As a child I used to love meeting my “foreign” aunt. She was nice, of course, but even nicer was her bulging suitcase containing myriad gifts – everything from perfume bottles and handy kitchen accessories, to much coveted little knick-knacks that we could flaunt the next day at school. I specially remember loving the little, pristine white erasers she used to bring for us – smooth and smelling of roses – they were a big improvement over the local ones that made the paper all black. That and a box of Wrigley’s chewing gum, which, more than anything else, had a scarcity value for us as kids, since we got them only when people made trips abroad, which were few and far between.
There were two main reasons why we loved these gifts – one, because we didn’t get those brands here in India (for the longest time I thought the GAP T-shirt and blue jeans store was some exotic designer make!), and the other because some of our local makes were not as great in quality, when compared to the foreign ones.
That, was then. Today, the Indian retail landscape is so different that I when I tell my niece this, she laughs and tells her friends. It’s hard for her to imagine an India without brands like Fischer Price, which has now been around for a little over a decade. And now, when I am the foreign aunt bringing her something from a trip, she does not seem half as happy as we used to be. It’s got nothing to do with her attitude. There just isn’t any novelty value in foreign goods anymore. Anything I bring for her, she could get in India, and probably cheaper. Not only that, the local brands, having been shaken out of their complacency due to international competition, have also pulled up their act and re-launched their products, making them better and more appealing.
India is also being targeted by designer companies who are eager to cash in on the growing and ever-more-prosperous upper-middle and upper classes, which not only have plenty of disposable income – salary scales rose by more than 12 percent last year – but also the willingness to spend it lavishly and live it up.
In India, like in most societies in the world, there are the well-off, and then there are the rich. Around the world, the one sure shot way of making it known how rich you really are, is to carry or wear a designer make – sling a $5,000 bag on your shoulder and right there you’ve announced how high up in the social strata you are. Here, if you wear a Nike shirt – like professional golfer Tiger Woods – you are probably rich. But that shirt, in this economic boom, may or may not set you apart from the millions in the upper middle class – people with good salaries and the willingness to spend them on shirts or golfers’ greens fees.
What you then need is a luxury brand, like a LVMH – which until recently wasn’t easily available in India. That’s when you are in the big league.
Such biggies in ultra-luxury names have either made their entries into India, or are in the process of doing so – from Chanel, and Louis Vuitton, to Cartier and Hermes they are all coming. So, to cater to the class that will shop in these places, super luxury malls are now being set up, where an afternoon shopping spree is sure to add thousands of dollars to your credit card bill. I am talking, of course, of the affluent class who celebrate the fact that their favorite Gucci bag or shoe can now be bought in India. No more need for that umpteenth trip to Italy; industrialists and their diamond-dripping wives; and other noveau-riche Indians wanting, desperately, to spend their millions can now do so at home.
Today’s gift-bearing foreign aunts have much to rue. Sweet-smelling erasers are not going to cut it anymore. Indian nieces have, unfortunately, seen – and maybe even bought – it all.