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MORE FOR LESS

Accessible luxe

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MORE FOR LESS: Though Armani has been selling its top-end luxe labels in India for four years, it was only recently that it launched its more affordable Armani Jeans

There are some good reasons why many luxury brands also offer a more affordable line of products. The idea is to hook the young buyer.

Furla, Armani Jeans, Thomas Pink, Brookes Brothers have recently opened up shop in India. Joining them will be Stuart Weitzman and next year, Vince Camuto. These brands represent a sector of fashion industry known as "accessible luxury". With the exception of Roberto Cavalli and Christian Louboutin, 2012 was a year full of accessible luxury and the trend looks set to grow. Which is good news for all of us.

You would think that more affordable (or accessible) brands would enter the market before the high-end ones. Yet Chanel, Hermes and Bottega Veneta which probably top the luxury pyramid have been in India for years. Armani with two brands in the luxury end - Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani - has been in India for over four years now but only just opened an Armani Jeans store. They have yet have not announced plans for their more high street brand/premium brand, Armani Exchange. The practice then is that the higher end luxury labels come first, set the tone and then bring in the more accessible lines. Luxury is all about being top-down and the real reference points are all at the top pyramid. It is after all always about aspiration.
Luxury is not always about the price tag. Says Darshan Mehta, president and CEO, Reliance Brands which brought Thomas Pink, Brooks Brother to India and is soon launching shoe specialty brand Stuart Weitzman: "Great craftsmanship is the hallmark of any luxury product. "

Though the pricing of these brands is certainly more democratic the products still have to be made with great skill. Of course, they don't have to be completely handmade. Darshan also believes that heritage is key in the luxury industry. "You cannot buy heritage, " he says. So if you are not sure if a brand is really luxury find out how a product is made and its heritage. If the salesperson does not know the right answers it is fairly strong sign that the brand is more premium than luxury.
Some accessible luxury brands even make more wearer-friendly and longer lasting products than their high priced variants. I would choose a Furla bag and Stuart Weitzman shoes as being among the best money can buy. Accessible luxury can also be more real and appealing if you don't go in for that "no pain no gain" policy. Weitzman high heels normally come with a platform or are slightly thicker, making them kinder to your feet and back. And Furla bags generally are kinder to your shoulders because they go easy on heavy components.

In clothing, brands like Diane Von Furstenberg, Micheal Kors and Alice and Oliva make clothes that work for the real woman. You may love the designs of Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior or Chanel but you need to be model size to wear most of what they design. So accessible luxury is not just about pricing but also about approach - it is about making designs with greater functionality.

I do love my limited edition bags but they do require a lot of attention. If you go to a restaurant you do need to find a separate chair to keep them on, they need to be stored properly and are often too fragile to withstand rough handling at security checks. There is a time and a place for everything. Which is what excites me most about the advent of accessible luxury. I see women at salons putting their nail polish bags in their beautifully handcrafted Hermes Birkin and wearing chic Chanel beach slippers for their pedicures. I hope accessible luxury will coax privelged women out of the status trap?

It also means more of us can afford luxury product, making for better understanding of the industry. In fact, one of the main aims of accessible luxury brands is to rope in the younger client. The average price for a Furla bag is Rs 25, 000 and for a Bottega, Rs 80, 000. You can figure out what is easier on the pocket of a young luxury shopper. This is something even Indian designers have taken note off. Last year Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, Sabyasachi and Tarun Tahilani all came up with more affordable versions of their designs. Remember if you hook them young it can only be a good thing. The hope is that as they grow, they will grow also climb the fashion luxury.

So embrace accessible luxury and enjoy it. Remember sometimes spending less is actually a good thing!

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