For the Singh family from Amritsar, Punjab, visiting the DLF Emporio mall in Delhi is like a mini vacation. Every three-four months, Sukhwinder Singh, 39, his wife and teenage son drive 450km in their Range Rover to the national capital for a two-day trip. They stay overnight at a five-star hotel and shop for clothes, shoes and bags at the luxury mall.
Their shopping bill on their first trip of 2024: close to ₹10 lakh. Singh, a businessman, picked up a red Gucci sweater with an embossed “G” pattern and a Louis Vuitton wallet in Damoflage canvas; his wife, a pair of golden Jimmy Choo heels, along with a Barbie-pink Valentino purse and a Sunita Shekhawat necklace; and their son bought a pair of brown leather Bally shoes. “We hardly get anything in Amritsar. So, coming to Delhi feels like a festival…two days of non-stop eating and shopping,” says Singh, wearing a black sweat-set with the white Fendi logo splashed on it and black Louis Vuitton boots. “I like luxury clothes with big designer logos,” he says. “You know Diljit (Dosanjh, his favourite singer-actor)? Just like him.”
That same Wednesday evening, south Delhi resident Krishna Aggarwal was also at the mall to buy an Omega watch as a pre-birthday gift for himself—he is turning 29. “I like quiet luxury,” says the entrepreneur, dressed in a deep-blue Hugo Boss jacket, matching turtleneck sweater and jeans. “Not screaming logos,” he adds.
Singh and Aggarwal share one thing in common: the desire to own luxury products.
Several Indians, especially millennials (aka Gen Y) and post-millennials (Gen Z) who make up 52% of the country’s population (global average is 47%), are singing the same tune—more so after the pandemic. In contrast to their parents and grandparents, they prefer to splurge on quality brands that prove their cosmopolitan personality as well as give them flaunting rights. If they like it, they will get it. And this mindset is giving India its luxury dream.
According to a January 2023 Bain & Co. report, Renaissance In Uncertainty: Luxury Builds On Its Rebound, India’s luxury market is likely to triple in the next six years and hit $200 billion (around ₹16.6 trillion)—propelled by Gens Y (born between 1981-96), Z (1997-2012) and Alpha (born after 2010) and an expanding upper middle class.
Another report, published last year by BMI, a Fitch Solutions company, says within the next three years, India’s consumer market will jump two spots up to become the world’s No.3, behind China and the US. India’s household spending will spill over $3 trillion by 2027, with over a quarter of households touching $10,000 in disposable income annually.
Now add high net-worth individuals (HNIs)—an individual with investable assets of $1 million or more—to this mix. India had 35,000 HNIs last year, a number expected to grow by 41% in the next five years and 98% by 2030, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. Combine this with a more tech-savvy young population comfortable shopping online, and you have the ingredients for a luxury hot spot.
Post-covid, particularly in 2023, dozens of international fashion brands, from Balenciaga to Brioni, have entered the country. The existing hundreds, including the likes of Valentino and Louis Vuitton, have expanded their offerings. All are looking to reach that digitally active shopper, besides the rich and the super-rich set, who are no longer looking at international travel as the only way to shop.
What defines luxury, though? It depends on who you ask. A Michael Kors wallet bought online for ₹11,000 by a Bhubaneswar-based marketing executive after months of saving is as much a flex at her workplace as a Lady Dior worth over ₹1 lakh purchased by a designer on a whim at a Delhi store.
“Luxury brands are strategically focusing on millennials and Gen Z as the primary target audience due to their inclination towards aspirational spending,” says Pallavi Arora, research associate at Euromonitor. Of the 1.4 billion people in the country, close to 20 million have enough cash to splurge. The number of households with an annual income exceeding ₹37 lakh is likely to triple within the next four years. Arora offers the numbers: 15.5 million in 2028, from 5.1 million households in 2023.
Even those in a lower income bracket aren’t shy to live the high life. A decade ago, wealthy consumers in their 40s and 50s used to splurge on cars, cosmetics, clothes and accessories. Today, as per a Mint report, published in December, Indians in their 20s and 30s with an annual pay of ₹8-15 lakh, are happy to buy a ₹10,000 Coach bracelet. Small wonder then the Indian luxury market is expanding.
What gives all this an extra fillip is the country’s growing economy. It is expected to rise 6% this year, faster than China or the US, both mature luxury markets, according to the International Monetary Fund. By 2028, the government claims, India will become the third largest economy in the world, with a gross domestic product of $5 trillion. For brands on the lookout for the next big playground, India seems a sweet spot.
For brands, targeting members of India’s Gens Y, Z and Alpha reflects a global movement. From Gucci-tapping South Korean actor Gyuyoung Park as its global brand ambassador riding the K-idol craze to Dior making streetwear, fashion houses are trying to impress the young. Several Indian celebrities are now the face of international brands—Deepika Padukone for Vuitton, Alia Bhatt for Gucci, and Ananya Panday for Jimmy Choo.
Why? The Bain & Co. report offers an answer: Generations Y, Z, and Alpha will become the biggest buyers of luxury by 2030, representing 80% of global purchases. “Although there will never be ‘another China’ in terms of growth contribution to the industry, new markets (such as India) have significant potential, assuming their luxury shopping infrastructure can evolve quickly enough. Among the rising stars, India stands out,” the report says.
These young decided to splurge more after coming out of the pandemic, says Pushpa Bector, concurring with conclusions of several global reports. The senior executive director of DLF Retail, a retail arm of real estate firm DLF, which is behind luxury malls Emporio and The Chanakya, says, “Once the malls opened (after covid restrictions were lifted in India), we started seeing new sets of consumers. One set included those who were coming to the mall for the first time, and the second were the ones who used to buy luxury only while travelling abroad. During the pandemic, when international shipping was closed, these buyers became comfortable with buying here.”
Singh belongs to the first set. He started his Delhi mall trips three years ago. Before the pandemic, his designer-wear shopping was restricted to perhaps one bag or a sweatshirt during the once-a-year family trip to Canada. “While we were stuck at home, I realised how pointless it is to keep saving or waiting a whole year for a 10-20% discount," he says. "What if something happened to me?”
That’s Neha Walia’s mantra as well. In 2023, she bought a ₹1.25 lakh iPhone 15 on monthly instalments and a pair of Louboutins for herself, and a Gucci cardholder for her mother from Mumbai’s Jio World Plaza as a New Year gift.
“I had to limit eating out for six months,” says Walia, 34, who earns ₹1.5-2 lakh a month as a freelance graphic artist. “I don’t want to do five-year planning to buy what I like or keep dreaming about things I desire. I wear Zara, H&M too, but I want a nice statement bag to go along with it.” Five years ago, while working at an advertising firm, she was earning around ₹50,000 a month. “Honestly, if someone had told me then to buy a phone over a lakh or shoes over ₹10,000, I would have laughed. Today, they don’t seem as much. I don’t know why.”
Darshan Mehta, president and managing director of Reliance Brands Ltd (RBL), which has partnered with over 50 international brands, including Ermenegildo Zegna and Sandro, might know the reason. “India is moving from sporadic buying to habitual buying,” he explains. “Earlier, we would dream of the latest LV bag, do price research for years and then plan to splurge on that one bag during a foreign trip. Nowadays, you go to the mall or online, see a luxury brand’s latest collection and pick up a mini bag. A few months later, you return, this time it’s a new tote. It’s no longer a cycle of sporadic, deeply considered buying. It’s becoming habitual.”
Dharmakirti Joshi, chief economist at analytics company CRISIL, elaborates: “Digital entertainment, rising incomes and social media have changed people’s mindset. Plus, the access to luxury has increased.”
One of the highlights of 2023 was the opening of the Jio World Plaza in Mumbai, second in popularity as a luxury retail destination only to Delhi’s 16-year-old Emporio. The 750,000 sq. ft Jio plaza is home to the largest Cartier and Louis Vuitton stores in the country, and is the first India address for Saint Laurent and Balenciaga.
Later this year, a 90,000 sq. ft store in south Mumbai, a partnership between Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd and upmarket French department store chain Galeries Lafayette, is expected to open. So are 20 more stores by the luxury multi-brand retailer The Collective across India.
While international names have been keeping a keen eye on the country’s potential for over two decades, opening a store here was never easy. Among the reasons, besides high import duties and strict retail regulations, was the scarcity of premium spaces. France’s Louis Vuitton was the first big name to have an Indian address: a tiny store inside Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel. Five years later, in 2008, DLF Emporio mall pulled the house out and offered it a retail space, with equally high-end brand names to call as neighbours, like Italy’s Bottega Veneta, in one of Delhi’s prime locations.
Today, the landscape is, of course, different with the opening of new retail spaces. In a December Mint interview, Bénédicte Epinay, chief executive of Comité Colbert, the French official luxury association representing about 95 of the world’s top luxury brands, said that the launch of new luxury malls—Mumbai’s Jio World Plaza and the Phoenix Mall of Asia in Bengaluru—have addressed the problem of limited luxury retail infrastructure in India to an extent.
Luxury e-commerce has also increased, as Joshi points out, giving the example of platforms such as RBL’s Ajio and Tata CLiQ.
Aizawl’s Jacinta Lalawmpuii, 31, who earns over ₹5 lakh a month as a distributor of Korean beauty products in Mizoram and founder of an events organising platform, regularly shops online. “I buy a lot of make-up. Dior creams, Chanel compact, Givenchy setting powder, Tom Ford perfume,” she says. “There’s just so much variety available now. I no longer have to waste time and energy shopping while travelling abroad. Plus, the discounts!”
That’s the other pull of online luxury shopping—for a person in Patiala or Bhopal, it’s much easier to buy online than travel all the way to Delhi or Mumbai. Close to 60% of sales on Tata CLiQ are from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, the rest, Tier 1, says Gopal Asthana, the chief executive of e-commerce company Tata CLiQ, which has over 800 premium and luxury international as well as homegrown brands.
Asthana doesn’t give sales figures but claims the platform, started over six years ago, has seen an 8x increase in its customer base. “People buy more during festivals and seasonal sales,” he says, offering some insight into consumer trends. In small cities, he says, people buy everything from skincare and clothing to perfumes and watches online.
The Collective, which has stores across India as well as an online platform, has seen growth since its launch in 2008. “With our omnichannel digital website, we witness participation from all parts of India,” says Amit Pande, business head of The Collective and international brands at Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail Ltd. At The Collective, he claims, “we have seen compounding revenues at over 35% for the last few years”.
What has also worked in India’s factor is the limelight it is enjoying on the global fashion platform. Whether it was the Dior show at Mumbai’s Gateway of India, Dhruv Kapoor’s annual Milan show, Falguni Shane Peacock’s return to the New York Fashion Week after eight years, or Gaurav Gupta’s Paris couture week debut, Indian design and craft stood out in 2023.
Pande describes the destination Dior show in March 2023 as “a watershed moment” for the Indian luxury market and its craft and aesthetic traditions. “Maria Grazia Chiuri’s emphasis on Indian craftsmanship showcased local cultural significance authentically. Brands need more such authentic connections for success here,” he says.
Gaurav Gupta, who will be presenting his new collection in Paris as part of the official couture week calendar later this month, believes Indians are more confident in many ways. “If you look just at fashion, we are a young industry established some three decades ago. Earlier, we focussed on dressing Indians only in lehnga-choli etc. Now, while we continue to focus on wedding clothes, we are also dressing the world in garments that have a global appeal. I think what makes India so unique is that we are looked at as people who think globally but are still very Indian at heart.”
Beyond the runway, Indian fashion is making strides. With backing of conglomerates like Reliance Brands and the Aditya Birla Group, homegrown brands are expanding internationally. Last year ended with Reliance-backed Manish Malhotra opening a 5,000 sq. ft flagship store in Dubai Mall, joining Anita Dongre (who opened a flagship store in New York in 2019) there. Rahul Mishra launched a global contemporary fashion brand AFEW Rahul Mishra, a joint venture with Reliance Brands, during the most recent edition of Paris Fashion Week.
“Before covid, luxury was all about China, the US, Middle East… India was a distant fourth or fifth. Then covid hit China hard. Europe, US markets started shrinking. By 2021, luxury brands started looking for new markets and noticed green shoots in India. They thought once travel bans were lifted, India would be back to square one,” DLF’s Bector explains. “But that did not happen. We continued to shop, and we are still shopping.”
Impressing the Indian shopper, however, isn’t that simple. Hyderabad’s Priyanka Chigurupati, executive director of pharma company Granules Pharmaceuticals Inc., prefers to shop while travelling abroad, for lack of variety in India. “I do all my desi shopping in India but when it comes to international brands, I don’t see much variety,” she says. “I think it will take time.”
Two decades ago, when global brands came to India, they were banking on two things: the ostentatious Indian wedding, and royal families that were once luxury’s most loyal patrons. It wasn’t the best of plans. Several brands left as soon as they came. In 2006, for instance, Valentino inaugurated its flagship store at Delhi’s Hotel Shangri-La, entering by way of a franchising and licensing pact with a local partner that no longer operates in the market. Cartier, Gucci, Versace and Bottega Veneta followed. Valentino made a quiet exit after a few years (it returned in 2022 in partnership with RBL), the rest kept changing partners, struggling to establish a foothold in India.
“It’s insufficient to rely solely on the rehashed concepts of the erstwhile maharajas,” insists anthropologist Phyllida Jay, author of Inspired By India: How India Transformed Global Design.
What the brands need to click with the Indian client is curate collections and experiences that cater to a variety of tastes and preferences. That’s something Epinay mentioned during her Mint interview as well. “The one trend we will see shift in the years to come is from a global market to a market with local identities,” Epinay said.
It’s a logical piece of advice, given the variety of consumers in India. So diverse are the tastes that zeroing in on state-wise colour preferences, embroidery styles, and how much bling is too much bling would be a near impossible task like finding the perfect red lip shade.
“We are culturally different from other markets like China, US, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur. Earlier, Brands used to push special collections related to their festivals like Christmas and everything royal in India,” explains Deepika Gehani, an independent luxury brand adviser based in Mumbai and the co-founder of Genesis Luxury, the first Indian company to introduce franchise opportunities for luxury brands in India, later bought by Reliance. “Today, they understand how big Diwali, Holi are as well, besides the wedding season.”
Keeping cultural relevance in mind, Bvlgari launched a gold bracelet, based on the kada (bangle) for men, earlier this week. The Italian jeweller had unveiled its take on the mangalsutra three years ago, which was an instant sellout. In recent months, more designers have followed a similar strategy: whether it was Louis Vuitton with its rani pink festive line or Christian Louboutin with a full-fledged Wedding Edit collection last year. At the same time, brands are keeping their offerings at par with what can be found in other luxury capitals.
To this end, it helps to have a local partner. Not only will the partner help the brand find a suitable retail spot and break down for them the evolving demands of the India shopper but also assist them in understanding the country’s laws and regulations.
“Recently, the government banned a certain kind of rubber, because of which some luxury shoes can’t come to India. Then we have wildlife laws that forbids any luxury product made with a certain kind of crocodile skin. It’s difficult for a foreign brand to understand such intricacies of the law,” says Gehani. “That’s why having a local partner helps. Once the brand establishes itself, it moves from the franchising model to a directly operated one.”
Does the road then seem clear for India to become a major luxury economy? Again, it depends on who you ask. Joshi seems certain: “We are beginning to experience what played out in east Asia/China.... They were seeing consistent high growth and rising incomes, eventually becoming a luxury powerhouse.”
It’s too early to say, insists Bector. “We Indians like to jump to conclusions quickly. But we are shopping a lot, so may be yes.”
Jay offers another perspective—that we still don’t have enough buyers despite a large population: “Singapore has a relatively tiny population—about 5.5 million compared to India’s 1.3 billion—and about 30% of the people are expats. So, the demographic and cultural landscape is very different from India’s. Despite its relatively small population, Singapore has five Louis Vuitton stores (India has four). On the other hand, China, which has a similar population to India, has 62 physical LV stores, and South Korea, with a population of 50 million, 35.” Louis Vuitton is a good barometer because it has huge brand recognition in India and was one of the first brands to open a stand-alone physical retail space outside of five-star hotels in India, she explains.
Sukhwinder Singh, meanwhile, is content with his Delhi trips. His appetite for online shopping is increasing too, albeit slowly. “I bought Ranveer’s (Singh) Prada sunglasses online. They are nice but mall shopping is more fun. They offer you wine, coffee, snacks… it’s a whole experience,” he says. “My father always scolds me for spending so much money. I gave him a standard answer: ‘Let me live’.”