Butterfly People' - Rahul Mishra, Couture 2020-21
The Fall/Winter 2020 collection was dominated by statement pieces, bold prints, an array of textures, and a feast of the must-have accessory of the season—the face mask. Vibrant lip shades and powdered noses made way for glittering head-gear across the world’s fashion weeks and award shows; Lady Gaga now famously made as many changes in artfully created masks as in her funky outfits at the MTV VMAs.
As top-end luxury brands pivot briefly from making handbags to hand sanitisers, and cocktail to surgical gowns, 2020 will perhaps be remembered as the year that made us question the very idea of luxury. For, most markers of indulgence—including but not limited to exotic foreign holidays, studded jewellery and ostentatious celebrations—found little use during the pandemic. The luxury industry, which over the past few years has been carefully navigating a world of the ‘experiences, not things’ philosophy, found its patrons locked up in their homes indefinitely.
All luxury experiences—and things—then, had to fit within the home context. The white-glove service moved to chef-made DIY dinner kits enjoyed in the living room; instead of store-hopping, customers scrolled, zoomed and switched windows on their iPads; and your VIP guest list became about how many people you could comfortably add to your Zoom call.
One traditional marker of luxury, however, has gained more prominence through the pandemic. As Madhu Kapparath’s curated photo essay shows, physical space, and having an expanse of it for your private use, is a most-coveted commodity.
Ecommerce has leapfrogged a couple of years too. While one of the stories in this package will introduce you to Indian tech companies that are shaping this new world, conjuring up surreal worlds for futuristic fashion shows, augmented reality shopping experiences and contactless holidays, another will delve into how noted designers, including the likes of Rahul Mishra, Gaurav Gupta and Tarun Tahiliani, are reinventing their retail strategy. Even as stores reopen, couturiers are building online boutiques—and seeing results too. Gupta, for instance, claims a 20 percent jump in overall sales with ecommerce, and Mishra says it has brought in clientele from new geographies.
Along with zardozi and chikankari, designers are now making themselves well-versed with the workings of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, a trend that’s likely to stay. In the absence of live audiences, foreign clientele and the opportunity for in-person service, digital becomes a key strategy driver for even the most traditional citadels of luxury.
A McKinsey report shows how in China, ecommerce user profiles shifted after the coronavirus hit—customers in the age groups 31-35 and 36-40 saw marked increase in online shopping as compared to before the pandemic, as did those in Tier-3, Tier-4 and Tier-5 cities.
Business models must now build competencies in resilience and transformation, the report adds, and luxury brands ‘now need to build the managerial talent to support the CEO in resilience and transformation. One possibility is to create a new C-suite position, the chief transformation officer, to emphasise the importance of these competencies’, it says. At a time when words like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘unpredictable’ are being thrown around in new contexts every few weeks, anticipating that next normal, McKinsey adds, will be key. In the short term, for instance, consumers might revert to buying goods over experiences; but in the longer term, a crisis of this magnitude could also cause a shift towards ‘silent luxury’ and sustainability, to the idea that less is more.
Through this issue, Team Forbes India will take you through how Covid-19 has shaken up the industry, the process of reinvention, and how Indian luxury is grappling with the shakeout.