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And now Hidesign hotels
Nanditta Chibber in New Delhi
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June 11, 2005

Dilip Kapur, president of Pondicherry-based Hidesign, is still surprised by the attention and adulation his leather bags and accessories company enjoys.

A prominent domestic player and a global presence in retail stores like House of Fraser, Selfridges, and John Lewis, Hidesign began in 1978 as a hobby, but is now carving a niche for itself in world markets.

"I had not foreseen Hidesign growing into a premium brand in India," shares Kapur. In its first year, the company grew by 25 per cent, and ever since, it's been growing at 60 per cent annually in India, and 40 per cent overall -- "despite the fact that the international leather market was negative and Indian leather exports have been dead for the last two years," says Kapur.

Today, the company, with a turnover of Rs 84 crore (Rs 73 crore in India and Rs 11 crore abroad), has 28 Hidesign stores in India and another 10 in the pipeline.

It also has nine stores abroad and is planning another 50-60 stores at the most fashionable destinations across the globe over the next few years: "Right now, we have been offered a Hidesign store at Hong Kong airport, the busiest in the world."

Hidesign is also planning to diversify within the same core brand. In November this year, for instance, it plans to launch eight collections of bags and accessories for the 16 to 25 age group (under a different brand name but to be retailed from its own stores).

The bags will be priced to suit the pockets of college-goers -- between an average of Rs 800-1,200. "It will be streetwear as well as partywear, and will be extremely physical," says Kapur, who's drawing inspiration from trends in Tokyo, London, Hong Kong and California.

And 18 months down the line, he also plans to launch a range of high-end luxury bags in the Rs 8,000-plus category.

Using vegetable tanning instead of the highly polluting chrome tanning, Hidesign products are made in two high-quality European standard tanneries near Chennai and two manufacturing facilities in Pondicherry.

Kapur wants to be sure that Hidesign bags and accessories are designed so that "they will not allow you to be caught in an embarrassing situation anywhere".

Part of this stems from a philosophy not to follow trends blindly. "I will only use a colour and design in Hidesign in which one will not feel like a fool 18 months down."

With trends in India being similar to international ones, Kapur finds that people have started asking for unusual colours. Red has become a classic colour.

"I don't want people to say that I am buying Hidesign because it is cheap," he adds assertively.

But leather isn't all that Kapur has on his mind. The company has made a foray into boutique hotels with two properties in Pondicherry -- the newly opened Le Dupleix, a nine-room heritage designer hotel and Hidesign Promenade with 33 rooms, which will be ready in July.

Plans for another one in Chennai or Hyderabad are on. Called Hidesign Hotels, for Kapur "the crossover makes sense," even though "using the same name for different ventures is rare in India".

With the focus on entertainment (principally, on food and beverage), Kapur plans to inject a certain lifestyle and aesthetic. "The hotels will be something of an experience," he assures.

Could Hidesign feature among the world's top luxury brands? "That's the direction in which we are working," says Kapur. "The basics are there, we just have to prove to ourselves whether it is possible or not."

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