From gold-embroidered designer lehengas for the bride to handcrafted dinner plates for the guests, from risqué tent coats to bespoke wedding tents, from skyscraper heels to organic face peels, fashion designers and luxury brands are diversifying their product portfolio to rake in the moolah.
Till few years ago, fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee (aka Sabya) was celebrated only for his ubiquitous Indian lehengas, but today this visionary craftsman has carved a niche for himself from home décor to footwear. The Kolkotta boy has collaborated with biggies to leave his mark on Asian Paints wallpapers, the Cinema Suite at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate, London; L’Oreal lipsticks, Pottery Barn and Christian Louboutin’s vertiginous heels to name a few. Not to forget, the signature Sabyasachi bridal trousseau!
Recently, Thomas Goode & Co, a 200-year-old tableware brand tied-up with the maverick to design dinner plates created by 43 artists from the Sabyasachi Art Foundation. He has understood that the moolah is in expansion so that every customer can hope to get a ‘piece’ of Sabya’s aesthetics! According to Sabya, the mistake most labels make is they get trapped in the ‘brand’ aura. As per fashion grapevine, Sabya is the richest designer with a self-created net worth of approximately Rs 200 crore. So what he did was give his creative vision for brand extensions, but never got into the technicalities, leaving infrastructure, backend and technical know-how to his collaborators sharing a 50% profit with them. “I am not a designer, I want to be a lifestyle brand,” says Sabya.
Sabyasachi heritage jewellery is hand-made in three factories outside his hometown and one in Kolkata. The line comes with MRP, certificate of stones and guarantee so there is total transparency unlike what happens in the jewellery business. “My first tryst with jewellery making was when I was 20. My mom and me would make costume jewellery and sell them on the footpaths of Kolkata. I had a turnover of Rs 3,000 then, which was a princely sum for me,” says Sabya.
Few know that Sabya also designed a line for Bombay Dyeing 20 years ago. He designed reversible bedsheets with different prints on front and back. The sheets added a dash of versatility and revolutionised Bombay Dyeing business. His line with L’Oreal is a feather in the cap of all entrepreneurs. The snooty French brand realised the prowess of an Indian guru, and collaborated with him to power women’s pouts choosing the most beautiful woman Aishwarya Rai as their muse. He adds, when he works with foreign giants they give respect and treat him like an equal partner.
Kings of Indian Couture
Fashion pundits believe they have the Bachchan family as their biggest supporters so they were able to ride the wave, but surviving for 33 years is tough in an industry that has fickle tastes. That’s why Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla are Nita Ambani’s favourites. Their quest for elegance has won them the ‘exclusive’ tag.
The duo did the décor of Isha Ambani’s wedding at the Ambani residence Antilla in Mumbai. Says Sandeep, “We did tonnes of embroidery from curtains to tents. The decision was to keep the decor craft-based. We added Kutchi mirror work to give it a Gujarati touch. Nita left everything to us and trusted our instincts,” he explains. It’s no secret that the Big Fat Indian Wedding is a lucrative business. And designer decor is an even bigger game. If you have clients like the Ambanis and Bachchans, then you are literally on a money roll. However, Sandeep disputes this theory. “As a brand we haven’t got any investment like Anita Dongre (American growth equity fund General Atlantic (GA) invested) and Shantanu-Nikhil (Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd (ABFRL) acquired a 51% stake in the compnay), Masaba (got $1M in funding from Flipkart). We have reached here on our own, pulling in our resources. Brand extension works if you have large amounts of money for expansion,” Sandeep explains.
They had done Shweta Bachchan’s wedding. “Decor at weddings is a diversification that we enjoy. You get to dress up 25,000 square feet of space and you incorporate art, sculpture and installations,” he explains. They have also branched out in various revenue verticals – ASAL (diffusion), Gulabo (cotton prêt) and Mard (menswear). The duo has done collaborations with Gehna and Saboo for fine jewellery.
Bollywood’s favourite designer and go-to man, Manish Malhotra too has ventured seamlessly into furniture, makeup and jewellery line to add buzz to his clothing enterprise. The Home space is collaboration with architect Seetu Kohli and will be available at his mammoth 15,000 sq. ft. store in the capital. “I understand the importance of space and mood. I have always enjoyed designing my home, mixing the old charm with new designs, which is core to my aesthetics. Hence, our extension to Home was a very organic step ahead. It has taken me almost 18 months to come up with this line in terms of design and manufacturing,” says Manish.
Another area that interests Manish is jewellery considering his love for glitter, which took shape when he tied up with Raniwala 1881 from Jaipur to offer modern jadau jewellery. “As a costume designer, I’ve always created jewels, be it my clothes, my stores, or my friends from Bollywood.
I’ve always worked on jewellery along with the garments. During my early days, I created jewellery for actors with matching beads and crystals. I break the big pieces and string together other materials to create something that compliments the garment. So, this came like a natural progression to me,” he adds.
Ritu Kumar has been in the fashion business for half a century. No one understands the intricacies of fashion and style, better than this grand ole dame of couture. According to her, fashion is now such a saturated market, the reason brand extension is the way forward. And she is a frontrunner in this category – from launching perfume (Tree of Life), to mojaris, from handcrafted bags (created in Santiniketan) to exquisite home line. “This sells more than couture,” she smiles.
Unlike the father of brand extensions Pierre Cardin, (he had 950 licences), who lost his label’s aspirational value to careless collaborations (including cheap pens), Kumar has a firm grip on all her product diversifications. “We sell from our vast retail network and from store in stores, so a counter will be marked just for us,” she explains.
With rising incomes and people’s desire for luxury items, more and more nouveau riché are flocking to designer stores. Little wonder that last year, income tax sleuths came knocking on the doors of five designers for tax evasion. The taxmen scanned and combed the books of these prim and propah fashion czars. Most designers are edgy if you ask them about revenues and money rolls. Kumar flatly refused to share any details despite her company being a listed one as they also get their big share of moolah from exports. She did admit reluctantly that the revenues “could be” almost 20 per cent from brand ancillaries.
Hermes, the epitome of luxury handbags, made saddles 200 years ago. However, the uber brand branched out into handbags, silk scarves, clothes, perfumes, tableware, furniture and watches. Givenchy began with “Seventeen” watches, designed by the maverick Riccardo Tisci, and Louis Vuitton from a trunk-maker now markets sunglasses, jewellery and watches. Armani Casa by Giorgio Armani designs spaces so you can get furniture, accessories, fabrics, ornaments, lightings, modular kitchen and bathroom. “There are buyers who come to see a lehenga for the bride and buy our crockery set.”
“It happens and that too organically. With perfumes we are obsessed with international labels,” explains Ritu Kumar.
Amit Aggarwal, the new ‘IT’ designer on the block says extensions are extremely important. “Fashion for me goes beyond the realm of just clothing because I feel when I design, I imagine a lot of other parallels that make my clients world. The smell they carry around themselves, the kind of homes they would like to live in, the kind of footwear they would wear and how their wedding would feel and look like.” As a brand they have worked mostly on shoes as creative collaborations, but not looked at the retail aspect.
Expansion in business always gives impetus to the growth of a brand and leads to revenue generation. It helps a brand reach out to a new audience and create curiosity. The longevity of a brand is dependent greatly on how the brand keeps pace with changing the times. “From designing products for animal fund-raisers like mugs, caps, T-shirts to designing uniforms for various associations I have enjoyed the process of diversification. Designing footwear and jewellery has been a natural extension of design for me as designer. I have done a lot of interior work and created a range of furniture. I have also worked with various jewellers to create a range of precious jewellery that did very well,” says Ritu Beri, who was the protégé of historic French embroider Lesage.
Literature in Stone
Wharton-educated Tarun Tahiliani, who has been in the business for three decades, has been a designer, who has looked at creating a fashion house, be it the launch of the swishy Ensemble store or designing TT Homes, a venture he started last year. State-of-the-art, top of the line beautiful homes in Goa which has won him clients like South star Cheeranjevi. And even though he will not openly confess, it makes him more money than he can by selling just clothes for five years.
“I wanted to be an architect. I remember what an English friend once told me —‘architecture is literature in stone’,” he explains. When brides come to him they want to match their clothes with their shoes, so he did that, along with jewelled belts made in-house. “It is intellectually stimulating as clothes can get repetitive after a while,” he adds. The architectural division is looked after by Bindu Vadehra and Tarun’s son Jahan.
However, Tarun is a master of collaborations, he did watches with Timex. He felt Indian Jadau watches go well with his lehengas. “It was a great way to grow my business and Timex paid me a certain amount. I didn’t feel stagnated in the style world, it is a fresh start,” he adds.
What Tarun learnt is that women get replicas of their real jewellery which they are scared to carry for destination weddings, so he started a costume jewellery line (embroidered) and “frankly, I loved what Chanel did with those pearls and ‘artificial’ elegance and personally, I am a fan of tribal influences along with silver. If we talk about money with such things you can make a fortune internationally, but in India it is still slow,” he explains. He would like to work with Tanishq for fine jewellery in the future. He also wants to market and sell his perfume via sell Nykaa.
Band, Baaja = Crores
The style business is incomplete without the great Indian weddings. No wonder, designers want to jump on the shaadi-band-baja-baraat bandwagon. According to Indianretailer.com the Indian wedding industry is over Rs 100,000 crore. It is growing at 25-30% annually. There are 1,00,00,000 Indian marriages in a year, the wedding market at Rs 100,000 to Rs 110,000 crore. “A person, in India, spends 1/5th of his wealth accumulated in a lifetime on a wedding ceremony,” the report adds. This is where Varun Bahl decided to dig his proverbial heels and launch the wedding decor company Aurum, four years ago. “It is an explosion of ideas, creatively you are designing a temporary space, that is so luxurious, and you have to do it in a specific time. It is hectic and fun,” he adds. So from prints to tents, to tableware, decorations, flowers to everything that goes into the making of the final product is his responsibility. “Fashion has so much competition, every year there are 10-20 new designers coming in offering things at half the value, it is really rough to survive. Couture will remain, but prêt is the future,” says Varun.
Diversification keeps your mind fresh, you get to meet people from different walks of life. Soon Varun is launching his line of fine jewellery, play of stones, a bit like decor where you are doing everything from table runners to cushion covers, draped curtains, interesting ceilings, flower or crystal chandeliers, but you only do 2-3 wedding in a year. The profits are 50% higher in wedding than in fashion, but decor has strict time constraints and destination weddings make it tougher as you locally source everything.
Bling it on
Gaurav Gupta would always see women wearing his creations, looking extremely beautiful and yet, it would somehow seem incomplete. “I didn't like the jewellery in the market. I wanted to create my own vision. It’s literally the kind of obsession that we put in our clothes- detailing, remaking and making to ensure that the technical and aesthetic details are up to our standard. Jewellery has a technical side to it, in terms of how it moulds and its overall form,” Gaurav explains. He has partnered with Occasions Fine Jewellery and began the GG Man concept two years ago with futuristic, embellished tuxedos and classic, embroidered bandhgalas and sherwanis in aureate jacquards and smooth velvets. “The idea is to cultivate a design voice and an elevated lifestyle. For our new store, I designed a collection of special sculptures and furniture inspired by my obsession with mythical beings.”