India's small-town industrialists have been travelling to New Delhi, the capital, in their safari suits and gold Rolex watches to shop for handbags, watches, and shoes from luxury brand showrooms.
|India's wealthy have been increasingly seeking European-made luxury clothes in the new shopping malls in New Delhi, the capital [Amit Pasricha]
On the streets of Bombay, Fendi strollers and Prada diaper bags are currently the most coveted items for some of the new mothers in India's new elite.
India's love affair with luxury brands is fervent; the tradition of opulent extravagance once associated with the erstwhile maharajas has been dusted off after decades of neglect.
Take Mukesh Ambani, for example, India's richest man, who last year bought his wife Nita a luxurious Airbus 319 luxury jet for her 44th birthday.
Price tag? $60 million.
India, today has the fastest growing number of dollar millionaires in the world. The 2008 Forbes List of Billionaires featured 53 Indians, the highest ever figure in Asia.
Forbes predicts that in 10 years, India will have more billionaires than any other country in the world.
The new consumers are those who have prospered from the unprecedented high economic growth rates of recent years.
And in Vasant Kunj, a suburb in south Delhi, one "super-mall" promises to offer the new elite consumers exclusively luxury brands especially designed for India's rich and famous.
Temple of self-indulgence
India's rich have a large appetite for luxury goods that is growing at between 25-30 per cent a year. The world's luxury goods makers are obligingly feeding this hunger.
|India has become a market for extravagant goods and services
There are no Benettons, Nikes, Reeboks or any other global chains in this super-mall, known as DLF Emporio.
Within its 350,000 square metres of marble, gilt and chandeliers, only names such as Cartier, Tod's, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Tiffany's, Zegna, Paul Smith, Versace and Jimmy Choo can be found.
So important is India for the world of fashion and luxury goods that last October, French fashion house Hermes showcased an Indian-inspired night featuring bright Indian colours, textiles, and maharaja-style headgear.
DLF Emporio is a temple to self-indulgence; the rich can stroll past the imposing mperial palms, through courtyards where Mughal fountains tinkle and under the gold leaf ceilings in what is intended to be a brand heaven.
Priya Tanna, the editor of Vogue India, says that like the Chinese and Russians, rich Indians love famous brands because of their European cachet.
"They need a Chanel bag or Armani tie to show the world their status. It's the easiest way of distinguishing themselves from the crowd," says Tanna.
India's old business families have always been rich. But the booming economy has created a new class of affluent professionals - investment bankers, real estate developers and software magnates – who are also happy to splurge.
Indian culture has undergone a radical shift; the ostentatious display of wealth was frowned upon by older generations.
Technopak, a New Delhi-based retail consultancy group, estimates that 1.8 million Indian households earn $100,000 or more a year and spend about $10,000 per year on luxury goods.
That adds up to a current market potential of $18 billion, which is expected to increase to $56 billion by 2012.
This disposition arose partly from the Hindu tradition of asceticism, as exemplified by half-naked holy men, and partly from the influence of Mahatma Gandhi and his message of self-denial and abstinence.
Those inhibitions have vanished. Shopping malls are so popular that families often spend all day in them, enjoying the air-conditioned comfort.
There are plans to build even bigger malls.
Kerala, in the south, will soon be home to India's biggest mall built by the Dubai-based Lulu International Shopping Mall group.
It will be spread over 17 acres and feature seven multiplex cinemas, a luxury hotel, an amusement centre, six restaurants, and a huge food court.
DLF Emporio, while distinctive in that it will showcase only luxury goods, serves a similar function to that of other shopping malls in India.
They are like gated communities where the rich are sealed off from the sight and smells of the poor; the malls symbolise a rigid segregation of Indians based on wealth.
"There's no-one barring them from entering but no rickshaw driver or poor person would ever dare go inside," says Raja Menon, a director who has just finished a film on how the poor in Bombay cope with the vast disparities in wealth around them.
He said: "They are too over-awed. They just know they will be turned away for not 'looking' right."