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Published: Verve Magazine, Features, August 2009

A designer bag is your chance to stalk up the social ladder. Sitanshi Talati-Parikh chats with brand consultant-turned-writer Radha Chadha about the cult of luxury


It isn’t easy to talk about luxury without moralising, particularly when you see girls ready to clobber each other with their Manolos to get their hands on 16 bags at 50 per cent off at the Gucci sale. I began wondering about the craze for luxury brands. Ironically, the answer arrived in the form of Radha Chadha and Paul Husband’s book The Cult of the Luxury Brand: Inside Asia’s love affair with luxury. Excerpts from an interview with Radha Chadha:

How did the love affair begin?
I went to Hong Kong in 1997, well before luxury brands had set up shop in India, not knowing much about them. I was fresh off the plane from India and couldn’t understand how my secretary could afford a Louis Vuitton bag! Working in an advertising agency, I invariably ended up dealing with luxury brand projects, and over a point of time I simply fell in love!

You talk about the ‘democratisation of luxury’ – isn’t that an oxymoron?
Yes it is! Most people associate the word ‘luxury’ with ‘exclusive’. The way luxury brands are marketed today, there is nothing exclusive about it. Take Japan – 94 per cent of women in their 20s have a Louis Vuitton piece. There is nothing exclusive about it in that society. When the access to luxury is there for whoever can bite into it (and luxury also becomes bite-sized), then there is democratisation of luxury.

Where is India going with luxury brands?
India has a lot of luxury, but we do not have too many global luxury brands. We have tons of potential luxury brands waiting to happen. Brands exist more in the head and heart – its all about how you present it to the world. India has yet to do that. Also, in India it is only the top end of the market that is shopping. As the Indian economy grows, the use of these products will also spread, as it has in every country.

Sex and the City, the movie, introduces the concept of renting a bag….
It’s true! What is also common is buying a bag and selling it at the same store. When the desire becomes greater than the pocket – that’s when this happens.

So, the bag is the new solitaire?
The solitaire says ‘I have got money baby’, but a luxury brand says ‘I’ve got money and a certain taste’ – it has a certain ability to express personality.

Why do people buy luxury brands?
Many people buy luxury brands for the sheer pleasure, for the quality…but in Asia I have found that people buy to prove their status in society. Almost all of Asia was poor at one point of time and had ways of marking status. Luxury brands have been around for ages, but the way they were marketed was very different. With the recognition that accompanies the right branding, luxury brands become status markers.

How did the book happen?
I have this burning desire to write. I study people, and luxury brands seemed like an interesting lens with which to study countries. It is such a rich subject – you can understand so much about human beings and behaviour and a country by the kind of things people over there do and what drives them.

Does art fall into the concept of luxury?
I have defined luxury brands arbitrarily in the book to limit the scope, as stuff on the body. So many other things like cars, condominiums, private planes, yachts and even art can fall into it. A lot of these artists are like brands (try telling them that, they will be offended!) but MF Husain is also a brand!