‘Luxury and India: From Heritage, a journey to Modernity’

How Luxury is a treasure carrying on, from the past to the present and then onto the future, how luxury has always been intrinsic to the Indian way of life? A conversation between Priyadarshini Raje Scindia, from the royal Scindia family, an entrepreneur and a hotelier and Swagata Bottero, Vice Chairperson, IFCCI Luxury Committee & India Affairs & Strategy Director, Cartier International.

Swagata: With focus on the legacy that India holds in the world of luxury and its pivotal role in the future, shaping the world of tomorrow from heritage to modernity, let us narrow down in this conversation underlines the relationship that India has from the past, present to the future.

Priyadarshini: France and India have had cultural ties going back to the 16th century, and so to be able to speak today at a forum talking about art, craft culture, the communities that are based around that, the diplomacy and the interactions that we bring together through these is truly an honour for me.

Swagata: With your legacy, your traditions and your heritage, would you describe to us what luxury meant in generations past?

Priyadarshini: Whether you talk about how you cook or what you serve in, whether you talk about your textiles. India was known to be a country where you could find diamonds at the banks of rivers. You’ve got some of the world’s most amazing luxury brands like Cartier that are inspired enough by India to create necklaces like the Tutti-Fruity. And for India, luxury is in its DNA, you know the way we celebrate, the way we come together, it’s about communicating generosity with each other.

Swagata: Absolutely. I love that it’s a very fluent language. Luxury is a fluent language in India. It is not new. Luxury is a cornerstone of our history. As you said, it’s deeply rooted in our heritage, but it’s also very relevant to the New India of today.

Priyadarshini: I think we all sort of resonate with luxury also, through memory and through experiences. And even today, I think is a country that still inspires on a day-to-day basis. There are still discoveries to be made. I live in Madhya Pradesh and I see every day a new craft is being developed or being rediscovered, to me that is luxury as well. So, India will always throw out all these amazing webs of design and architecture and jewellery, and by weaving those threads together, we open up the international market to absorb all of that immediately.

Swagata: If we have to remember really one point today, it’s about this duality that India presents about heritage and modernity. What is this important role that legacy plays in the transformation of tomorrow? How did the royal family’s royalty evolve?

Priyadarshini: So, if I may go back a little bit, I think when India became an independent country we went through a great change in our fortunes as well. It was a time when the country did go through a huge famine and then come 75 years later again, once again in this short span of time, we’re being celebrated for the things we did. What’s important is to also recognize at the time was the fact that it was a time when new entrepreneurs from these families of caretakers had to emerge to sort of create a new identity for themselves in a country that was initially theirs and then became a democratic country. So, you had the emergence of business, you had it in hospitality, you had it in textiles, and this was also a great time for women to come out because, suddenly the ladies who were ordering for through crafters for themselves also realized it was an opportunity to showcase it to others.

I think that is the turn that India took at that time. And we see that even today. I mean my own son runs two startups, one based deeply on journeys through India, through heritage and culture. The other one is connecting tech to tier three and tier two cities through the application of food. There are so many stories of this entrepreneurial talent that has had to come up even in the royal families of India.

Swagata: Truly admirable how the royal families have evolved and become really so contemporary.

Priyadarshini: Contemporary, contemporary. However, you are also sort of still looked at by the people that you live around with a lot of love and respect. So, there’s a lot of traditions, there’s a lot of values that you still have to protect because of the sentiments of the people that still live around you and still have huge expectations.

Swagata: So, you have this responsibility of being the guardians of the legacy definitely. And unique crafts and lifestyle.

Priyadarshini: As well. Exactly.

Swagata: The beginning of our conversation, I had mentioned that luxury is in your DNA. What does luxury mean to you personally?

Priyadarshini: For me, luxury is definitely the things that make my life easier. It’s definitely not about overthinking something, but understanding what quality and heritage is also about. The ability to spend the money on the things that I think are the most important to make my life easier. Also, to me, time is one of my biggest luxuries. The fact that as soon as I get some time, I’m able to spend it with my family. I’m able to spend it with the people that matter most and spend it doing a lot of things that are very creative.

Swagata: How about the Trinity story you told me this morning?

Priyadarshini: Yes. So, we were discussing a few of the pieces luxury that are special to me. And I was mentioning that my engagement ring was a Cartier Trinity. And a lot of people obviously expected me to have this one big ring when I got engaged. But I think the most special thing for me was the fact that it was the Trinity, even though we all know it’s gold, but in India, the significance of the three metals coming together and building that aura and that strength was something, was a story that also was very special to me. So, luxury is deep rooted in our culture because of that, because India also has one of the oldest texts on Gemology.

Swagata: I think there’s something utterly organic between luxury and India. And this is where I think we have some wonderful takeaways for luxury brands, especially Western luxury brands who aim to achieve success in India. We have to invest in time in relationships, to your point.

Priyadarshini: And also, I mean it was wonderful to have Dior do their fashion show in India recently, and also be able to own the fact that a lot of their embroideries were created in India, which has not been done that much in the past. And India being at that space today where we are able to say, well, we do the best, so come and experience the best that we do. Whether you talk about hospitality, India has some of the finest properties in the world. However, apart from that, we also have a deep-rooted value system of ‘Atithi devo Bhava’ which automatically roots us in generosity and the spirit of community and sharing. So, I think that has, you know, a huge impact that even international luxury brands need to keep in mind that India is about generosity. And if you come in, you are generous to learn, you are generous to seek, you are generous to experience. India will always welcome you and welcome you with open arms and you will learn the India way soon enough.

Swagata: And the value of craftsmanship, the stories that we need to believe in, because you know, from the outside world, we want to tell contemporary stories now, but there’s this wonderful duality again, which is India’s strength about heritage and modernity.

Priyadarshini: You’re talking about craft stories. For me to wear a handwoven sari, it’s one year of a man’s or a crafter’s life that they’ve spent maybe weaving it in a little town with very little electricity sometimes. And I’ve spent a year now, if I think about it with this crafter’s family, because I’ve been through the good times, the bad times, while they’ve been weaving every emotion, every memory, every crisis, and every celebration is woven into the sari. So, for me, I mean, to be able to wear it today to this occasion and to represent a crafter so purely and finally is an honour, really.

Swagata: So that’s again, a takeaway for international brands. Bespoke is in our DNA. It is not only for the creme de la creme, it is for every class of the society. And we understand this language very well. This makes me think about the luxury consumer of today, Priya, who are they? What are the expectations and is India ready for this shift?

Priyadarshini: So, from what I’ve seen through obviously my own children and their friends and how shopping or the owning of luxury is concerned, I think first of all, the emergence of women being able to come out and own something by themselves without having to wait for it to be bought for them. I think that is a huge shift altogether. Although India has always had a very, very strong history of women being the preservers of craft. So, what happens is the stories of women sort of ordering those beautiful pieces because they were paid for by their representatives, which were usually the men, but the designs of them, the fact that every celebration or ‘puja’ or function, you had to create a beautiful sari.

I think that is the legacy of women in India. The change has come where we don’t need to be represented when it comes to paying our bills. So, for me, I think to see that happening is great. Also, at the onset, as you discussed previously of technology, already because of technology something that could have made me nervous to walk into a designer store and even ask what the price is of something, I think those barriers have come down because I’m able to buy online and I’m also able to check prices online.

So, it’s opened the doors to luxury for women also who maybe didn’t go out. Men are great consumers of luxury even though they keep blaming it on women. I think the men sometimes had the better necklaces and the better diamonds than the women did, but it’s nice to see that change now. And it’s nice to see women going out and rewarding themselves.

Swagata: I think the Indian luxury consumer is changing phenomenally. They are younger, making decisions definitely, and they are rewarding themselves, but they are also as much proud of the heritage as much they are of the future. So, this duality again that I’m coming back, which is a key point of our session, is this whole conversation of past and present, which is very anchored in India.

Priyadarshini: I think the beauty of India is the fact that our values and our history is integral to who we are. And there’s that famous saying that says, if you don’t know your past, you can’t make a future. So, when you have such a strong value system with family, with relationships outside family automatically, you know, you are able to have as much stronger base to build that future and invest in that future.

Swagata: Let’s continue to speak about India’s strength and conclude our conversation with one last question. What are your thoughts about India and the world stage and what are the key learnings we can really take away about India’s strengths?

Priyadarshini: Again, going back to the 16th century, we have always, always inspired each other and the west in many ways. When you talk about either foreign investment, whether they are happening in India or India is investing outside the country, there is a huge change in that. And it’s amazing to see where India is today. However, India has always been ready. We’ve always been a country that’s so ready to showcase and to talk about our culture and to talk about our food and our history and our people and the vibrancy of it.

And so, we are always sitting with open arms to showcase to the world as to what we do best, and that is tell our stories beautifully, capture our culture, and be able to show it to other people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *