This is a guest post by Love Ranga, Chief Strategy Officer and Author, The Ghost of Luxury

September 2008

“So, what do you know about Luxury Retail?” asked the interviewer.
“Sir, in Luxury Retail we sell expensive products,” replied the candidate.
“And?” the interviewer persisted.
“Here the customer is the ‘rich’ king,” the candidate answered with a big smile.
The interviewer laughed and continued,” Can you name a few luxury brands?”
“Sure, sir. Versaake, Louiss Vuittan, Zeghna-”
“Interesting way of putting them across. How are the three different from each other?” the interviewer scratched his head.
“They are all the same. They sell high quality luxury fashion,” pat came the reply.

The Background

Such was the status of ‘so called’ potential work force when India had just opened up to structured luxury retail. To meet the high standards, the brands in the business of conspicuousness had no alternative but to poach manpower from hospitality and aviation industry.

Gradually, as has been the case elsewhere, was felt the need of absolute professionals with deeper understanding of luxury brand management. Hospitality professionals no doubt displayed sophistication, but lay flat in application of luxury strategy. For apparent reasons, most of them were restricted to front-end, selling goods at the boutique.

Indians who travelled to European institutes, specifically to become skilled at the art of luxury, gained immense favour back then in India. Seeing the gap, institutes like IIM and SDA Bocconi introduced specialised short-term executive courses in India.

It was not until 2014, the country could see its first full time post-graduate course. Pearl Academy runs a postgraduate and even an undergraduate program in luxury management.

Today, the competition grows immense with new names like Fad Academy, Instituto Marangoni, SP Jain, MBA ESG and more finding their feet in Indian Luxury Education segment.

Content Management

Courtesy legendary maharajas who revelled in brands like Rolls Royce, Chaumet, Jaeger-leCoultre, Boucheron, Vacheron Constantin, India has since long been acquainted to luxury consumption.

However, there never existed any firm connection with the contemporary concept of luxury, something Europe is famously known to practice. As a result, the first courses struggled with content generation and management.

The state of affairs in fact, has not improved much. Indian academicians approach the subject of luxury, taking cues from generic business management, marketing and retailing. The Indian Luxury professionals, on the other hand, for obvious reasons fall short on academic rigour required to deliver such niche courses.

A more serious issue is the lack of content. Either the faculty could not comprehend the available textbooks on luxury, or they could not build upon them to accommodate long-term courses. Most did not aim to do research to create relevant content of their own.

The students pursuing these courses, quite often complain of redundancy and generalisation, widely triggered by basic brand study and rigidity of teaching modality.

The Foreign Association

It was unambiguous from early stages that any luxury course in India would need a foreign association. How else can Indian students witness the true luxury destinations like Paris, Milan and Switzerland?

Every such course therefore, is either validated or run in collaboration with a foreign counterpart. This, understandably, leads to division in revenue and equity between the two institutes.

In this regard, Roberto Riccio, CEO of Instituto Marangoni has been smart enough to open a new campus in Mumbai. If it offers a full time course on luxury in future, its students will get to remain with the same school throughout their modules in India and Europe.

The other schools must learn if they have to remain competitive. Of course, their Mumbai campus is not only about Luxury courses.

A foreign tie-up also addresses the crunch of meaningful and exciting content. The experience imparted by the foreign counterpart, paired with cultural excitement becomes so overwhelming that students find the inputs of Indian institute vague and insignificant upon comparison.

The Treatment

For a moment imagine a luxury product, in concern of which its creator focused only on positioning it at a high price, but did not pay attention to detailing and artisanship. Most luxury courses in India are the result of similar ideology.

Needless to mention, they are more expensive than regular design and management programs. If not for the heavy revenue they bring in, the basic expectation of quality inputs deserves attention of the same strength.

To achieve success in terms of numbers and content quality, the treatment of luxury courses must change. Right from marketing collaterals, to counselling sessions, from assessment strategy to grooming sense of faculties, pretty much everything should undergo an overhaul to meet the standards of luxury.

Teaching Talent

The ideal faculty is the one in possession of both luxury trade experience and academic understanding.

We have briefly touched upon how the two cadres of academicians and Indian professionals fail to provide real value to luxury courses. The solution lies in hiring either, and further training them to inculcate the other missing half. Training the teachers therefore is of utmost significance.

This also means that one kind of training plan cannot suit everyone. It must be individually tailored, depending upon the kind of experience one has gathered in past.

Another, crucial aspect here is knowledge sharing between entire course team. The business of Luxury relies on strict strategic coherence. Hermès is probably the example of highest order.

The students need to learn the art of creation and maintenance of coherence before they head out in the industry. A faculty cannot preach it, without first infusing coherence within the course. The entire team must come together to align individual course deliverables towards a specific end.

A course on luxury must exhibit a character of its own, for it is in no way less than a luxury product. This goes beyond the traditional approach of Constructive Alignment.

Teaching Methodology

‘Value for money’ is an ideology deeply rooted in the Indian culture. No matter how rich, one will not buy a luxury automobile without bothering about the mileage, something that technically becomes illogical at that end of the spectrum globally.

It is not very different with Indian students when they indulge in the expensive service of luxury education. They expect wow factors in return, in addition to decent internship and placement at the end.

Which is why, one teaching medium fails to command attention. PowerPoint presentations cannot do the trick every time. Teaching modality, assessment tool, teaching strategy, all must change regularly to maintain interest.

The Showmanship

The term ‘faculty’ may have been used in this article until now for ease of understanding, otherwise faculties must assume the standard and mentality of a ‘trainer’ while dealing with Indian Luxury Education aspirants.

Showmanship, is what is the need of the hour, something mostly, the trainers are identified with. A surprising action, a shocking revelation, an unusual teaching style, a bit of entertainment is the right way of delivering such expensive courses.

The modern concept of luxury may belong to Europe, but it is only a matter time when Indian clientele and brands decipher the absolute codes of luxury. Many global luxury brands are already here, and more are eyeing entry in this market of burgeoning high net worth individuals.

The demand for learned professionals is surely going to rise in the coming years. The Indian Luxury Education segment is not even a decade old, the misses and hits are part of the learning. What matters, is the evolution. Is it not evolving at a healthy pace?

Love Ranga is a luxury business leader, educator and an avid learner. He is the originator of ‘Brand Extremity’, hailed as the most aggressive tool ever devised to facilitate indefinite coherence and extreme differentiation for luxury brands. His most recent book, ‘The Ghost of Luxury’ is widely acclaimed as an exceptional content on strategic luxury brand management.

Post his experience with brands like Versace, Corneliani and John Smedley in India, in the capacity of Chief Strategy Officer; he strategized India’s first short-term Executive Luxury Brand Management course in association with SDA Bocconi, Milan. Later, he joined a Laureate Network Institute to lead India’s first full-time programs on Management of Luxury, validated by Italian design institute, Domus Academy.

Backed by a decade of intense experience, he consults for various luxury brands and luxury education institutes across the globe. Often invited as speaker and trainer, he is described as the facilitator of innovation and creativity.