The theory of relativity

Luxury is not universal. Luxury, as my readers will know by now, has come from the word luxe which means dazzle. Now the luxe factor is fundamentally relative. What dazzles one need not dazzle another. The second layer of difference lies in the degree of dazzle.

Let me elaborate with a few Indian examples the degree to which the razzle-dazzle differs. I drool over a Cartiers Panthere ring, or a Louis Vuitton hot-stamped trunk, or a Harley Davidson Fatboy. So, for me, that is luxury. Now let me compare apples to apples. Let us see now to bring in the luxe factor what the Richie Riches of our poor nation had done: In 1926, the Maharaja of Patiala gave Cartier its largest commission till date the remodelling of his crown jewels, which included the 234.69 carat De Beers diamond. The result was the Patiala necklace weighing 962.25 carats with 2930 diamonds. In 1928, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir placed 30 orders in six months for trunks from luggage maker Louis Vuitton. Not to mention that a certain Nizam had procured 50 Harley Davidsons for his postmen to deliver his messages. (Read: Democratisation of luxury)

That is a key differentiator that every luxury brands need to study understand very clearly. In luxury branding one size fits all just doesnt work. It is a space for bespoke, for customisation, for making every customer feel special and justify the brand premium in pricing.

The greatest challenge that a luxury brand faces is in mixing the right portion of snob-value. It cant be so much that you alienate others but it cant be so less that the clients dont feel the exclusivity. The magic potion lies in the right portion. It is both the presence and the absence of snob quotient, both co-existing, side by side.

You need to have the low-hanging accessories like sun glasses or perfumes or key chains or coin purses or scarfs or what have you. They will not only lure a genre of clients who are heavy spenders in premium brand space and are yet to turn big spenders in luxury space as they are not sure the return on investment or RoI as we call it in the corporate parlance. For them, these low-hanging fruits are only value-for-label. So they just pay for the logo and are happy as they spend it within their budget and not frivolous but smart. They think of these spends as it is a deal man to own an LV for such a price, the product may be a key chain or a coin purse but who cares. Logo rules!

With time, a certain segment of this class realises the efficacy of the entire experience of luxury shopping, it is just not the product, it is the experience that you pay the premium for. Again to some it is worth the buck, to others it isnt. Everythings relative.

The ease with which they migrate may differ but the migration is destined. You are no longer satisfied by the key chain, you need to flaunt the wallet, shoe, handbag, specs, pens, ties, what have you. This is just stage 2. The more you rise the stages the stickiness increases with the brands. Stage 3 is when you are a regular user of luxury brands and you have made a complete migration from super-premium to luxury, even in your articles of daily use to daily wears. You are so used to luxury shopping experience that you start feeling uncomfortable if you shop anywhere else -- there is a little unease, out of place feeling. You are officially a luxury man or woman -- it is a part of your life. And you embark on the big tickets buys. Congratulations, you are now a member of the world of dazzle, not a guest. So the LV key chain that used to dazzle you some time back seems relatively less prominent amidst the Cartier wallet, Bulgari frame, Bottega Veneta bag, Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, Gucci belt, an LV briefcase and a Rolex. You are no longer dazzled by these but you become a luxury who inspires others, just the way a member invites guests to an exclusive high-brow club.

The critical part remains for the brand in handling clients of all Stages-- from 1 through 3 -- in the luxury world so that the ever-changing dazzle-quotient remains intact. That quotient is their bread and butter, no luxury brand should ever forget that.

Let me give you an example of the Cartier store. My friend, the boutique manager, tells me that every client is important, no matter whether he/she is here for a wallet, a watch, or a Trinity. However, there is a subtle difference in the degree of engagement among all the three segments. Clients in every segment needs to feel special but they must also feel a little left out in terms of the treatment that is meted out to big-ticket buyers. This aspiration keeps the store running. There is a room in the store, beautifully decorated where hi-value deals are made. It is beautifully decorated with a touch of the history of Cartier and its India connect. The special Trinity and Panthere are on display, which are no longer crafted or sold, they are for your eyes only. So for the watch buyer, an entry into that coveted room is an aspiration and that brings them back. Relativity rules and makes big bucks for these brands.

The mortal crime for any boutique assistant or manager is to judge a client by his or her clothes or the capability to talk in English. This deserves a capital punishment. This kind of exclusion will end up shutting that store. My friend, who is pretty rich and has a great collection of luxury-branded handbags, including Burberry, visited the Burberry store in Kolkatas Quest mall. She was wearing a torn jeans, a white tee and flip-flops. The boutique assistant was to her surprise, not clean shaven and had a day-old stubble, which was criminal as it shows how callous you are and how you are not bothered about grooming, and so how unfit you are for a luxury boutique. When she asked him to show a particular bag, he first told her its price and looked at her. She immediately left the store and swore not to visit it again. A permanent loss of a potential client and a lot of bad publicity, the latter is lethal for a newly launched boutique, just for a wrong judgement.

This is how a mix of snobbery and relativity can make or break the reputation of your boutique and thus brand. It is all in the soft skills and presence of mind as to how to lure clients and nothing to do with the quality or design of the luxury product.

It is all about the theory of relativity -- sometimes special, sometimes general.

Let your quest for luxury continue.



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