It's obvious that India is definitely the consumer market that high-end luxury designers find themselves falling over each other in their well-heeled shoes for their slice of the eastern economic pie.
And why not? India has been growing at a blistering pace with many factors in play: the emerging middle class, a rapidly growing upper class and a new generation of Indians returning home after years of having top-notch foreign education abroad. Global awareness? Check. Lots of disposable income? Well, absolutely.
India currently is the 12th largest consumer market in the world and with a projected annual growth rate of 13.4 per cent by 2025, most specifically in the ready-to-wear market, buoyed by the current international awareness of the current young Indian but also the increase of "office-wear" as more women enter the workforce.
As CNN reports, the latest wealth report by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Capgemini shows the number of Indian individuals earning $1 million-plus more than doubled in 2009. Currently India is the third largest economy in Asia, just behind Japan and China. With the middle class estimated at 50 million people, the purchasing power is expected to grow reaching 6.1 per cent of the world by 2015. Currently its economic growth is hitting a staggering 8.3 per cent a year.
So with more money to spend, comes an unquenchable thirst for the finer things in life. And that includes reaping the latest fashions from the world's best catwalks. And designers have taken note. With the latest trend of various luxury fashion houses including Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Hermès setting up shop in the posh malls of India's metropolises, it is really no surprise that the marketing mavens of these couture houses would incorporate their drive for their new international clientele by openly flirting with them through their polished ad campaigns.
And when I say "polished" I mean seriously polished.
Louis Vuitton leads the fashion pack by actively pursuing the Indian fashion savvy consumer, first in fall 2010, with their Diwali Collection, a fashion collaboration with famous Indian artist, Rajeev Sethi. The collection was comprised of various installations of re-edited pieces from Louis Vuitton's Spring/Summer 2010 and Fall/Winter 2010 collection using real vintage saris, sourced from all over India including mega-cities, New Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore and Madras. The installations were on full display in various boutiques spanning the globe. The photos from that installation featured a beautiful model lounging around stacks of gorgeous LV-embossed trunks.
Louis Vuitton continues with their aggressive and open flirtation with the South Asian clientele with their current ad campaign specifically geared towards the globe-trotting set. Their latest, a deliciously epic, sweeping Louis Vuitton interactive video with director, Carter Smith at the helm, takes us (and hopefully for LV, the Indian consumer) through the majestic city of Jaipur. Viewers traverse the iconic Amber Fort as part of their L'ame du Voyage Catalogue, showing off their expansive and drool-worthy Louis Vuitton Travel Collection.
Yes, both campaigns are note-worthy of having the foresight to focus on this emerging designer-loving market. And production-wise they are absolutely gorgeous. However something is amiss. And I wasn't alone, as my Twitter feed immediately had retweets noticing the same thing. The only "colour" that was seen in these gorgeous campaigns were that of the product. Yes I'm going there. The only "brown" visible was that of the luggage.
As a photo shoot producer for national publications and having been involved with various editorial projects in far off places including Yukon, Cuba and Switzerland, I noted one thing that seems to have been lost by the Louis Vuitton casting directors of this particular ad campaign (and the installations photos for that matter) -- the lack of diversity of the main players. As a South Asian woman, I am keenly aware of the lack of cultural diversity on the fashion catwalks of the world and always focus on including some hues other than white when casting for a shoot. However shooting an editorial campaign that focuses on the latest trends is one thing, but if you are strictly honing in on a specific demographic or country, wouldn't it behoove you to at least include one model from that country?
Taking into account the history of India, with the British Raj and all, the ad campaign unavoidably gives off an imperialist vibe. Of course I'm sure that wasn't their intent. But it does seem that way when you break it down. Here we have a gorgeous white couple, impeccably dressed, exploring the Moghul courts of Jaipur, travelling in style with the latest LV luggage in tow. The only Indians featured here are those cast as their workers, boat drivers, and others carting their luggage on elephants or guarding the fort.
India is simply dripping with gorgeous faces who seemed to either have been missed by the Louis Vuitton production team, or maybe they were just busy. I certainly hope it was the latter but I highly doubt it. As ad campaigns go, they are supposed to be geared towards making their product relatable to the consumer, so I'm not sure how this particular approach by Louis Vuitton will make the Indian consumer in Mumbai or Delhi relate to this elaborate story if they don't see themselves in it.
Clearly it's the case of carte blanche couture in full effect.
We have seen other fashion houses and other multi-national companies for that matter, actively pursuing specific ethnic markets by ensuring that the actor/model is representative of that background. It's pretty simple. You want to market to the Chinese community for your new condo development? Make sure that one of the models is Asian -- or at the very least looks the part. It's casting 101.
It is without a doubt that Louis Vuitton has a long history of customer loyalty. They boast an iconic imagery buoyed by the fact that the LV logo has always been a must-have to add to the closets of the fashion-forward, status-building clientele of the world. So I am not going to think that this particular ad campaign will negatively affect their sales. Indians are feverishly loyal to their brands, logos and all. So maybe Louis Vuitton just thinks that its brand is so engrained in the fashion culture it doesn't need to include an Indian model in their production, regardless of the country that they are wooing.
So maybe that's it. But I really hope not.
This seemingly reckless and insensitive approach to their international expansion is clearly disappointing. I certainly hope this stylish jet-setting couple won't be venturing to other far off lands anytime soon. Because honestly, I don't think I can take it.
Follow Hina P. Ansari on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hinapansari