India

Gaurav Bhatia Sotheby’s Ex Managing Director talks about luxury in times of pandemic

Gaurav Bhatia heads Maison India, a luxury consultancy that nurtures brands with business development and marketing solutions. In his prior roles Gaurav Bhatia has been Managing Director, Sotheby’s India and Marketing Director, LVMH Moët Hennessy India. He is a luxury specialist, art collector and aficionado.

We speak to him about the Luxury business in times of a Pandemic – attitudes, trends and the foreseeable future.

How would you define luxury today? In its 2020 avatar?

The definition of luxury doesn’t change. How we consume it may. Luxury enriches your life and touches your soul. Much like art, luxury is culture. It defines the times we live in. It comes with incredible craftsmanship and true luxury always tells a story. There is always value in its indulgence.

When luxury is passed down and shared it becomes timeless in the real sense of the word. Like old textiles, jewelry, a shawl, a vintage bag, books and of course art.

In times of a pandemic does the meaning of luxury of change?

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an outbreak of heart in the luxury sector and forced many firms to rethink the way they do business. In times of economic and social crisis conspicuous consumption does take a hit but the classics and traditional will always draw demand.

Luxury with a heart will survive. Luxury brands that stand for heritage and innovation and offer customers more than just trendy products are the ones that will be most coveted. It may be interesting to note and I’m not surprised at all that certain iconic luxury brands have done incredible business through this period.

A beautiful handwoven Banarasi real zari saree will outweigh its trendy seasonal competitor in times like this. Brands like Hermès known for their heritage and iconic craftsmanship will outperform irrespective of price. In times of crisis people are drawn to what gives them happiness and confidence. They get confidence from culture and art.

What’s your point of view on the recent success in the Art world.

Art has been a succour in these times. Global auctions have never fared better than in the pandemic and India has also shown world records of certain master artists. Two V.S. Gaitonde paintings sold in the last two weeks recorded their highest price ever. Both had stellar provenance and stiff estimates but that didn’t deter the bidding despite the economic lull and health crisis. Art is the highest form of luxury and great art will always fetch its taker. People realize the value of living well and with things that have beauty and soul.

As a purveyor or luxury and art and all things beautiful what are the luxury brands you veer towards in such times?

I want my Rupee to have a purpose. I now spend on luxury that reaches the end craftsman. And I want the confidence that brands will see this through.

I prefer not to take names of brands but I’m drawn to my Indian roots, my culture. I love the fresh saffron that comes from Kashmir, the pure katan silk handwoven textiles that come from Banaras. A pure Banarasi sari is the ultimate decadence. My fondness for shawls from the valley is now a cliché but I can never get enough of them. The Kashmiri shawl is the fabric of our culture.

A luxury you indulged in in the lockdown?

We supported a weaver who reached out to me on Instagram from outside of Calcutta. The massive cyclone coupled with the pandemic had killed his business. We bought a dozen exquisite Jamdani sarees from him and gifted them to our friends. Needless to they say they were thrilled as the sarees were just sumptuous.

A pure handwoven saree will remain the most exquisite and timeless piece of luxury in the world.

What’s your advice to a luxury buyer today?

Buy few things. But buy the best. Buy from India. We possibly have the finest repository of luxury in the world. Finally know where your money goes. Support brands that support their craftsmen and craftswomen.

Could you name some Indian luxury brands to look out for?

India has an explosion of brands young and established. I enjoy artisanal brands like Pero, Peter D’Ascoli, Shades of India, VAK Jewels, En Inde and Torani among others. Among the classics I am biased towards Viren Bhagat, Abu Sandeep, Brigette Singh, Rahul Mishra, Warp ‘n Weft and Kashmir Loom. Beautiful brands that tell the story of our rich heritage and craft. They are classics. You can never go wrong with them.

What is luxury to you?

Luxury is living a life with elegance and generosity. It is something that enhances my life and adds meaning to it. Something I hope I can share with my children one day. To me real luxury is fresh raat ki rani flowers, old picchwais, an incredible Patola, chikan kurtas, sozni embroidered doshalas, old-mine diamonds, books passed down from my parents, handmade stationary and a home-cooked Lucknowi meal with a beautiful bottle of Barbaresco with friends.

Your passion for Jewellery is evident. What’s on your list of most desired?

A double string of Basra pearls. And I love Spinels. I think they are one of the most beautiful and underrated stones.

Your Instagram handle @champagneboy75 is a benchmark in India for luxury, art and culture. Tell us three handles you follow and that inspire you.

I am addicted to @ft_howtospendit The Financial Times’ lifestyle supplement which has a wonderful art, style and design vocabulary with a nod to contemporary culture.

I recently discovered The History Art-chives @thehistoryartchives a treasure trove of art and history from the sub-continent that is so rich in texture and storytelling.

Serena Crawford @serenacrawford has an extraordinary personal handle that traverses the style of South Africa, Europe and India.

And I adore Rekhta @rekhta_foundation the largest and most extraordinary archive of urdu poetry.

Those would be recent favourites.

Pranav

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Pranav

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