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Can spend millions? Come in, please
Kishore Singh | December 26, 2005
P Bhageria may not wear his brands on his sleeve, but he's certainly got one wound around his neck and down his shirt front. The chocolate Bvlgari tie is anything but subtle, not unlike Bhageria's ambitions of owning Delhi's -- and India's -- first-ever prime luxury retail space.
And he's unapologetic about making no concessions for middle India. "Those who buy luxury products want to shop in an ambience," he says. In other words, unless you have a couple of lakhs to spend like loose change in an afternoon, don't stop by.
In another time people might have called Bhageria a fool, but in India circa 2006, he's probably on to a good thing. International luxury brands are thirsting to get into the world's largest growing economy, but there simply isn't a retail address good enough for the likes of Ferragamo and Hermes, Prada and Armani.
And Bhageria is categorical: "No Nike, no Reebok, no McDonald's," he dismisses middle India brands with a flick of his hands.
If there's no high street still in India, it's because organised retail itself is something of a new kid on the block, searching for its face in the flashy malls going up all around the country like an uncontrolled rash.
But luxury brands need atmosphere and space that's exclusive, even discretionary. A Chanel wouldn't want to rub shoulders with Bata, Gucci with Haldiram Bhujiawala, and even Marks & Spencer isn't quite true-blue when it comes to international luxury labels.
Bhageria is among the lot that's spotted an opportunity in the luxury niche, but he isn't the only one. Round the corner from his Square 1 Lifestyle Center is The New Delhi Dome where Arjun Sharma is hoping to trap luxury brands in what could be the city's most fabulous retail space.
Throw a stone from there and you might just hit The Crescent by the Qutab, where Niraj "Yanchi" Vadera is attempting to build a luxury retail destination. Finally, a couple of kilometres (and years) away, DLF - Delhi's eponymous mall maharajas - have begun work on Emporia, for many Delhi's ultimate luxury retail address.
The city's emerging high street - potholed by traffic lights and congestion, to be sure - is light years ahead of anything similar in India. "Delhi's proving extremely progressive," sighs Devyani Raman of the World Luxury Council; "Mumbai is just not positioning itself right."
No wonder brand heads have been passing through the capital with increasing frequency. "We're very upbeat,"says Raman. "In 2006, luxury brands will actually be coming down to Delhi to sign deals." That's because 2006 will see Square 1 launch in March.
The Crescent is already ready. The Dome ought to be commissioned by July. Only Emporia will be a late starter -- in 2008. But though they've got a keen eye cocked on the four projects, and are queueing up for a look, no one's signed on the dotted line yet. "We'd like to observe how the spaces develop," says Raman cautiously.
But there's little doubt that she's got clients who're interested in Square 1. "We've met the owner and are very impressed by his vision," she says. No one should be surprised. Bhageria might not be as urbane as the brands he sports, or wants to lease retail space to, but he has an impeccable record behind him of successfully creating India's first designer address in the form of 1MG.
Four years ago, punters had written off the venture, but Bhageria proved them wrong. Today, 1MG has spawned a clone by way of 2MG next door, and everyone from fashion designers to luxury furniture importers wants a slice of that retail pie.
But Bhageria himself is loath to clone his own designer mall which has 52 leased stores. At Square 1 in Saket, as part of a huge development that includes two DLF malls (South Court and The Courtyard), an MGF mall, an office block, and the gigantic Select Citywalk (of which The New Delhi Dome is a part), he is in no hurry to sign deals.
The 86,000 sq ft of space built around an atrium has cost him Rs 60 crore (Rs 600 million), money he's recovered from selling part of the space. But a contract forbids investors from leasing space without approval of his Fargo Estates, and leasees, in turn, can't sub-lease to other brands.
For now, he's signed up luxury shoe brand Ecco, and winterwear couturiers V Fraas, while the domestic component has been made up of designer Suneet Varma and design house Bandhej.
"I want to have a mix of national and international luxury brands," he confirms, while partner Bobby Gupta will oversee the fine dining, speciality restaurant within the complex. "There'll be so many brands coming to India that if I wait," -- which he can, having already made his money -- "I'll be able to sign on the best."
The World Luxury Council is looking at Square 1 for at least two of its immediate clients, one an automobile company, the other from the gourmet world of caviar and fine cheese.
Next door, Arjun Sharma isn't worried by the likes of Square 1. Select Citywalk has 1.3 million sq ft of built-up space at its command. The Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) project is equally choosy about its tenants, rejecting those catering to the student and budget categories in favour of high-end retail (expect Mothercare, Clinique and Body Shop among international firsts in India), entertainment (six PVR screens) and 95 service apartments.
But it is The Dome, its showcase for luxury brands, that will be its most talked-about feature.
"We want to treat it as a hospitality project, to animate the spaces like a five-star hotel," says Sharma. A fine dining restaurant (as opposed to coffee shops and small eateries in the mall) and leases to a blend of luxury brands is on the cards.
And he's sure of his deliveries. "Globally," he sneers, "luxury mall spaces aren't sold, to control the tenancy mix." Citywalk is following this model with leases from 3-18 years, and anchors will be PVR (for cinemas), K Raheja Corporation (Mothercare and Crossword), Pantaloon (for its Mint format which, says Sharma, "will be like Zara internationally") and Good Earth's Verandah.
If that isn't classic luxury, that's because they are part of Citywalk but not The Dome where you can expect what all of high street seems to be promising -- the equivalents of Harrods, 5th Avenue and Knightsbridge rolled into one.
At the start of the Mehrauli Gurgaon road, overlooking the Qutab Minar, the Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million) Crescent is attempting "a mix of lifestyle and fashion", according to Niraj Vadera.
Like Sharma, he's opted for the lease model and will cater "to certain brands only" in the range of lifestyle, clothing, jewellery, toiletries and delicatessens. "We could have an anchor store." Vadera -- like the others - is keeping brands he's in contact with close to his chest - "and would certainly like to take away foreign brands from the hotels."
These are brands like Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, Chanel and Bvlgari - none of whom are willing to comment on any negotiations with Vadera or others just yet, though it's no secret that they've been giving Delhi's emerging high street the once over.
Unlike the others, and perhaps influenced by his uncle (cultural impresario Rajeev Sethi), The Crescent has created adequate spaces for holding concerts and soirees in the shadow of the floodlit Qutab Minar.
And though its third level is going to be a restaurant floor with Vadera and socialite wife Ramona Garware introducing their own diner to the chosen few who walk through the haloed precincts of The Crescent, ultimately it's the "choosy" nature of the brands that will sell it for high street consumers.
Of the four projects, it is DLF Place in Vasant Kunj that is being touted as Delhi's most trendy address. That's because architect Mohit Gujral has created a vast piazza that could become the city's new meeting point.
With 900,000 sq ft space, the gigantic project isn't straying from the lease format for its two plazas, Promenade (for its high-end brands) and Emporia (exclusively for luxury brands "like Versace or Mango"). "We've opted for the lease model," confirms Vijay Vancheswar, who handles corporate communications for DLF, "because international companies don't want to lock their assets by buying space, but more importantly so that the management can control tenancy."
If the project heads are wary about sharing the names of potential leasees just now, it's because there's suddenly going to be a supply bonanza that might well unleash a price war.
When 1MG was commissioned, most designers were able to rent shops for Rs 60/sq ft on the ground floor, and around Rs 40/sq ft from the first floor onwards. Today, should anyone move out, Amit Gupta, who rents space for Vis-a-vis there, says: "Prices would easily shoot up to Rs 150/sq ft." Certainly, those in the neighbouring 2MG have been leased for upwards of Rs 100/sq ft.
Bhageria is looking at commanding prices anywhere between Rs 100-200/sq ft, depending on the floor, somewhat similar to the price models Select Citywalk is proposing (but expect to pay Rs 80-100/sq ft more by way of maintenance overheads).
The Crescent isn't disclosing its rates, but DLF Promenade is estimating lease prices at Rs 300-350/sq ft for Promenade, and upwards of Rs 400/sq ft for Emporia. However, prices are negotiable, depending as much on the bargaining power that a luxury brand brings as on its association with glamour and prestige.
Whether Delhi's high street finally emerges or not is going to be eagerly watched, but for now the promise that a Fendi bag, a Tiffany brooch or an Aston Martin sports coupe is just around the corner, should be succour to the rich souls who - poor things! - have had to go globetrotting in the absence of a high street in India.
Luxury on call
The catchment area of south Delhi has a huge propensity to spend on luxury products, part of the reason why Delhi's "high street" is coming up in pockets of Saket and Vasant Kunj, with vast catchment areas.
If the Delhi Development Authority is giving these projects a push, it is because, according to an estimate, the four contiguous malls in Saket alone should generate shopping worth Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) a year, yielding the state VAT returns of Rs 120 crore (Rs 1.2 billion), and providing a huge potential for direct employment.
High street formats require lower footfalls, causing less stress on civic infrastructure - but much needs to be done if luxury malls are not to stand out like blimps of conspicuous consumption.
For now, Delhi's high street (complete with great ambience, 100 per cent power back-up, central airconditioning, vast basement parking, mood lighting) has the following contenders:
Square 1 Lifestyle Centre: Developed by P Bhageria of Fargo Estates at an estimated Rs 60 crore.
The New Delhi Dome: Part of the Rs 400 crore Select Citywalk, with directors Arjun Sharma (70 per cent ownership with Sharma family) and Yograj Arora (30 per cent).
The Crescent By The Qutab: A Rs 10-crore, one-acre development combining luxury retail, fashion and tourism promotion. Directors Inderjit Singh Bawa and Niraj Vadera.
Emporia: DLF Place at Vasant Kunj, probably Delhi's most ambitious project with two distinct malls.