"At least from the outside it looks very classy," said the 28-year-old secretary with oil company Marico Industries. "This is something different, not from India."
After 15 years of waiting for the Indian government to open the market to foreigners, including two of cumbersome paperwork with the Indian government, noted French designer Mr. Cardin finally has his foothold with three franchised boutiques, in Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta. All opened in early May. The designer already has shops in Pakistan, Singapore, Hong Kong and other Asian markets.
"[Mr. Cardin] wanted to come after the liberalization of the economy..so that he wouldn't have problems vis-a-vis the government policies," said Annuradha Ruhil, director and managing partner of Pierre Cardin Fashions, which owns the master license for India. Before the market opened in 1991, foreign companies, if allowed to operate at all, were permitted only limited stakes that varied and could not repatriate profits.
The company is a joint venture of Mr. Cardin, owning 26%; Ms. Ruhil, 20%, and two industrialists, 54%.
Cardin's $80,000 initial ad campaign, was therefore restricted to five print ads run in Bombay's, Delhi's and Calcutta's leading newspapers in late April and early May. A single billboard, no longer running, was placed in Bombay.
In stark black and white, the copy-sparse print ads feature photographs by noted Indian photographer Prabhudda Das Gupta.
In one, two women wearing Cardin fashions are draped around a man in dark sunglasses. The headline reads, "Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve or Jeanne Moreau who drove French men to madness and frenzy. It was a man." Smaller type announces the store openings.
"The very sophistication, elegance and Frenchness of the brand is what the advertising sought to bring out," said Mohammed Khan, chairman and creative director of Enterprise Advertising, the ad agency handling the account. Cardin's total budget for 1994 in India is $238,000.
So far, it's paying off. Daily sales at all three Indian boutiques total $7,138, with the Linking Road store contributing about $1,600 a day. By comparison, upmarket clothing retailer Vama, a single shop on Bombay's posh Pedder Road, racks up about $3,000 in Benetton sales and $2,400 in Lacoste sales daily.
By the end of June, Cardin hopes to have two more franchised boutiques in Poona in western India and Madras in southern India. By yearend, Ms. Ruhil said she hopes there will be a total of 10 franchisees with a longterm goal of 50 in the country, still small compared to China's 100 Cardin boutiques.
With these first boutiques in India Mr. Cardin is cashing in on the newfound wealth of the upwardly mobile Indian middle class, beneficiaries of the country's prospering economy, unshackled from its socialist past. Forbes, in fact, reported this year that there are 40 million Indians with incomes of $30,000 or more per year.
But the per capita income is still $1,072, leading the designer to modify his pricing structure here. The Indian stores mainly carry affordable merchandise, albeit in a narrow selection, with sometimes only three ladies' skirts in the whole store.
"Ours is a very affordable range that we are selling," said Ms. Ruhil, 31. Although she had no fashion experience previously, as the owner of a travel agency, she has traveled extensively and noted the quality reputation of Cardin in other countries and Indians actively buying his clothes abroad. She proposed the joint venture two years ago.
Cardin-wear is priced competitively to other brands in India. Men's shirts range from $11.74 to $22.84, about the same as other shirts, but much lower than at Cardin boutiques in other countries. A men's Cardin shirt at Selridge's department store in London, for example, ranges from $33 to $97.50.
Men's slacks in the Bombay store range from $20.25 to $44.12 and shoes $44.12 to $50.76. The store carries inexpensive designer wallets ($7.93) but also goes to the other extreme with suits priced at what by Indian standards is an exorbitant-$255.80 to $444.16.
While the boutiques technically compete with other international brands in India under joint ventures including Lacoste, Arrow, Van Heusen, Benetton and Louis Phillipe, Ms. Ruhil said, "We are different because ... we are with a mixed range" of products for men, women and children.
Cardin's ads appear to have hit their target, judging from the clientele recently in one store, an 1,800 square foot shop decorated in red and black with piped music wafting through its air-conditioned interior.
Mahendra Jamnadas, 54, owner of Gordhandas Ballahdas, an import and export company, bought two pairs of slacks for $64.40 from one of the sprightly saleswomen in red coats, black miniskirts and pleasant toothy smiles.
A resident of Mozambique, he frequents Cardin stores all over the world but in Bombay still prefers shirts at local stores. In other countries, Cardin stores have a much better selection and more stock, said the portly Mr. Jamnadas, an agent for Christian Dior in Saudi Arabia. But the prices have hooked him. "[Cardin's] prices are competitive here, cheaper than anywhere else in the world," he said.