For all of last week, when a luxury summit was on in town, the world revolved around labels and brands not meant for the consumption of the hoi polloi, even though such phrases as 'mass luxury' were bandied about loosely.
'Bespoke' came in for its fair share of attention too, which, when you get right down to it, is about having your clothes stitched to your measurement, or your shoes made to size, or your jewellery being done to your designs, none of which is unusual in India.
If anything, it was buying off-the-rack that, till a few years ago, was the more difficult, and therefore desirable. The West could have our darzis as long as we could get into Bloomingdale's with an endless supply of TCs authorised by Thomas Cook.
And then India discovered imported luxury, or more appropriately, branded luxury. Suddenly Sarla, who bought material for her children's clothes in thans, sported a new Gucci watch for every day of the week.
Padmini carried Ferragamo shades, Savitri refused to step out without her Jimmy Choo shoes (and her husband took to wearing his office trousers really low, so you could see the Tommy Hilfiger briefs he had taken a shine to), and Veena and Padma sparred over which was better, Chanel or Louis Vuitton, when it came to handbags.
"Our neighbours," I said to my wife one evening, "seem to have all become quite rich." "I think," my wife said archly, "the husbands are generous and buy expensive gifts for their wives while you," she spluttered in anger, "no longer give me the money even to thread my eyebrows." "You can have all the money you want," I said generously, "just tell me what you want." "You are a poppet," she said with the chameleon-like change of heart that is so characteristic of her, "but on your salary, what do you think you can spare?"
Put like that, she was probably right, but I noticed over the following days that when Padma came over, she would say, "Can you pass me my Louis Vuitton, darling?" to me, or my wife, instead of saying, "Can you pass me my bag?" "Where did you get that quaint purse from," she'd ask Veena, "Karol Bagh?" "That," Veena purred back, "is Hermes, sweetheart, "and not a fake like that thing you're carrying."
"Actually," said Sarla, who was wearing her fifth Gucci watch that week, "they're all fakes." "Really," I asked, "how do you know?" "Because they wouldn't sell Veena and Padma anything even if they carried money over in sacks," said Sarla, "the brands have to be careful whom they sell to, you know." I suppose she was right, but it was depressing when Kamini from upstairs, who haggled with vegetable-sellers for as little as 25 paise, said she couldn't dream of leaving home without her Versace jacket. "Hmph," hissed Sarla, "as if she goes anywhere but the market to buy sabzis."
"I'm sorry I haven't bought you anything in that league," I said to my wife on our anniversary. "Oh, don't worry, darling," she said, in an unexpectedly good mood, "I'm sure we'll have our fair share of goodies this evening." As usual, she was right.
There was a lighter from Dunhill (though neither of us smokes), a key ring from Tiffany, and handbags from Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton. "All fakes," pointed out Sarla helpfully (she'd given my wife a Gucci watch she'd probably got tired of wearing). As usual, she was right too.
"I hope," said Padma, when she called to gossip about the party the following morning, "that you liked the Louis Vuitton I gave you." "Poppet," said my wife endearingly, "you know I dislike labels, but my maid says to thank you, she loved it better than all the other gifts."