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BRAND WAGON

Stylish in the south

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The iconic Louis Vuitton has opened its first outlet in Chennai. With more top-end luxury brands set to follow suit, the city seems to be upping its style quotient.

Paul Smith has been hanging around for about a year, Louis Vuitton has made an appearance, and Jimmy Choo is rumoured to be stepping in. Chennai's suddenly quite flush with plush. And, while traditional folks are still happy with kanjeevarams and kasi malas, younger, hipper Chennai seems to be finding bliss in Burberry and Boggi.

It's not that couture is new to the city - stores such as Collage and Evoluzione have been showcasing the works of Indian designers like Tarun Tahiliani, Manish Arora and Wendell Rodricks for some years now - but Louis Vuitton, which opened a couple of weeks ago, is the first international brand to set up a standalone store.

Chennai-based overseas education consultant Meera Prem says she couldn't be happier that Chennai finally has a LV. "My friends and I like the brand but we've always had to buy our bags from abroad, " says Meera, who checked out the store a few days after its opening.

If a fashion house like LV is able to make their entry into Chennai, it is because of new retail spaces suited to these brands. Bergamo, the mall which houses the prized Louis Vuitton store, will be completely up and running by January 2013, and promises to be the first "luxury" mall in Chennai, complete with concierge service. The owners seem to have the same vision as DLF Emporio in Delhi and UB City in Bangalore.
Meanwhile, Express Avenue (EA) Mall, one of the largest in India, has an entire section dedicated to luxury, much like the Palladium in Mumbai. Phoenix Market City, another mall in the making, is also promising high end real estate space for luxury brands.

Ajay Agarwal, MD, Bergamo, says there is just one aim behind the 40, 000-squarefoot mall - pamper the customer. While he is not ready to reveal specifics, Agarwal, admits that like LV, several other internationally renowned brands are in talks with him to set up shop here.

High fashion boutique Kimaya, which shut shop in Chennai some time ago because its lease expired, has plans to come right back. "We are on the lookout for a space that matches the grandeur of the brand, " says Pradeep Hirani, CMD, Kimaya Fashions.

"When we were doing research on whether Chennai was ready for such a mall, we were told by several luxury brand representatives that the city is ripe for luxury products but premium retail space was lacking, " says Agarwal. "Most brand reps said their only option was to hold private viewings in five-star hotels, " he adds. It is the reason Bergamo has been literally dressed for the occasion - named after the Italian city of the same name, its design influence too is strongly Italian.

EA Mall too is grappling with space crunch. "Ninety-eight per cent of our space is filled up. We have luxury brands approaching us, unfortunately we do not have any more space to give them, " says Abdul. "While Volvo already has a showroom in EA Mall, we are in the process of letting out space to another high end luxury car company, " says S Abdul, who heads Events at the EA Mall.

Shishir Shrivastava, executive director of Phoenix Mills, says they plan to replicate their Mumbai Palladium in Chennai by launching Palladium Premio exclusively for high-end luxury brands. "In the last five years Chennai has seen a significant shift in demographics. People are travelling more and now there is a market for luxury retail in the city, " says Shrivastava, who adds that of the million square feet of mall space, 60 to 80, 000 square feet will be dedicated to pure luxury.

Genesis Luxury, which operates stores on behalf of Canali, Paul Smith, Cavalli, Bottega and Jimmy Choo, has a store in Chennai - Luxxe Box, advertised as the city's first 'international' boutique for men. Spread over 2, 000 square feet, the year-old store stocks all the big labels for men (prices here go from Rs 2, 000 all the way to over a lakh for a suit). "We are amazed by the response from Chennai. The suits are really popular, " says one of the staff at the store.

According to AT Kearney and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)'s India Luxury Review 2011, the overall size of the luxury market in India was $5. 75 billion in 2010 and is expected to grow to $14. 72 billion by 2015. More importantly, luxury has moved beyond Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore to Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune.

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