Once upon a time, you went abroad with a meager foreign exchange allowance and did some budgetary calisthenics to bring back what you really wanted-and what would make your friends envious. This could be anything from a seven-sided pencil box, to lingerie that most people saw only in very fancy fashion magazines, to gadgets that would pluck out your led hair or help you make a sumptuous dinner. And if you could afford it, and had ways to take it back to India without getting caught by customs, you also acquired some real treasures, with fancy tags attached: Dior perfumes, Louis Vuitton luggage, Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, Mikasa glassware, Cross pens and perhaps a diamond or two courtesy Tiffany.
And then, as time went by, life got a little easier for the brand-hungry who were looking for that much coveted snob value. The shops in India at Mumbai and other metros and other such ‘grey market’ arcades could supply everything from washing machines, refrigerators and watches to chocolates, diapers and hairbrushes, all with the requisite label, but no guarantee except goodwill, no service contracts and, usually, no instruction manual. However, there was no real choice available or comparison possible; you had to know exactly what you wanted, or trust the dealer to give you what you asked for, in a time frame that was often unpredictable.
And then the licenses started being issued. Special store spaces were created where you could acquire all the snob value you desired. Fragrances from reputed fashion houses like Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent and Calvin Klein flooded the counters in popular department stores. Clothes hit the racks, from Benetton to Tommy Hilfiger (who seemed to swallow his qualms about making clothing for the non-WASP population in the face of potential profits on a massive scale) to the fabulously publicized Reid and Taylor, much of it riding in on the coattails of Bollywood and its very visible stars.
Slowly popular international brands starting setting up individual stores in India, selling cameras (Nikon, Canon, Sony), luggage (Samsonite, American Tourister, Delsey), sportswear (Reebok, Nike), white goods (Siemens, Bosch, Samsung, LG) and personal-use products (cosmetics-Maybelline, Revlon, Bourjois; lingerie-Triumph, Enamor, Lovable; clothing-Lee, Levis, Cherokee). Soon, stores themselves made their presence felt, from MacDonald’s to Marks and Spencer. And the shoppers flooded in: young people with decent disposable incomes. The luxury market followed closely behind, primarily targeting the high-fashion buyers. From Jimmy Choo to Chanel, Vuitton to Tod’s, Elizabeth Arden to Clinique, Rado to Omega, they all came and, in a limited section of society, conquered. There is a growing population of millionaires in India and they are all willing to spend. So in this age of a brand-around the corner, how do you get to be a cut-above?
Indeed, there is one genre of shopper who wants even more exclusivity than just a label that is known, even if to a very small population of discerning buyers. And those people find their dreams in products made exclusively for them. Like that hand-woven sari, that specially crafted necklace, that perfectly finished dinning table that exquisitely polished floor all fairly easily possible in India, at a price. India has a long standing tradition of producing high quality hand-crafted products suited to the individual tastes and style of the consumer. Now the elite started choosing custom crafted products when they perpetuate this tradition in terms of the specific craft that they employ, or when they symbolize a creative vision of the designer or craftsman who draws inspiration from our vast heritage.
Custom crafted clothes or jewelry would be for a special occasion like a birthday or a wedding and would speak of individuality and style. It makes you feel good and stand out from the crowd, and you don’t mind spending that little extra to pamper yourself.
Perhaps best of all custom-made objects have the snob value of being one-of a kind, completely exclusive, and created to specification that the buyer has. And it is the way things are done in the country, the way that they have been done for generations. Even today few will look for a high-end diamond bracelet, for instance, in a store selling readymade jewelry; they will prefer to get it made to order from an exclusive designs catalogue. The Royal touch has again set in.