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Limited luxe

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Brands are offering more limited edition and exclusive pieces to woo the new-age Indian luxury buyer.

Gucci's iconic Bamboo bag, with its instantly recognisable bamboo handle, may have made its debut in 1947, but it is in 2013 that the Italian fashion house's Indian customers can wield the magic wand and give this statement bag their very own stamp of individuality. Ostrich or crocodile, metallic or matte, pomegranate or saffron - the choices are wide and varied to create your very own Gucci masterpiece under the brand's Made-to-Order programme.

For Indian haute high rollers, it's no longer only about acquiring the 'it' bag of the moment. They want to own something no one else has, ahead of the queue and before it hits the racks.

And in a luxury market that is pegged to grow at 25 per cent (in 2013 till 2015) and likely to touch $15 billion (according to an Assocham-Yes Bank study), brands are increasingly looking to indulge this appetite. "Indian consumers are no longer experiencing luxury products and services for the first time. Rising incomes have allowed them to become familiar with brands, made them savvier shoppers and increased their desire for these products. They have become more demanding and discerning. Making a statement with a (now) commonly seen luxury product is no longer the wish... they want to own something exclusive and personal, whether it be a limited edition piece owned by a well-known Hollywood star or a customised product, " says Manav Gangwani, director, communications, Infinite Luxury Brands Pvt. Ltd. , a franchise partner for brands like Roberto Cavalli, Missoni, Emilio Pucci and Versace in India.

Not surprisingly, many of the customers demanding rare pieces at the Bottega Veneta and Jimmy Choo stores are from smaller centres like Bangalore, Chennai and Indore. Deepika Gehani, creative director, Genesis Colors, which imports and retails Bottega and Choo, says some of these customers only want merchandise which is limited edition, or where only one or two pieces are available. "They don't ask what the price is;just that they should know when these one-off pieces are coming in so that they can reserve them even before they arrive. They're looking for the exclusive tag either from a collector's point of view or as a status symbol to flaunt, " says Gehani. No wonder then, that Bottega and Choo have set up their latest outposts in Chenai. While the 'smaller centre-big aspirations' strategy may be paying off for brands, in a 'me too' market where monogrammed mavens from Mumbai are competing with Indore's internet savvy stylistas, the battle for the logo lookbooks is hotting up. It's a small percentage of spenders, but an important segment, that brands are only too quick to please. "Everyone is looking for exclusivity when you're spending that kind of money. When you come to a brand you're not just looking for a bag or dress, but obviously an experience, " says Kalyani Saha, VP-marketing & communications, Christian Dior Couture, India. And it comes as no surprise that astute buyers want a bang for their buck, or in this case, a standout bag. "For example, there'll probably be one yellow Diorissimo bag in the collection. And it's a very expensive bag. Obviously, someone who buys one of those may not want to see too many other people carrying it. So, we don't keep too many duplicates across our stores in Mumbai and Delhi in order to maintain a level of exclusivity, " says Saha. That said, Dior's more discerning and demanding customers are quick to peruse collections online immediately after pret-a-porter shows and order what they want hot off the ramp, adds Saha.

As the internet creates a more aware and adroit consumer, the pressure is on for brands to meet increasing expectations. And to keep these deep pockets coming back for more takes more than a just a winsome in-store experience. Limited edition collections, India-specific lines and customisation are words that are being increasingly bandied around the hallowed corridors of luxury malls like DLF Emporio (New Delhi) and Palladium (Mumbai). Even as most brands bring international limited edition collections to India from time to time, Bottega, Jimmy Choo, Dior and Gucci have, in the past, launched India-specific collections. While Burberry rolled out a limited collection of gold trench coats, bags and shoes around Diwali in 2012 and Tod's launched two exclusive pieces of their Diwali D-Bag, brands like Gucci have recognised the need to offer buyers an India-specific product, season after season. The forthcoming Gucci Fall Winter 2013-2014 limited edition India exclusive evening bag, set to hit the brand's five boutiques in Mumbai and New Delhi this month, is a luminous metallic pink miniaudiere. The Roberto Cavalli store in the capital currently stocks a limited edition collection of ostrich and alligator clutch bags in gold and silver. "With a label that says 'Limited Edition for India', it's a big hit because it is tailormade to the Indian customers' tastes and works fantastically with Indian wear, " says Gangwani.

While Gucci also offers a made-to-order service, where customers can get their iconic New Bamboo, New Jackie and Stirrup bag designed to their specifications, Louis Vuitton provides services such as hot-stamping one's initials onto a wide selection of soft leather goods and accessories, or hand-painting one's initials onto hard-sided luggage and the ever-popular Mon Monogram, where customers can personalise the Speedy handbag, the Keepall travel bag and the Pêgase 55 suitcase. Roberto Cavalli too offers initial engraving services.

Apart from the lure of limited edition and customisation, many brands are taking the 'tailor-made for India' route to retail success. "We've noticed a demand for exotic skins, a lot of which are barred from import in to India. So, brands are looking at working with precious skins that are allowed to be legally imported and making bags especially for the Indian market, " says Gehani. "At Bottega Veneta we have introduced a coveted crocodile skin and Jimmy Choo has a bag made from anaconda skin, which can be officially imported, " she explains. And in a land that loves its bling, it's no surprise that brands are constantly trying to meet the demand for gold and silver shoes and clutches.

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