High street debut

Last Updated: Fri, Oct 05, 2012 19:40 hrs

Italian excursion
Inside the sprawling 2,000-sq ft Roberto Cavalli store at New Delhi’s DLF Emporio, a crocodile-leather handbag in luxuriant gold, silver and copper tones sparkles on a throne of its own. The iconic Cavalli “Florence” handbag, a rare “price on request” item at the store, we are told, was recently bought by the Queen of Bhutan for an undisclosed sum. At the moment, the handbag rests on a shelf atop a shimmering gown (a little over Rs 4.5 lakh) alongside strappy golden heels (over Rs 70,000), arousing “ooh” and “aahs” from the many ladies who stop by to get a glimpse. The bag will make its way to its owner next week as a gift for her wedding anniversary.

“That is so typically Cavalli!” exclaims Max New York Life Insurance Director and Chief Marketing Officer Anisha Motwani. Today, Motwani is on a mission — to pass judgment on the range of merchandise at the Italian brand’s flagship store in India, launched in partnership with Infinite Luxury, set up by Indian fashion designer Manav Gangwani, Dubai-based entrepreneur Sahiba Narang and finance expert Rahul Kapoor. The company will also be introducing the country’s first Cavalli café across the mall’s atrium this year.

Motwani, in her forties, is familiar with the eccentric Italian designer’s aesthetics, his love for unabashed opulence, bold patterns and exotic animal prints. Board meetings, corporate dinners and frequent travel across the world are part of Motwani’s bustling life. Comfort and elegance is of paramount importance to Motwani, who is often spotted in form-fitting trousers with long shirts in subtle hues of pink, blue and creamy white. A regular shopper at American retail chains Bloomingdale’s and Nordstorm as well as European brand Zara, will Motwani find anything of interest in the Italian designer’s lair?

She admires a range of cotton silk and polyester kaftan tops and dresses in vibrant shades of yellow, black, green and red. The kaftans bearing animal prints, notes Motwani, are a trademark of Cavalli who loves to incorporate a “bit of local flavour in all his clothes”. She gestures to the embroidered silk kaftans in serpentine, leopard and aquatic prints with “the right amount of bling”.

“The kaftans and the gowns are hotsellers,” says Gangwani who is present at the showroom to show us around, intermittently greeting familiar faces at the store. “These kaftans are ideal for the ‘non-size-zero’ woman who wants to accentuate her curves and look sensual,” he tells Motwani who looks visibly convinced as she appreciates a kaftan in black and white patterns. Cavalli’s famous signature is subtly inscribed among the jagged lines and may go unnoticed by the first-time buyer. “But seasoned buyers know that this is the mark of the man,” smiles Motwani. The Cavalli kaftans range between Rs 40,000 and Rs 90,000.

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All the merchandise, from the carpet to the clothes, has been shipped to the store from Milan. “Only the cement used is Indian,” laughs Gangwani. Since its opening in August this year, the brand has already garnered a coterie of well-heeled buyers who make regular enquiries about upcoming collections. In fact, the staff tells us, they are already out of menswear and accessories, and unable to cater to the massive demand in time. Of the 400 belts shipped from Milan last month, only 18 are left. In the first month of its launch in Emporio, Roberto Cavalli was the second-highest selling brand in the mall. The first, as usual, adds Gangwani, was Louis Vuitton.

“Roberto Cavalli is a destination buy. It doesn’t rely on footfalls,” believes Gangwani. Loyal buyers are already on the staff’s Blackberry Messenger list and exchange pictures of the new stock and place their orders on the phone, he adds.

Motwani makes her way to the ready-to-wear denims and jackets, jacquard dresses and shirts. A pair of sand-washed denim jeans catches her eye. “These are casual, elegant and practical — and yet they have the Cavalli stamp all over them.” As we peruse the opulent dresses and gowns, a sneaking suspicion creeps in. While the dresses are beautiful and striking, she observes, they all seem to be an inconvenient UK size 4. A size 8 herself, she agrees that the small sizes might be a restricting factor in the brand’s foray into the Indian market. “A buyer often customises herself to fit into a Cavalli gown,” adds Gangwani with a smile. The gowns start at Rs 80,000 and go up to a few lakhs.

In another corner, on different shelves, lie the famous crocodile leather accessories — shoes, handbags, evening clutches and belts. Motwani ponders over a matched set of copper Blackberry pouch (around Rs 11,000), card holder, wallet (around Rs 30,000) and ballet shoes (around Rs 28,000). “I would carry these to a board meeting to make a great statement.”

The range of kidswear is unimpressive and doesn’t hold our attention. “It seems to lack Roberto’s signature,” notes Motwani. Even as we speak, Motwani’s eyes dart to the Roberto Cavalli Diva handbag, a limited edition leather satchel in black, priced at Rs 1.35 lakh. “It’s the last piece left,” informs Gangwani, winking at Motwani. “Now this is something I hope to buy,” she adds, running her hands over the luxuriant leather.

Minutes later, Motwani rushes into the trial room to adorn another eye-catching trademark Cavalli garment — a flowy oblique silk gown in black, blue and green (Rs 94,600). The one-shoulder dress compliments her figure and elongates her otherwise small frame. When worn with a pair of classic Cavalli six-inch sandals, Motwani is sold on the outfit. “Now this is something I might buy for my upcoming anniversary,” she adds after a thoughtful pause. The Indian price range of the merchandise is at par with the Milan prices and cheaper than in London, informs Gangwani. A Cavalli gown that costs around Rs 80 lakh in India, for instance, would cost around Rs 1 lakh in London.

As we walk out, Motwani is suitably impressed. “The merchandise lives up to its international name and fame,” she believes. “The range of clothes is graceful, vibrant and not occasion-centric which will encourage buyers. But the brand must rotate its inventory to maintain a hold over the fickle Indian buyer!” On the flipside, she adds, the prices will attract a niche segment of buyers who might prefer to buy Roberto Cavalli items during their international trips. But as one such well-heeled buyer herself, she will definitely be paying the store another visit soon.

Stylishly British
The Hackett London store, a recent edition to DLF Emporio’s list of high-end brands, is “as British as it gets”, remarks Brown-Forman Area Director Amrit Kiran Singh, gesturing to the mannequins immaculately dressed in waistcoats, dinner jackets, top hats, bow ties and totting canes. While this is the first standalone store of the British menswear brand in India (stores in Chandigarh and Bangalore are also on the cards), a joint venture with Madura Fashion & Lifestyle, the brand has been retailing at The Collective across the country for a few years. Last week, on his first visit to India, Hackett London Managing Director Vicente Castellano acknowledged its global competition from Ermenegildo Zegna and Canali, adding, “We are targeting buyers who love British fashion.”

Singh is one such buyer. Famous for being the face of Jack Daniel’s in India (a bourbon brewed by Brown-Forman), he is often spotted in elegant pinstriped dinner jackets (“usually Massimo Dutti, Daks or Armani”), and even fuss-free denims with sporty leather jackets (he swears by Ralph Lauren). Today, he is clad in all white, sporting a pair of vintage leather shoes (“I bought them on my recent vacation in Turkey,” he tells me), and has a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses pushed up to his floppy hair. A frequent Hackett buyer, he has shopped at the brand’s stores across international airports as well as the iconic House of Fraser in London. “The store does justice to the international counterparts,” he says running his hands across the teak counters. For the last one month, store designers from London have been dropping by to ensure the same, we are told.

He makes his way towards the classic numbered polo t-shirts, sporting an applique number on the chest sleeve (starting at Rs 6,500-10,000) in red, green, black and other colours. “These polo t-shirts are their USP. I would wear these to the Jaipur Polo ground.” Sixteen-year old boys who are ardent fans of the English Premium League would wear these t-shirts with their collars up (the brand’s name is splashed in bold across the collar), he adds.

Hackett’s India polo t-shirt (Rs 9,000) grabs his attention. “This is probably the first of its kind,” says Singh, admiring the fit and the fabric. What doesn’t excite him are the colours. “I would have liked a little more green in it. It is after all a multinational brand’s first India t-shirt!”

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Affectionately named the “oldest teenager in the world” by his children, Singh eagerly tries on a sporty red leather jacket, part of the Aston Martin Racing collection (Rs 35,000). “I am very adventurous and love wearing bright colours. This is classic, elegant and cool, of course.” A buyer who has studied or travelled to England, he says, would know that Hackett is not a stuck-up British brand, but a young, casual one. Singh too, travels to England around five times in a year.

In another section is the Mayfair collection — stacked according to colour and fabric are Hackett’s Savile Row-inspired, three-piece chalk-stripe suits in navy blue, black and chocolate brown; Prince of Wales double-breasted suits in grey and Twill overcoats; tweed jackets and dinner jackets in blue, black and even a velvety red.

“Are your buyers aware of Hackett as a brand?” asks Singh pertinently. “Yes, they know what they want,” replies the store manager confidently, helping him into a green Horse & Hound tweed jacket (Rs 41,000) followed by a navy blue one (Rs 45,000). The green one is a winner, he exclaims. “It fits well, the fabric is great and it’s priced well. Jackets like these will appeal to the upmarket, well-heeled professional. Clearly, Hackett doesn’t want to be a mass brand and wants to carve its own niche. These clothes are value for money.”

The cufflinks (Rs 5,500-Rs 8,000) in sparkling gold, silver and red hues aren’t de rigeur at the moment, he observes. “No one really wears cufflinks these days. Casual chic is the new way to go.” The bow ties (around Rs 7,000) don’t appeal to him either. “Trouble is, in India, most waiters wear bow ties,” he laughs.

“For men who love British fashion, Hackett doesn’t have to compete with other brands,” Singh says confidently as we prepare to leave. A navy blue tie with diagonal yellow stripes (Rs 9,000) catches his eye. On an impulse, he buys it. “I studied at La Martinière in Lucknow and our school ties had a similar design,” he smiles nostalgically. And the tie would be a perfect accessory for his upcoming alumni meet.

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