Reliance Brands invests in designer label Manish Malhotra

RBL’s investment intends to drive growth for the 16-year-old couture label both in India and overseas and establish brand Manish Malhotra as a global couture powerhouse.

The two will work towards expanding the brand into a “larger lifestyle consumption portfolio” and grow into other adjacent categories while retaining the brand’s affluent positioning in the occasion and wedding wear market.

The brand will continue to be led by Malhotra as the managing and creative director. Malhotra—a self-taught designer—found his calling designing costumes for blockbuster Bollywood films. Over a career spanning three decades, Malhotra has established himself as Hindi cinema’s leading costume stylist and luxury couturier.

“Manish Malhotra and Reliance Brands Limited (RBL) have announced a strategic partnership aimed at accelerating the 16-year-old couture-house’s growth plans in India and across the globe. RBL has invested in founder and creative director, Manish Malhotra’s eponymous brand for a 40% minority stake. This is the first external investment for the brand, which had so far been privately held by the designer,” the two said in a statement.

Currently, Manish Malhotra has 4 flagship stores in the country, apart from two shop-in-shops.

The move also marks a shift in RBL’s retail portfolio. After after having spent 14 years brining global premium and luxury western brands in India, RBL now wants to focus on homegrown designer labels, it said.

“As upcoming consumption power steadily moves from west to east, the fashion and design sensibilities are not far behind. Recognising these winds of change, RBL in its next wave of value creation, is setting sight towards home-grown talent rooted in Indian design sensibilities,” RBL said in a statement.

Recognition and appreciation for Indian couture is at an inflection point globally and we are excited to partner in this journey with Manish, said Isha Ambani, director, Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd (RRVL). RRVL is the holding company of all retail companies in Reliance Industries Limited group.

RBL that houses over 60 brands—a bulk of them international—has a retail footprint of over 1,339 doors split into 595 stores and 744 shop-in-shops in India.

Its portfolio comprises largely foreign brands such as Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Hamleys, Hugo Boss, Hunkemoller, Iconix, Jimmy Choo, Kate Spade New York, Michael Kors, Steve Madden, Superdry, Scotch & Soda, Tiffany & Co., Tory Burch, among others.

Satya Paul is also part of its portfolio. It is also invested in Indian menswear designer Raghavendra Rathore’s eponymous label.

Investment in Malhotra’s company—that sells pricey Indian outfits that have been worn by the country’s rich and famous — will entail expansion both in India and overseas markets to cater to the diaspora.

Besides physical retail expansion, the partnership will work on creating a strong technology backbone for the business while developing omni-channel and experiential e-commerce opportunities.

“Malhotra’s brand has a significant cache of current and potential consumers across global fashion capitals and onward plans include expansion both in India and International markets,” the two said.

Malhotra said in the future, the brand will come up with a lot more diversified looks and collections in multiple brackets. “We are not going very pret, of course, but keeping the essence of high luxury,” he said.

The pandemic has also disrupted the country’s fashion market—this is especially true for the occasion and formal wear leading to consolidation. Malhotra said consumers are also more experimental and willing to express their individuality through their own sense of style giving designers the room to experiment.

In FY20 rival Aditya Birla Fashion Retail Ltd acquired Jaypore, a craft-based artisanal brand, apart from investing in designer duo Shantanu & Nikhil to tap into the occasion wear market. In FY21, ABFRL also invested in designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee apart from an investment in Tarun Tahiliani’s label.

Corporate backing of fashion brands in India was long overdue, Malhotra said.

“For organic fashion brands to grow, corporate backing is essential, it’s been proved all over the world,” Malhotra said in an interview with Mint.

Besides, Indian ethnic wear remains attractive for companies as in spite of the popularity of western brands such as Zara and H&M in India, a bulk of women’s wear market still rests with ethnic wear brands.

India’s textiles and apparel industry is estimated at $ 70 billion. Within women’s wear, ethnic wear is the largest category—accounting for more than 74% share of the market, according to industry estimates.

Darshan Mehta, managing director and chief executive officer RBL said the company is “constantly looking” for brands to partner with. “We bring tech, supply chain, real estate, reach and access and market understanding,” he said.

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