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Ramp to retail

Francois Steiner feels the fashion scene in the country is just waiting to explode.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2006 04:40 IST

He’s at the head of a high-end fashion brand which created a perfume that didn’t fit on the shop shelves because the bottles were too large and which made clothes the fashionistas said would never sell. Yet that same perfume has been among the top four or five in the world for more than five years; and the clothes command a cult following second to none. And one of the things Francois Steiner, CEO Kenzo, is most smitten with, is the sari. “I’ve been exposed to Indian designers and craftsmen and culture. There’s so much that India has to offer especially in the field of textiles that I’m still a little baffled why Indian designers aren’t marketing themselves as international brands,” says Steiner, in town for the Hindustan Times Luxury Conference.

“The traditional sari is something that completely blows my mind. It’s such a simple yet elegant garment and is yet so difficult to tie,” he says. So are Indian streets ready for the Kenzo kind of fashion? “The fashion potential in India is so high that I’m sure that once a couple of hindrances like high-end fashion spaces and the duty are settled, the fashion scene in India is just going to explode,” he says.

Steiner thinks that “now is the time to enter India”. “Give me a retail space and I’ll open tomorrow. We’d ideally want to start with two stores in Delhi and one in Mumbai. We’d like these to be stand-alone stores.” But will the brand’s philosophy of taking clothes straight off the runway and into the stores work in India? “Well, we don’t set marketing targets for fashion. It’s an identity that we’re putting out there hoping that people are attracted to it. The designer has a free hand,” he says.

But then Kenzo isn’t just another brand, is it? It is a brand known as much for its “multiculturalism” as spectacular showmanship: the 2006 collection had models descending on the stage off a cruise-liner.

“We were told by the fashionistas that the collections were ridiculous and that they wouldn’t sell in the market, but the philosophy behind our brand is about making them available as they are. These are pieces that can be worn 10 years down the line. These are pieces that are meant to be bought because they are like art,” he says.