How luxury retailers and designers are seemingly less dependant on PR consultants and are dealing directly with their clients via IG Lives and WhatsApp consultations
In early September, Sabyasachi Mukherjee hosted an Instagram Live with Beth Armata, Manager – Fine and Designer Jewellery, at New York’s luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman. The virtual show featured staff in masks, modelling his 65-piece Haute Joaillerie collection (showcased exclusively at the store since January). The ace designer offered a running commentary — amount of gold, number of gemstones, cut, carat, colour — with the uncanny vibe of a late-night TV infomercial from the ’90s. The only differences? The medium, and an email ID instead of a toll-free number.
Haute couture labels rely on plush brick-and-mortar stores and touch-and-feel experiences to woo the luxury buyer. Before Covid-19 struck, social media was largely a playground for niche labels to build an audience base, market collections or drive sales of single products. Engaging audiences went beyond ‘Swipe up to win’. Even someone like Mukherjee, who regularly launches his collections on Instagram to over 4.5 million followers, admitted on-air that “it is very stressful”.
No trials, only shopping
Thirty two-year-old multi-designer boutique, Ensemble, launched their e-commerce portal in April, and their social media also saw a shift. Where executive director Tina Tahiliani Parikh had only occasionally appeared in photos with designers on their pre-lockdown Instagram feed, she was now going live with the likes of Anamika Khanna and Ruchika Sachdeva of Bodice. She is open to being part of the brand’s social media strategy. “It is a very personalised business, so whenever necessary, I’ll do it,” she says, adding that the reliance on PR consultants has reduced because you have a direct way to talk to your customer.
“A luxury experience depends on the salesperson’s customer knowledge and intimacy, product exclusivity, and the narrative behind it. The brands able to translate these values digitally will succeed,” says Parmesh Shahani, author of Queeristan and head, Godrej India Culture Lab. For now, it is a work in progress. Like Mumbai-based multi-brand luxury house Le Mill: when lockdown eased in August, they got in-house stylists to share fall classics and curate wardrobe staples under ₹50,000 — all from their store, of course.
Like, share, shop
Designers have been focussing on launching e-commerce portals, but continue to rely on social media to spread the word. Bridal couture studio Jade by Monica and Karishma offers virtual consultations by appointment. Simultaneously, they’ve started an IGTV series called ‘Jade Closet’, where designers give styling tips on everything from ruffle saris to lehengas.
Luxury sari labels, traditionally defined by a tactile approach, are also creating WhatsApp catalogues for virtual pop-ups and offering video call shopping, like Bengaluru-based heritage label The House of Angadi. “We discussed internally if it would take away from the physical experience of buying a handwoven kanjeevaram or Benarasi, but the connoisseur knows,” says Varun Rana, fashion commentator and Communications Director at the textile label.
While Amazon’s livestream shopping function has videos by celebrity beauty brand founders such as Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union, there has been a spurt of IG Lives closer home. Ogaan, a multi-brand store with branches in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad, hosted Instagram Lives with designers Amrita Khanna and Gursi Singh of Lovebirds, and Rina Singh of Eka, showcasing their latest collections.
Elsewhere, designers are crowding Instagram and Facebook feeds with virtual launches, using Reels and AR filters to further their reach. If you head to jewellery designer Roma Narsinghani’s profile, you can try on her collection, including headpieces and septum rings, showcased at Helsinki Fashion Week via filters.
Arnab Samanta, marketing head at Graphixstory, says that his tech-led advertising studio has created beauty filters — including Sonam Kapoor’s Cannes look with metallic smoky eyes — for celebrity make-up artist Namrata Soni. “Brands like Gucci and Lacoste have used AR in the past but we’re yet to see interest from high-end Indian fashion labels,” he says.
Tell me a story
In this milieu, brands that tell relevant stories are able to break through the clutter. “Today, consumers aren’t only looking to buy a garment, accessory or a shoe. They need a product for a reason, with a reason. They need to be convinced of why they should be on your side,” says Shefalee Vasudev, editor, The Voice of Fashion. Glasgow-based Indian designer Ayush Kejriwal’s virtual campaign, titled Rakhwaali, showed silk-clad women multi-tasking at home: a comment on how gender identities govern domestic responsibilities and the burden on women in the lockdown. “Such innovative ideas rivet brands closer to the minds of a consumer. Luxury brands in India will have to find such messaging and storytelling, and do it well,” she adds.
Bigger brands could also take cues from niche labels like Srila Chatterjee’s Baro Market, that seems to have cracked the code. After shutting down her Mumbai-based lifestyle store during the pandemic, she launched an online marketplace of products by Indian craftspersons and artisans, telling their stories through an online magazine, newsletters and other media. “She doesn’t just send you a list of products, but tells you why it is best for you,” says Shahani. “So, when this is over, we will remember her authentic, personal connection. Will that translate into better business for Baro in future? Certainly,” he concludes.