New Delhi, 26 November, 2016. Five years ago, when the luxury market was just about opening up in the country, Robb Report India was the first to show what true luxury was to the consumer of the finest that life has to offer. The idea of luxury keeps changing. It is no longer limited just to a limited edition watch or that one of a kind scarf. It is about fulfilling one's desires without fear or inhibitions. Robb Report's Limited Edition Luxury Summit kicked off with just that thought.
New York based designer Bibhu Mohapatra and actor Aditi Rao Hydari spoke about creating your own style statement and what luxury truly means when it comes to fashion. Mohapatra, who was elected as a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and was a finalist for the 2014 International Woolmark Prize, along with Hydari, who with her royal lineage (she comes from the family of Muhammad Saleh Akbar Hydari and J Rameshwar Rao), are apt to discuss the trends that exotic India sets.
Mohapatra, who happens to be Michelle Obama's favourite designer, says that luxury can be completely personal to very general. "It's all about finer details, being classy, and appreciating the idea of craft and heritage and the study behind it." He feels that the privilege of acknowledging what luxury means to you, truly defines your style. Indians take fashion for granted as we are born surrounded by colours and designs. "Fashion became more vivid after I left India. I started looking at my history and heritage as luxury, as I build my brand in New York, six years back. Having said that, India is in my veins, I don't have to particularly "think" India while designing," he reveals.
Speaking about being born with a silver spoon and then leaving that behind to carve her own name in the business, Hydari says that luxury lies in the finer details - be it the softest lining of your garments or the fine engraving on a leather accessory - it is all about the care and effort that goes into crafting a product. And, while Mohapatra credits numerous unnamed artisans whose craft goes behind his design, Hydari reminisces her regal heirlooms from Hyderabad. They both agree on the fact that memories create bespoke pieces for everyone, and not necessarily an expensive piece.
"I treasure my mother's embroidered pieces that I still have in my studio. She's the one who taught me to sew," he shares, as Hydari talks about a basra pearl and uncut diamond necklace her grandfather gifted her years ago.
For someone who's designed for the former first lady for the US, a common question asked is - would he like to create something for PM Modi? To which he promptly replies, "He's already so well put together! He knows his style statement and stands by it. But, I don't mind adding a little spice to it."
Closing the session, Hydari revealed how she thought having cash in her wallet was true luxury these days, while Mohapatra dropped a hint that he would love to set up a small unit in India where he'd like to work with local artisans for his 'made in India' dream.
The High Seas and High Fliers
Chartering a technology-driven bespoke experience—that’s the future of travel as Indians increasingly charter jets for business trips and yachts for luxury leisure travel. At the Robb Report Limited Edition Summit 2016, Sheena De Boisgelin, country head, Vistajet Holding and Gautama Dutta, Managing Director, Business Development and Sales, Marine Solutions spoke about how Indians are taking to the high seas and the high skies with bespoke luxury experiences.
“It is a new market but within the past few years, India has seen the highest number of contracts signed with people travelling over 500 and 600 hours,” says De Boisgelin whose Vistajet customizes experiences for every traveler, down to the smallest details of serving the right tea or ordering meals from their favourite restaurants across the globe. Vistajet, which is the on-demand chartered jet service for high net worth individuals, now plans to launch its jets in India by 2017. “People like the customization and the consistency,” she says. So, while the jets vary in size and capacity, every jet looks similar to the other. The experiences, too, are highly customized. From flying an Indian pharmaceutical scion to five countries within five days to flying back a US-based clients from Paris during the terror attacks, within three hours, the service is highly personalized.
If most of Vistajet’s clients are globetrotting business travelers, for Dutta’s Marine Solutions, India’s first luxury yacht company, it’s all about leisure and recreation. “We were initially told that yachts won’t sell in India because people are scared of the sea. People still ask us how much petrol the yacht guzzles. So we hand hold people through the entire experience of buying a yacht,” he says. Although Marine Solutions has sold over 100 boats in the past few years, Dutta’s company offers services ranging from registration to hiring the right captain and crew to buyers in India’s nascent market. “A lot of Indians own yachts outside of India, in Phuket, Abu Dhabi or the South of France,” he says.
The future of luxury travel, for business or leisure, they say, is chartering. “You can enjoy the luxury without owning the asset,” says De Boisgelin. For New Year’s celebrations, Marine Solutions already has clients renting luxury yachts to travel from Goa to Kochi on a leisurely holiday. Dutta also plans to have yachts at resorts in Maldives and Sri Lanka where people can hire them for a holiday. Ask them for travel tips and De Boisgelin says: “Travel with soft luggage.”
The Future of Fusion
The first Indian to get a Michelin star, and the ever-evolving chef Vineet Bhatia, actually wanted to become a pilot!
Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia's zest for life and love for food is so evident in the way he talks about his craft that it's almost contagious. However, the one who was the first to add glamour to the business of cooking isn't unnerved by the fact that young chefs want to get to the top overnight. "More and more youngsters want to do what I have done, but they want it right here, right now. They have to remember that it's been a long and tough journey, with something happening every single day," he says.
The man who invented the now-so-popular chocolate samosa, in fact, wanted to become a pilot but couldn't realise that ambition because of his short stature. "But I married a pilot's daughter. So all's good," he laughs. He then dreamt of becoming a bartender, but at the Trident hotel was asked to work in the kitchen, which he says worked the best for him.
Adding his famous 'twist of taste' and experimenting with modern cuisine came purely out of a survival instinct, not really with a view to try something new. So his chocolate samosas, blue cheese naan, or even his dream biryani kofta that he mentions, are all products of keeping the signature "Vineet Bhatia" present and alive. This again is the reason behind his very unique eponymous London restaurant that is a 'no carbs, no music' place! Quite popular among the who's who all over the world, the interesting restaurant serves a 15-course menu that starts with finger foods and ends with lip-smacking desserts.
Speaking about these, Bhatia says, "Its all about savouring flavours and not storing calories. So, unlike the old master chefs, I use minimal ghee and carbs and create my popular recipes." What's more interesting is the service sequence and the bespoke dinnerware. Bhatia has personally worked with potters in the UK to create bespoke artisan plates for the restaurant.
In 2001, when he first came to The Manor in New Delhi in the pre-social media era, people weren't as ready as they are now for his kind of futuristic Indian cuisine. "But they are now! And the change is brilliant. Who knows? I may actually serve a lavender raita or a biryani kofta in India and it will be loved!"
The key ingredients of a memorable wedding are the location, the arrangements, the fun the couple has and the food. Four wedding experts—Pilar Angulo, a luxury wedding planner from Spain, Frank Daamgaard of Monte Carlo Weddings, prominent restaurateur Marut Sikka and Punit Jasuja, founder of Second Floor Studio—came together for an afternoon session at Robb Report's Limited Edition Luxury Summit 2016 to discuss how to put together the perfect destination wedding. While Daamgaard planned and executed his first Indian wedding across venues in Monaco in 2011 and Angulo took wedding planners by surprise with a fairytale wedding for an Indian couple in a tower in Bilbao, Sikka and Jasuja have experienced the Indian wedding industry for decades. “The wedding industry earlier was highly fragmented with little synchronization. Call one bartender, one caterer and one decorator and plan a wedding,” says Jasuja. But if there’s one aspect that’s remained unchanged over the past 20 years or more, it is the food. “Food is basic, it’s an essential part of weddings. If the food isn’t great, you cannot enjoy the best décor or location,” says Sikka.
With food being the all-important ingredient in a memorable wedding, exotic international destinations often turn out to be logistical nightmares for the planners and chefs. For a wedding in Venice, Sikka worked with local Italian bakers to make the Indian ‘pav’ for Mumbai Street fare pav bhaji and got electronic tandoors to grill aubergines and tomatoes for the all-vegetarian wedding. For a wedding in Puglia, Sikka had flown in seeds of Indian vegetables to plan them well before the wedding celebrations. “Good food makes a good wedding,” he says. Interestingly, “over 85 per cent” of all destination weddings that’s he done have been vegetarian affairs, posing a challenge to chefs. “People want Indian food, including Indian street food,” he says.
While Rajasthan and Goa continue to be popular domestic destinations, high flying Indians are taking off to exotic locales for their big wedding celebrations. Ever since he did a multi-venue wedding for 850 guests across Monaco in 2011, Daamgaard has been flooded with requests for weddings in Monte Carlo. “It’s the world’s smallest country but we managed to find venues for various functions for 850 people,” he says. With help from the local authorities, he cordoned off the main Casino Square for the baraat, organised the sangeet at the elegant Hotel De Paris and had a mehendi bash at the Hotel Hermitage. “At the Casino Square, there were 350 guests but 1500 onlookers who just came to watch,” he says.
Explore unchartered destinations is the new norm among couples. “People want unexplored places that offer privacy and intimacy,” says Jasuja. So, when Angulo presented the exotic offerings in her town, Bilbao to a couple, they lapped it up and went on to have a fairytale wedding in a private tower. “It was the first time the tower was opened up to outsiders for a wedding. Instead of a horse carriage, the groom arrived in a Rolls Royce,” she says.
Even as we see instances of weddings getting cancelled for paucity of cash, over the past few weeks, the experts are confident that it’s only a brief phase. “For Indians, a wedding is that occasion when people indulge themselves to the best of their ability and that will never change,” says Sikka.
Tips to organise your dream destination wedding:
Jasuja says: “Don’t overthink. If the couple and the families are happy, all guests will be happy.”
Sikka advises people to take decisions fast. “Don’t keep decisions lingering.”
Daamgaard tells people to work with a local planner who has all the right contacts. “He can get you the best deals and the best service.”
Made in India: Toast of the World
After being the underdogs for the longest time, India is finally getting its due with the aesthetic quality of its goods being appreciated and admired world over.
As Kama Ayurveda Director Vivek Sahni, Da Milano MD Sahil Malik, FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India) President Sunil Sethi and Siddharth Kasliwal of Gem Palace speak about the aesthetic quality in India-made goods going global; it becomes very evident that exoticism, which is innately Indian, is finally being beautifully presented to the world, without being compromised in any way.
"I am in the business of selling beauty. But I prefer sticking to my Indian roots. I prefer the pure and clean Ayurvedic remedies, no matter how aesthetically unappealing they might seem to many," says Sahni, referring to the fact that authentic Ayurvedic products are artificial fragrance-free and have a peculiar odour. "However, the Japanese love our products because they care only about results, he adds.
Interestingly, Malik reveals that he launched the leather brand Da Milano in Europe and wanted to expand there before taking it the world over. However, he discovered that India had much more opportunity for growth and settled down in his homeland. "So we have the finest Italian leather, affordable fine Indian craftsmanship to create leather accessories that can be reasonably priced for the luxury consumer," he says.
Kasliwal goes back in time, sharing how the director of the Museum of Metropolitan Art (MET), New York, invited his father Munnu Kasliwal to design a special collection to sell at the 2001 exhibition - Treasury of the World: Jeweled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals. "That participation in the exhibition is enough proof, I feel, that the aesthetic nature of the products made in India is appreciated the world over," says Kasliwal.
Sethi adds, "We as Indians don't need to change our brand story or compromise in any way anymore. We have been underdogs for so long. And now that the world is finally appreciating us, why compromise? Why not give only what's authentic, rather than appeasing the western tastes?" he asks.
"We have what they don't possess. Handcrafted goods are exotic, bespoke and luxury. We have the best embroidery and handloom. Manish Arora was a success because he brought the Indian kitsch to the Parisian table. Rahul Mishra took the West by storm with his embroidery. I think we have now rediscovered the fact that we should market and sell what we have," says Sethi.