By  on September 25, 2007

MILAN — Indian consumers soon will be able to pair their silk saris with Gucci hobos by shopping locally.

The Italian luxury goods house will open its first boutique in India, in Mumbai, this month. An opening party is slated for Oct. 13. Gucci also will open a store in New Delhi by the end of the year, followed by another in the same city next year.

Gucci chief executive officer Mark Lee cited India, together with China, as markets that have the potential to counterbalance the weakness of Japan for most luxury goods houses.

"We had been working on entering India for the past couple of years," said Lee. "There is no question in my mind that this is an important market to develop, but it took time to identify the first location — this was our main challenge."

The company has secured a location in Mumbai's new Galleria shopping mall in Nariman Point. "It's a very nice location, visible from the street, with windows on the Arabian Sea," said Lee, who wanted to avoid positioning stores in luxury hotels, the most common retail destination for major brands until now.

The sprawling one-story, 3,400-square-foot boutique is modeled after Gucci's latest generation of boutiques, such as Tokyo's Ginza store, which opened last November. "However, there is no cookie- cutter approach — we always evolve and adapt our stores to the locations," said Lee. For example, for the Mumbai boutique, Gucci has custom designed chocolate brown turbans for the staff.

The executive declined to provide sales projections, but said he was confident about business in India. "We have been working with Indian customers in other locations, and we believe India will become one of the most important markets," said Lee.

He noted how the population has a sophisticated taste for luxury goods and shares a passion for fine jewelry and high-end accessories with more mature markets. "India is a good fit for Gucci," said Lee. "We feel the excitement."

Indeed, according to a global online survey of 23,500 consumers in 42 countries by ACNielsen, Gucci is the most popular brand among Indians, followed by Christian Dior.

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