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The curious luxury boom amid the pandemic gloom

Most of us would think it’s the elusive oxygen that rates as the single most precious commodity in India right now. Something as basic as oxygen now defines the ultimate in luxury — no price is too high for a cylinder or concentrator to save a loved one who is gasping for breath. At least, for those privileged enough to have the money to pay up. But while most of us focus on a lifesaver which is shockingly in short supply, there are those who are clamouring for the latest ‘it’ bag of 2021. Going by the Luxury Index that tracks all things bright and beautiful across continents, the much-coveted Hermes bag has topped charts with a 17% rise in sales! In fact, luxury handbags have emerged as the ‘most wanted’ and ‘most desired’ items on shoppers’ lists worldwide, India included. Which shoppers, you ask incredulously. Ummmm — not people like us, clearly! This select breed falls into the UHNWI (Ultra High Net Worth Individuals), courted by every big label on the globe for their charming ability to drop obscene amounts on all things gorgeous — jewellery, watches, classic cars, fine wines and art, of course.

High-end items like jewellery are finding a lot of takers at auctions

Just recently, Elon Musk was pushed aside by Bernard Arnault on the Bloomberg Billionaires’ list. Monsieur Arnault is the Chairman of the LVMH group and has done very well for himself during the pandemic, thank you! While Elon Musk dropped $9.1 billion this year (silly boy! Fooling around with bitcoins, instead of playing Ludo during Covid), Arnault’s fortunes soared, pegging his net worth at a mind-boggling $161.2 billion, give or take a few billion in small change. So you see the pandemic does not dampen the enthusiasm of luxe-obsessed people who crave big-ticket toys and baubles. How else do the poor darlings keep Covid anxiety at bay? Binge-shopping is therapeutic…okay?

In India, it is not handbags but diamonds that are offering solace to those who are feeling isolated from the good life. Socialites unable to deal with social distancing are turning to their best friends — diamonds. Experts in the diamond industry have confirmed a dramatic spike in the purchase of glittering stones, as people connected on a ‘deeper, personal and emotional level with diamonds’. Put another way, comfort diamonds replaced comfort food. They are called ‘passion investments’ with a built-in tangible value that acts like a soft duvet in times of extreme stress. There is also the theory of ‘revenge buying’ which is fascinating! People are so angry and frustrated by the punishing lockdown and all its accompanying restrictions that they are taking out their angst with some heavy spending! Designer masks’, scarves’ and sanitisers’ sales have shot through the roof, too, as luxury brands show they ‘care’ by marketing Covid-specific products, wonderfully packaged and sensitively sold. Auction houses across the world are rubbing their hands in glee as people line up to bid for items with ‘enduring value’ during these insecure/uncertain times, in which we don’t know whether we are going to wake up and in what state each time we go to bed. But hey, this isn’t about our lungs. It isn’t about new variants or that sinister thing called mucormycosis (black fungus). Luxury buying exists in a parallel universe in which inhabitants float on a cloud named Desire.

If you think The Great Indian Wedding has hit the pause button — forget it. Some of our top fashion designers have done record sales, and high-end jewellery is flying off the shelves. We are like that only, when it comes to shaadis, Covid or no Covid. Insanely priced lehengas and sherwanis are selling briskly, with matching face masks, of course. ‘Sustainable fashion’ and recycled, repurposed clothing has taken off at exorbitant prices. Guilt-free pop-ups with pandemic-appropriate charities attached are making sure anxiety attacks are kept on hold till the delivery boy turns up with items from the summer collection of your favourite designer.

Artisanal everything is up for grabs — hand rolled chocolates, honey cheese with crushed nuts, pistachio filled macaroons, crushed almond financiers, gourmet picnic baskets with chilled bottles of the best champagne, gift hampers with smoked salmon for breakfast in bed… terrible times demand not-so-terrible soul-treats. Nearly every vendor of gourmet foods has done brilliantly during the pandemic, shrewdly figuring it is the ideal time for people to pamper themselves.

This was the mood in Europe too after World War II, going by how haute couture flourished and dazzled, with legendary fashion brands like Chanel selling out their lines in record time and at jaw-dropping prices. Recession is good for business, say luxury giants, as they prep for the fourth wave to hit the world in winter. Had Marie Antoinette been alive, she would have said, “Let them eat caviar…” Cake is so middle-class, dahling!



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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