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It's in Fashion to Tie Up with Designers
The Economic Times - 20 Jul 2011

From Lakme to Timex, marketers are leaning on designers for biz associations

This month, India’s largest make-up brand Lakme announced the launch of Lakme Absolute, a high performance long wear make-up line co-created by fashion designer Manish Malhotra.

Last month, watchmaker Timex said it will take its bridal line of jeweled watches designed by Tarun Tahiliani, and branded ‘TT for Timex’, to the US and Canada next year.

Last to last month…. Well, there are plenty of examples for the fashion fraternity’s growing bonhomie with India Inc over the last couple of years.

Marketers are increasingly leaning on homegrown designers for business associations ranging from signature lines to limited-edition special range to woo India's new class of young and ambitious consumers who would happily pay a premium to stand out in a crowd.

“To build a stronghold in the market, brands are exploring ways to connect with the Indian audience. Indian designers are the best bet for the same, since they have a specific style and can fuse Indian and international designs brilliantly to develop an aspirational product,” says Timex India Managing Director & CEO VD Wadhwa.

BOOMING TREND

What began as a tentative move with watchmaker Titan roping in designer Rohit Bal to create a range of luxury watches in 2003 and Bombay Dyeing getting Sabyasachi Mukherjee to create an exclusive signature line of bed sheets and towels in 2007, has now become a routine branding exercise.

Last year, sportswear and apparel maker Adidas signed a five-year strategic partnership with Delhi-based fashion designer duo Shantanu and Nikhil to launch the S&N Adidas line for Adidas Style Essentials.

“We wanted a brand association which would give us scale and accessibility-which is what the Adidas association brought for us,” says Shantanu Mehra of Shantanu & Nikhil. He says it was a game of golf two years ago-when his partner Nikhil Mehra had a conversation with some global executives of the German sportswear brand at a golf course-that led to the association. And designer ranges are going places. If Timex plans to take its TT for Timex line abroad, tobacco-to-hotels giant ITC plans to take its Wills Signature line, made with the help of top fashion designers, to smaller towns. “With positive consumer sentiment and demand for high-end glamour from tier-two markets, we have extended Wills Signature designer wear to stores in Lucknow, Raipur, Guwahati and Siliguri,” says Atul Chand, chief executive of ITC's lifestyle retailing business.

The designer line was launched a few years ago to leverage what Chand calls a “ramp to rack” sponsorship of Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week.

HUGE POTENTIAL

What is driving this new-found love for designer lines are increasing fashion awareness and discretionary spending on the part of consumers, and marketers' need to differentiate in an increasingly crowded and commoditised market.

And designers say there’s scope for a lot more.

“There have been an increasing number of collaborations between corporates and designers, but unfortunately most corporates consider these as shortterm arrangements,” says Delhi-based designer Ashish Soni. “That needs to change.”

In developed markets, for example, most marketer-designer partnerships are long term. Some of the renowned associations that worked for both parties include Adidas’ association with UK designer Stella McCartney for a range of sportswear, Puma’s tie-up with late Alexander McQueen for a special line of trainers, and British retailer Debenhams’ special ranges with a host of designers.

“Here too (in India), the associations need to be less fashionweek centered and move towards the full-year tied-ups,” Soni says.

It won’t take long because many ventures are already paying off.ITC’s Chand says his firm is backing the largest corporate-designer collaboration of its kind in the country with advertising, promotions, show windows, visual merchandising, direct marketing and social media activation. Wills Signature now accounts for about 15% of Wills Lifestyle range.

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