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The power of the Indian consumer

February 25, 2006 15:06 IST

If you walk into New Delhi's Oberoi Hotel, you will have the choice of shopping at some of the most elite stores in the world, such as Hugo Boss and Louis Vuitton. Joining their ranks from this week is possibly one of the best known fashion houses in the world, Christian Dior.

"When Christian Dior mentioned to his friend, the writer Jean Cocteau, that he was thinking of starting a line way back in the '40s, Cocteau replied that he would no doubt be very successful because of the power of his name. Dior is a combination of di, which is the first syllable of the French word dieu or God, and or is the French word for gold, so the two put together would definitely be unstoppable," said Pierre Denis, managing director of Christian Dior for Asia, speaking at the launch.

These words could not have rung truer, for 60-odd years after this statement, Dior is still a household name, known for its elegant styles, flirtatious and dramatic lines, and for those of us who can't afford to shop for clothes there, its perfumes.

Just last October, Dior launched a line in nude, which comprises their main look now, "a look that brings out a contemporary, understated sexiness," says Regis Rembert, manager for South-east Asia.

John Galliano, the creative director of Dior, has revisited the iconic "New Look" that Christian Dior himself created in 1947. The New Look then brought back femininity and glamour to women's clothing in post-war Europe, and there is definitely an air of playful sexiness to Galliano's latest line as well.

Another recent inspiration has been a trip that Galliano, a British designer who took over the reins of Dior from Gianfranco Ferre in 1996, made to Argentina.

"He was inspired more by the people than the country," says Rembert, "And it is from the people, their bravery and spirit of restlessness that the Gaucho line has come."

The Gaucho line includes the Gaucho bag, which has been so popular since it made its first appearance that you have to put your name on a waitlist to be eligible to buy one. Gaucho bags in India are available at an average of Rs 35,000 for one in denim, and Rs 46,000 for one in leather.

"The Gaucho bags are designed with the romance, daring strength and character of the Gaucho people in mind," says Rembert.

The Dior store at the Oberoi will carry the trends and styles in the ready-to-wear lines shown in Paris (it will not carry couture).

"Our designs are not country-specific," said Pierre, "but of course, we will make an adjustment to cater to local tastes. For instance, our Indian clientele may prefer our lines to be more colourful, and we will be sure to incorporate that into the Dior store in New Delhi."

In India, the management at Christian Dior has chosen Kalyani Chawla to be the brand ambassador; she will not just be the Dior representative here, she will also have to take care of the business and financial end of the store here in Delhi. "I have good business acumen, and marketing is my forte," she says.

"I understand luxury, since I have many friends in the luxury business. I've also been in hospitality, which is very closely related to the luxury segment, since service is a huge component of both. I think these are things that Dior was looking for, and of course I'm delighted to be associated to the name."

Chawla thinks that the boutique in New Delhi has a lot to offer the Indian woman. "Even college kids can shop there," she said. "One pair of sunglasses from Dior is Rs 10,000. All they have to do is save a little, and they can have one truly iconic piece of style in their wardrobe."

They will have to save a lot more if they want to buy the dresses, for they will cost at least Rs 1 lakh, and a white leather coat with cutwork costs double this, over Rs 2 lakh!

Still, Chawla is right in that what may make the Dior store a success in Delhi are the accessories; their costume jewellery (its fine jewellery is not available in India) costs anywhere between Rs 12,000 and Rs 20,000, slip-on shoes are an average of Rs 10,000-12,000.

"There are also all sorts of gift items," says Chawla, "Scarves, key rings, card holders and wallets. You can also buy your casual clothes from here, such as t-shirts and jeans." A particularly plain t-shirt with not much embroidery will be an average of Rs 14,000, and the prices go up from there.

The Dior store is definitely a valuable addition to Delhi's fashion skyline. Designer houses the world over are only just realising that India is a valuable market and the Indian woman (or man, let's not forget Dior Homme) is a valuable customer, with sophisticated tastes and a keen consciousness of style.

With stores like Chanel and Dior, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg, and we're willing to be wooed (do I hear a Fendi or a Gucci?) -- let the shopping begin!
Samyukta Bhowmick in New Delhi
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