio in Delhi or the Ruias' Pallidum in Mumbai; in the opening of stand-alone luxury stores and with the burgeoning number of websites that offer discerning Indians a range of exclusive services.
What's more intriguing is the fact that so many of these initiatives are being spear-headed by smart, ambitious women; women who understand what the increasingly globalised Indian is looking for.
Gayatri Ruia, whose family owns Mumbai's Phoenix Mills complex, is the woman behind Palladium, the 2,50,000 sqft premium shopping space there. She says developing Phoenix was always a case of demand and supply; they constantly changed to cater to the demands of the evolving Mumbai shopper. "Four years ago, when the retail annexe, which is now Palladium, was ready, we began getting feelers that shoppers were looking for a more luxurious shopping experience. At the same time, we were getting feelers from luxury brands who wanted options outside of five-star hotels," says Ruia.
Gayatri and her husband Atul did their homework, but the Palladium, she says, is completely her baby. "It's rare that projects of such scale come along. I was involved in every aspect of it, right from inception to design to running it," says Gayatri, who herself is a trained interior designer.
Today brands like Zara share space with Burberry, DKNY, Rohit Bal and Hugo Boss. Jimmy Choo, Bottega Veneta and Gucci are all set to open. "It's been worth all the sacrifices I've made as a working mom," says the mother of two, "It's turned out exactly as I envisioned it."
Charu Sachdev was a lawyer by training who decided to chuck it all for a career in fashion retail. The younger of the two Sachdev sisters, Charu came back to India to get involved in the family business. After a stint with the family's garment manufacturing and export arm, she jumped into luxury retail with her company (co-founded with her sister Priya) TSG International in 2004. She says, "It is the world of fashion retail that drew me to this business. I saw an opportunity in the market and decided to enjoy the first mover advantage."
Charu's fashion empire now includes Kitsch boutiques in trendy Kala Ghoda, Mumbai and at Emporio in Delhi. Her portfolio of labels includes Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Alberta Ferretti, Lanvin, Diane von Furstenberg and Yves Saint Laurent.
Of course, starting up wasn't easy, neither was sorting out man power problems and figuring out just the right locations for their boutiques, adds Charu.
But with her impressive roster of big-name labels, combined with a smart pricing strategy - TSG has brought down prices for its big labels to make them comparable to those in the Middle East and Hong Kong and capture the 'price sensitive Indian' who otherwise tends to shop abroad Charu has established herself as one of India's luxury merchants.
Farah Khan Ali
For Farah Khan Ali a career as a jewellery designer happened quite by accident. She'd tried her hand at everything from interior design to PR and even television before enrolling for a course in gemology (she confesses she thought it would be design intensive rather than scientific) and then design at the Gemological Institute of America.
She kick started her career as an apprentice with biggie jewellers like Nirmal Zaveri before striking it out on her own in 1993. And it wasn't easy. "Of course initially, there was a lot of curiosity. People wanted to know what this kid from a Bollywood family [her father is Sanjay Khan and her uncle, Feroz Khan] could give them.
But I haven't really had any help from my dad or husband [DJ Aqueel]. It was important to me to not to be known as this celebrity kid who was just dabbling in jewellery design. This is a very serious profession and I've put in enough late nights to build up my business. In fact, it took me 18 years to open my first store. Whatever money I made, I'd put back into the business," says Farah, who describes her work approach as "very hands on".
Last year was definitely a good one for Farah. She opened two stores - in Delhi and Mumbai - and also had one of her designs, created for Swarovski, picked up by American singer Beyonce. "That was definitely a feather in the cap for me."
If you're running a highly specialised travel agency, it's a given that you've been bitten by the wanderlust bug. Living, studying and working on three continents convinced Taruna Seth she'd found her true calling as a travel expert. She founded Pearl Luxe in 2009 with the aim of creating super-luxury holidays for travellers who'd already done it all. "Our aim is to create a whole new experience for our clients. After all they're HNIs (High Networth Individuals) who have already been there and done that. So how do you give them that little extra? Luxury is a very loaded word," says Taruna, who specialises in creating bespoke vacations for the well-travelled India.
She describes creating a vaction for a Delhi businessman's 60th birthday. "It was a 3-day gala birthday in Turkey, so we had to create an itinerary that would work for a mix of people who had been there and for those it was a first trip. We organised a party at the palace in Istanbul, a cruise on the Bosphorus and had to make sure the shopping list had enough to keep even those who'd been there, interested."
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