NEW DELHI — The retail scene in India has not quite caught up to the hype of its fashion week.
The country has only recently seen the emergence of big retail stores, and while they carry the collections of many of the designers who showed during fashion week, the disconnection between runway and retail is much greater here than it is in the world’s fashion capitals.
A few designers like Raghavendra Rathore and Rajesh Pratap have their own stores in New Delhi’s upscale Santushti Complex, a gated area in the southern part of the city where shops including Lacoste and Escada are housed in little stucco shacks that look like a miniaturized outlet mall. Near the Qutub Minar, a magnificent 12th century minaret built by the Muslim king Qutab-ud-din Aibak, and up a dusty narrow road that winds precariously up a hill, there are also a few elegant designer stores, including Carma, which leases to upscale designers like Rojit Bal and J.J. Valaya a series of white-painted, vaulted spaces in a former carriage house, while Malini Ramani has a shop next door in the Qutub Collonade, where she also designs her line.
Apart from the government craft stores familiar to foreign tourists, where hard-driving salesmen shill questionable pashmina shawls and silver jewelry, designer shops are sprinkled throughout Delhi’s park-like expanse, while shopping malls such as the upscale Crossroads complex in Mumbai and a new chain of Piramyd Megastores (operated by the Piramal family, hence the spelling) have begun to take root as destinations for fashion apparel and some Western brands like Levi’s that are mostly produced under license, as they are throughout Asia.
Until the past decade, most apparel businesses in India were run privately by family corporations, with little interaction between textile producers, garment manufacturers and retailers. But that is beginning to change as the industry sets up an infrastructure geared toward promoting its own brands throughout the subcontinent. One of their most basic needs, designers said, is more access to factories and a strong retail network that will support them with consistent product from city to city, and now several of India’s largest private manufacturers are stepping in to identify and possibly back local designer brands in a business model patterned after LVMH and Gucci.Both Crossroads and Roopam, another Mombai-based retailer, have sent talent scouts to Lakmé India Fashion Week to recruit designers to work exclusively on brands for their stores. Meanwhile, Raymond Limited, a 75-year-old company that is the country’s largest woolen mill and commonly known for it’s accessible men’s bridal brand, has opened a five-year-old retail chain called Be:, with four stores throughout India and one in Dubai, and eventual plans to open 250 doors and possible acquire other designer brands.
Aniruddha Deshmukh, executive director of Raymond’s Be: division, said, "Raymond’s is entirely seen as a men’s brand right now and this is our opportunity to become big in women’s."
Be: carries India’s most well-known labels, like Rojit Bal, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Ritu Beri, Manju, Bobby Grover, Priyadarshini Rao and Raghavendra Rathore, and both Deshmukh and Bal confirmed they are in discussions to create a partnership to extend the designer’s business throughout the country.
"Our objective is to have a platform where various designers can house the retail operations for their collections," said Deshmukh, adding that Be:’s first-year sales were about $1 million and are expected reach $3 million this year, still a drop in the bucket of Raymond’s total volume of $288 million.
"What we lack in India is conglomerate backing," Bal added. "Up until now, there was no textile house to promote us. In India, fashion is very personal and you sell as much as you are popular. If you are nice to your customer, they will buy your clothes."
However, Bal cautioned, the tiny slice of the Indian population that can afford designer clothes might take some convincing to support its own designers.
"When Giorgio Armani started making those Nehru jackets, it really cut into our business," Bal said. "We are a snobbish people and suffer from Colonial hangover. We still prefer to buy elsewhere."
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