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Wednesday, July 25, 2007


The Cult of the Luxury Brand : Inside Asia's Love Affair with Luxury
By Radha Chadha & Paul Husband
Pages : 341
Price : US $35
Published : 2007 by Nicholas Brealey

This book could have been anything. A serious academic treatise on branding in Asia that could have rested well in the dust covered shelves of a library of a management school perhaps. A statistical discourse, crunching some numbers that would have been beyond you and me. When I first heard of the title, I thought that was it would be.

'The Cult of the Luxury Brand' is nothing like that at all. The first book to explore the 'luxeplosion' in Asia it has some numbers. Like 94% of women in Tokyo own a Louis Vuitton bag, that Japanese tourists are the largest LV buyers in Paris or that India has a three month waiting list for the choicest brands. Beyond that, there is a whole lot more.

If you think all of this has happened overnight, think again. Authors Radha Chadha and Paul Husband argue that the "forces that created Asia's cult of the luxury brand were in set in motion around 100 years ago." Really? Get ready for a quick history lesson in branding starting with a century of world fashion unfolding through the Chinese cheongsam. India in the early 1900s saw royalty on the move in Europe. Shopping trips took them to London to Paris to specially commissioned pieces from the likes of Vuitton to Cartier. "The famed Patiala necklace was made by Jacques Cartier for the Maharaja of Patiala in 1928 - it's a show-stopper with 2,930 diamonds totalling 1,000 carats, including the 234-carat De Beers diamond, the seventh largest in the world."

You are only on Page 11 of this hedonistic ride and dying to know more. So when did all of this change? When did the wave actually start? What explains the Herme-tic explosion in Asia. The authors get to that. From the study of the rise and rise of the Japanese markets to the Chinese, to the South Koreans to the emergence of India. It's one spectacular story after the other. As the markets keep growing, the Asian luxury goods market takes 37% of the global pie which is worth US $80 billion.

With several interviews and quotes thrown in for good measure, its interesting to go through the emergence of the various luxury types. I enjoyed the 'Popcorn and Caviar' section in particular. This shows the ultra-luxe brands are being mixed and matched with street wear or sometimes even the impossibly hard to detect fakes. Speaking of fakes, there's a whole chapter on the 'Advent of the Genuine Fakes,' where it all begins with catalogue browsing. Who would have thought of the new levels of sophistication? And just who is faking it? Just about everyone from the super to noveau to the wannabe rich. As the authors point out, "everywhere in Asia, people are faking it with few pangs of conscience."

Though that isn't going to slow things down for the real luxury market. In Japan, luxury has become a way of life. Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and China are rapidly getting there. And not too far behind is India with its emerging brand consciousness. The future of Luxe, it may safely be said rests in Asia.

Source: The Cult of the Luxury Brand
1837: Louis Vuitton starts making trunks at the court of Empress Eugenie and goes on to open his first store in Paris in 1854. A century and a half later, his brand conquers the hearts of the Japanese and its brown monogram become de rigueur for Asia's noveau riche.

1895: Thomas Burberry creates the trenchcoat. First worn by British officers during the Boer War, it is now so well entrenched in Asia that 'Burberry' is
often used as the Korean word for raincoat.

1915: The beginning of Burberry's long and checkered history in Japan.

1956: The rise of the to die for Hermes bag. Waiting lists for the bag costing US$5,000-US$10,000 are indefinitely closed in Asia.

1978: The triangular Prada symbol emerges as one of the hottest in Asia.

1999: It's Burberry fever in Asia after Kate Moss sports the signature checks on a designer bikini.

2001: Hermes 11-storey glass-brick retail extravaganza opens in Ginza, Tokyo. It's hysteria all round.

2006: Armani and Chanel stage haute couture shows in Hong Kong, signalling the opening of a lucrative ultra-high-end-segment in Asia.

2007: India enters a new phase of luxury retailing with the launch of DLF Emporio in New Delhi, the country's first luxury mall with a "who's who" roster of top brands.

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