India and China: An Inspiration and Source for the Global Luxury Market


Professor Ashok Som began by explaining about the luxury industry, then the India & China markets, finishing with a comparative analysis of the two: What is luxury? It is wholly defined by the consumer. Hence, its definition is constantly changing. However, just to cite a few examples of widely accepted ‘luxury’ brands – Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. The core values associated with such luxury brands are rarity and excellence. In terms of positioning, luxury brands tend to be inaccessible and niche with their customers being the exclusive elite.

The Indian luxury market is growing quickly. 60% of India’s wealthy live in its eight major cities. Of these, one million top consumers could be classified as ‘luxury’. The Indian luxury market could be classified into 3 segments – Old wealthy, emerging wealthy and novae rich. The problem of foreign luxury branded items in India is that the Indian market is not educated about these brands, and hence do not perceive them particularly highly.

In China, 1.6 million people would be considered “wealthy”. By 2015 this segment is predicted to grow to four million. The wealthy Chinese are a globally unique segment – they are 20 years younger than the USA market, they are more educated and are mostly self-employed.

Comparing India and China, it seems China has a more mature luxury market, India’s is still very young. China is more liberal than India in doing business.

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A person and an idea are connected.

What is it that companies can do for these markets to create value and create wealth for themselves?

It’s all about relationships.

And what Reliance did in the partnership with Steven Spielberg is to establish a virtual studio in Hollywood.

Modernising there, not Westernising.

Thanks so much for coming to Cambridge and sharing all of your insights with us.

Oh, it’s my pleasure.

So Manish, how have you differentiated yourself so that you’ve been able to take your brand and your designs international?

The idea was to take India the way it is and twist it and modernise it, and take it to international level, to West because that’s what they understand. They will not probably understand me if I go to UK, or to France, or to anywhere else outside of India with a collection of clothing, which is very India.

It’s a very thin line of taking out things which are ethnic but still keeping the techniques and making it into a way that it can be understood by our people in the West. And that’s what I tried to do.

So are you finding that the international brands are learning from you, from your style?

When they come to India to work, they try to take the embroidery part of it, but they don’t be very creative in it. Because also, the price is a big factor because they come to agents, and then agent comes to another agent. And then finally it goes to a factory where they get made. So it’s far more expensive than me doing it directly in my office with the embroiderers. You know? So I have that advantage.

So I don’t think they would want to learn anything from me. But yes, I know for a fact that my clothes, my photographs of my clothes have been taken as references for many big brands for embroideries. I also know that because– a very close friend of mine, he’s in the same business, who is Italian. And he works in India. He does embroideries for all the major brands. And he’s got many times references of my clothes as example of embroidery.

You’ve collaborated with several international brands– Reebok, Swatch, MAC. How did these relationships evolve?

Reebok happened by chance. This was the first collaboration. And when I did that, I realised the potential of collaborating because I was, at the same time, looking at getting out of India and showing my work in London. And I realised that, as an individual, it’s very difficult to make people aware of me.

So what I realised was a good idea was to tie up with these companies, like, for example, what a Swatch can do for me, I can’t do for myself. I can’t have probably TV commercials on MTV worldwide on my own. I will never be able to afford it, I think.

My show videos, if you search on YouTube, there will be about– let’s see, about 200 links or 200 videos. But when I do my shows on MAC, there will be about 2,000. So that’s the kind of difference I realised. And that’s what I tried to do with these brands.

And even the new collaboration with Nivea, which is just coming out in a month or so, that even goes to about 5 and 1/2 million people. And that is just the product. Then after that, there will be reactions on internet. There will be YouTube, and there will be press. I could not have done that just by myself.

Do you think these international brands are looking for more Indian designers? Are they ready for additional collaboration? Or do you think they’ll keep the focus pretty limited?

You know, I think they look for collaborations. If they identify the person to have the right association with the brand. Swatch found me. They saw an article on me in Le Monde, which is a French newspaper. So also, your style has to match the product you collaborate with.

And at the moment, I could say that Indian designers are very ethnic, very Indian. So what will happen is that these brands will not like to associate with them because these guys would be limited only to India, whereas in my case, there’s an advantage of my style being understood by people, not just in India, but people all over the world. And that’s what worked for me.

Brilliant. Thank you, Manish.

– Thanks a lot. Pleasure.


Read the video transcript

May 2009, Cambridge

Innovation in India and China

Manish Arora is the first Indian fashion designer to make his brand global. He launched his self-named label in 1997 and since then he has exhibited at the London and Paris fashion weeks. He has many global distributors, with four of his own stores in Delhi.

Mr Arora’s strives to modernise Indian fashion, not westernise it. It is a lack of appreciation for this, he feels, is the reason why other Indian designers have not succeeded globally. His designs employ traditional Indian materials, embroidery, designs, colours and production skills. However, the overall designs are non-traditional and hence appeal to a more global audience.

After collaborating with a number of international brands such as Reebok, Swarovski, Swatch, MAC, Disney and Nivea, Manish has used these collaborations as a strategy to build up an international brand reputation which he would have struggled to do any other way.

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Ashok Som

Associate Professor, ESSEC Business School

Ashok Som is Associate Professor at ESSEC Business School, Paris-Singapore. He is the founder of the India Research Centre at ESSEC, Director of the Global Management Programs on Luxury and Retail Management (in partnership with Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad) and co-ordinator of the module Managing International Business.

Ashok received his PhD from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, MSc and MTech from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and bachelors degree from Presidency College, Calcutta, India. His three main research areas are in organisation re-design, innovative HRM and innovation in Asia. His research has been published in Human Resource Management, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Asia Pacific Journal of Management, European Business Forum, and Thunderbird International Business Review, to name a few. He has authored more than 30 case studies which have been widely referred, published and respective best-sellers in their fields. He is a Visiting Professor at GSB, Keio University (Tokyo), IIM Ahmedabad (India), Tamkang University (Taiwan), AUT University (New Zealand). He has been featured in Who’s Who of the World (2008, 2009). He was nominated as one of the 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century in 2008-2009. He is the author of the book Organization-Redesign and Innovative HRM, Oxford University Press (November 2008) and International Management: Managing the Global Corporation, McGraw Hill (forthcoming August 2009).

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Listen to the ‘Return to Maharajah style’ podcast with Ashok Som

Manish Arora

Fashion Designer

Manish Arora launched his self-named label in 1997, and began retailing in India. In 2000 he represented India at the Hong Kong Fashion Week and participated at the first ever India Fashion Week, held in New Delhi. The next year he launched his label “Fish Fry”, and showed this collection in six leading cities in India.

Manish’s first flagship store, Manish Arora Fish Fry, was opened in New Delhi in 2002, with the second opening in 2003 in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai. The same year he had a successful showing at India Fashion Week in Mumbai and started stocking at Maria Luisa Paris.

In 2004 Manish was awarded the best Women’s Prêt Designer at the first ever Indian Fashion Awards, held in Bombay, and MC2 Diffusion Paris started representing the brand for the international business. An MOU with authentic sportswear brand REEBOK was signed to jointly market a line of contemporary sportswear under the brand Fish Fry for Reebok.

The next year Manish participated in the Miami Fashion Week in May, where he was presented with the designer’s choice for best collection award. That September he had a successful debut at the London Fashion Week, where he received an overwhelming response from the press as well as the buyers.

Manish opened his flagship store in December 2005 at Lodhi Colony Market in New Delhi. He also exhibited some of his work at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London for an exhibition called “Global Local” in association with the British Council, India.

In 2006 Manish was confirmed as a fashion designer of great potential during his second showing in February, receiving rave reviews from coveted fashion journalists like Hilary Alexander, Suzy Menkes, Lisa Armstrong, in all the leading publications. His clothes are stocked at 75 well-known stores worldwide. A fashion jury in leading Indian publication OUTLOOK judged him to be the Best Indian Fashion Designer and featured him on the cover of its March 2006 issue. Manish opened his first Manish Arora franchise store in Villa Moda, Kuwait, and another Manish Arora Fish Fry store at Crescent at The Qutub, New Delhi.

The first Fish Fry for Reebok concept store opened at the Garden of Five Senses, New Delhi in 2007. Manish showed a retrospective of his London Fashion Week collections at the very prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum in London that September. The same month, he successfully debuted at Paris Fashion Week with his Spring/Summer 2008 collection.

In 2008 the highly acclaimed TV show “Adventures of the Ladies’ Tailor”, a style documentary on Manish, was aired on Discovery Travel & Living, featuring Manish as the host. Also in 2008, Manish Arora Eyewear was launched worldwide through a licensing agreement with Inspecs UK. Another Manish Arora store was opened in Khar, Mumbai; the second Fish Fry for Reebok store opened at Select Citywalk, a leading lifestyle shopping mall in New Delhi; and a fifth Manish Arora store opened in India’s leading luxury mall Emporio in New Delhi. In October the make up and cosmetics giant MAC launched Manish’s signature collection worldwide.

In the summer of 2009, two other launches are scheduled: Manish’s signature collection with NIVEA, and his limited edition of watches for SWATCH.

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Listen to the ‘India and China: An Inspiration and Source for the Global Luxury Market’ podcast with Manish Arora