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Are we ready for couture?

The market has potential but not all are loosening purse strings yet, writes Kirti Mehta.

fashion and trends Updated: Jul 23, 2008 15:17 IST
Kirti Mehta

One couture gown can cost as much as a mid-range sedan. Once you have digested this information, take a moment to think: is this country really ready for couture? It’s less ready than what luxury retailers would have us believe, going by industry insiders’ opinion.

It’s a small percentage of label-loving population that demands international couture, say the insiders. There are two reasons: first, the couture lines are available on catalogues, but for the fittings, the buyer has to go to Paris; second, international couture is so expensive that more often than not, fashionistas settle for prêt creations in order to include that label in their wardrobe.

The price difference is substantial. “Brands like Chanel or Valentino have couture prices going up from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 8 lakh, whereas big Indian names like Rohit Bal and Tarun Tahiliani sell couture from Rs 50,000 to Rs 3 lakh,” says a source on condition of anonymity.

Sangeeta Assomull of Marigold Group, which has brought Leiber here, estimates the “potential market” of couture in India at $10 million. She adds, however, that “not all of them are currently purchasing couture”. Charu Sachdev of TSG group, another major player in luxury retail, says, “Couture will take some more time. International couture is extremely expensive. Couture is something people wear for special occasions, and in India, our traditional outfits are strongly prevalent. So to adapt to international couture will take time.”

In other words, when Indians spend that kind of money, they spend it on wedding clothes. That means the trousseau collections of Indian designers are safe from the haute couture onslaught. However, with exposure to Western luxury and increased overseas travel has come a desire to own couture, if not the ability to buy it as often as one might want.

Here lies the ‘potential’. Owning is important. Couture, says Kalyani Chawala of Dior, “is to be worn like a jewel and stored with as much reverence”. That the number of haute couture clients in India is small is evident from the total absence of any brand maison — a house of custom-fitting — of any international luxury brand in India.

A Chanel rep explains, “Clients in India have to be in Paris for the trials and fittings.” Experts predict that the tribe of the couture connoisseur will grow. Anil Chopra of LFW points out how demand from buyers brought couture into the LFW, “which, until three years ago, only showcased prêt-a-porter and diffusion”.

Assomull feels that many Indian couturiers are of international standards. Some — Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal, JJ Vallaya, Gauri & Nainika, Suneet Verma et al — are moving into the space occupied by international couture. If the market realises its potential, they’ll have the best of both worlds.