India’s middle class is expanding and exploding….

India’s middle class is expanding and exploding. No puns intended. Along with the burgeoning section of the populace is the growth of the “nouveau riche”. There is an interesting article in the NYT about this.

What the jet-setting rich once had to procure on shopping trips to Dubai and Singapore can now be bought here, from Chanel slingbacks to Rolex watches. India is also poised to permit direct foreign investment for single-brand retailers, and when that happens, many more global luxury brands are expected to arrive. The first Lamborghini rolled onto Indian shores a few weeks ago.

The embrace of luxury should not be confused with an exclusive embrace of Western logos: Indian haute couture is also ascendant, palaces are making a comeback, many as hotels, and there is a bull market in modern and contemporary art.

India’s nouveau riche eager to flaunt status symbols

By Somini Sengupta The New York Times SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2006

NEW DELHI Thirty years ago, luxury in India meant having a phone connection at home, an Indian-made Ambassador car parked out front and a bar of Toblerone chocolate carted home by an uncle visiting from abroad.

In the India that President George W. Bush of the United States will visit this week, an ethos of extravagance has arrived. Gone is a half-century legacy of independent India – stubbornly socialist, avowedly nonaligned, deeply anti- American – in which the consumer culture was largely home-produced. A new euphoria can be tasted on the lips of the small but growing upper crust, as India’s new rich begin to welcome the priciest products from abroad, as well as designer brands made at home, and flaunt them, too.

Tikka Shatrujit Singh, scion of the Maharajah of Kapurthala in Punjab State and an adviser to the Louis Vuitton brand in India, described the new attitude this way: “There is no need to feel offended. Why hide it? Show your success.” The Louis Vuitton stores here and in Mumbai scored what he said were record sales on Valentine’s Day. He declined to be more specific. His products are often priced higher here than in Europe.

Given India’s surging population of young people and the sense of optimism among its newly minted rich, it is hardly surprising that the country, which no longer discourages foreign imports, has emerged as a delectable economic partner for the United States. Even though the Indian equivalent of millionaires today number only in the tens of thousands, from a population of more than a billion, they sit atop a larger tier that is striving to climb up the economic ladder.

For the upwardly mobile, nothing signals arrival like luxury brands. “A lot of people who have embraced luxury today are first-timers,” said Tarun Tahiliani, an Indian designer. “We are a nouveau country.”

Witness now the India of the nouveaux nawabs.

What the jet-setting rich once had to procure on shopping trips to Dubai and Singapore can now be bought here, from Chanel slingbacks to Rolex watches. India is also poised to permit direct foreign investment for single-brand retailers, and when that happens, many more global luxury brands are expected to arrive. The first Lamborghini rolled onto Indian shores a few weeks ago.

The embrace of luxury should not be confused with an exclusive embrace of Western logos: Indian haute couture is also ascendant, palaces are making a comeback, many as hotels, and there is a bull market in modern and contemporary art.

Recently, a Delhi gallery hosted a Picasso exhibition, with works priced at up to $500,000. A loyal customer of the gallery scurried excitedly from drawing to drawing, demanding of the owner: “Six and a half. Six and a half. What can I get for six and a half?” (She meant 6.5 lakh rupees, or a little more than $15,000.) Half of the collection sold in a week. Indian art is also fetching high prices today.

Luxury is not a new concept in India. Think of the Mughal emperors and the Hindu maharajahs of yore. They were masters of opulence – some would say decadence – famously ordering up saris that took years to weave or Rolls- Royces to be shipped across the sea.

But the maharajahs went out decades ago. And now there is this important change: With the freeing up of the Indian economy and a bullish embrace of ritz, it is possible – for the first time since independence in 1947 – to buy ultra-expensive goods in this country and be unafraid to display them. “Splurge. Because you can now,” ran a headline in The Hindustan Times, an English-language daily that sponsored a show of Indian and global luxury brands earlier this year.

That headline hinted at another conspicuous change in attitude from the days of socialism: an impatience among the Indian haves with being reminded of the have-nots in their midst. “There’s an indifference now,” was the verdict of Yogendra Yadav, an analyst with the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi.

The share of Indians in poverty has fallen since the opening of the economy in 1991, but with the celebration of luxury, the social divide at least appears ever more conspicuous: In India, it is possible now to buy all that is most coveted in the world, just as it is to be denied basic necessities of life.

The political imperatives of governing the two Indias are not lost on the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His coalition took power a year ago with a promise not to neglect the poor.

The meteoric growth of the new rich is hard to ignore. A recent report by the National Council for Applied Economic Research in New Delhi forecast that the number of “crorepatis,” Indian society’s rough equivalent of millionaires, rose by two-and-half times in the last three years to an estimated 53,000 households nationwide; at today’s exchange rate, an Indian “crorepati” household earns about $232,000 a year.

With wealthy Indians vacationing in their own country for the first time in generations, luxury hotels and resorts have blossomed. P.R.S. Oberoi of the Oberoi hotel chain recalled having to cart his own toilet paper when he toured the country, even as recently as 15 years ago. In the last five years, Oberoi’s chain has opened six boutique properties, and two more are on the way – one in Goa, once a hippie paradise, and the other in an old palace near Khajurao, a central Indian town famous for its ancient erotic temple sculptures.

On the rooftop of the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi one Sunday afternoon, the Louis Vuitton boutique held a brunch for its most favored customers. A giant Vuitton logo, made of Valentine-red daisies, had been erected in the center of the terrace. The buffet offered tiger prawns on the grill. Moët was poured.

It was a little bit Las Vegas, with a view of the 16th-century dome of Humayun’s tomb in the distance. One guest displayed Chanel shades, another a giant Vuitton belt buckle. One man, in a white suit, wore what appeared to be snakeskin shoes, also in white. Raptors circled overhead.

Asked about the resurgence of luxury in India, one client, a tiny Vuitton bag hanging from her wrist, marveled, “You can jolly well get it all here.”

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