From some corner of India, Ainsley Mayben, one of Kama Ayurveda’s star skin and hair consultants, logs into the brand’s Zoom account, waiting for me to log in too. The experience: an online consultancy about skin and hair care after almost five months of the lockdown.
Ainsley, in a tight 15 minutes online session, questions me about my routine and the problem areas, taking me through little nuggets of information about the hair and beauty regime that he wants me to follow, and the products I could use, to negate four months of being locked in and with barely any sun on my skin.
“Wash your hair with warm water but the last rinse, always with room temperature water to help with frizz,” he smiles.
The online experience mimics the in-store one but is just a precursor to another far more luxurious one: booking a consultation at home, a service Kama Ayurveda—one of India’s leading luxury beauty brands— has launched, little luxuries that are making social isolation necessitated by a pandemic somewhat bearable.
According to a Kama spokesperson, the experience has been created to allow consumers a one-on-one experience with their beauty experts. “Allowing consumers to virtually seek our assistance was naturally the next step for the brand. But the system has been designed to allow easy booking of consults on end-to-end assistance on how to use any products, regime building and such stuff. Our experience shows that face-to-face, convenient and personalised nature of consultation is resonating well.”
For Beena Rai, south Mumbai resident, interior design consultant and mom to two, home consultations offered by brands such as Kama Ayurveda, Forest Essentials and Kérastase are “a link to sanity”, she says. “Between researching for my pending projects and taking care of kids and home, I had forgotten what ‘me time’ was like. So, when I called a consultant home the other day, and spent an hour with her, checking out products, buying a few, it felt like I had begun living again. I almost cried the day I booked myself one; it felt like such an emotional moment! I know that sounds like an exaggeration, dealing with two stay-at-home high-energy kids has been emotionally draining.”
If you are affluent, have money to spare and can pay a premium, several services offer everything that you may desire, more so now as we open up. There are several such as Kérastase and Kama that are sending products and consultants home. Kérastase, through its euphemistic sounding Social Commerce (SoComm) website, creates a seamless shopping experience of its luxury products.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg, metaphorically. You could book yourself just about anything: from a table at the most exclusive restaurant anywhere in India, even if they haven’t officially opened up, or the world (when air travel begins, as it will through the travel bubbles that India is establishing with different countries).
Want to plan a local holiday or dine at your favourite restaurant or foreign travel on a private jet? Looking to reschedule your travel or in need of expert recommendations? Desperately want to dine in your favourite restaurant, a reservation that may take some working around, given reduced seating capacities due to social distancing? Looking for a vitamin infusion or a fancy in-home spa treatment?
For a rather hefty cost Quintessentially Concierge, a London-headquartered global luxury concierge company with an Indian outpost, will get you everything you desire: from that hard-to-come-by restaurant reservation anywhere in India, or the world, to those vitamin infusions. It could cost anywhere from a few thousand (for a vitamin infusion) up to Rs 25 lakh (for private jet travel).
Rishabh Shekhar, Director of operations at Quintessentially has said that people have been gaining permission from the Ministry of Civil Aviation for “urgent foreign travel” on a private jet.
Ten Lifestyle Group, which organises experiential concierge experiences for top-tier credit card customers, have, in the midst of a global pandemic, flown a client to a full-service villa on a golf course during lockdown to socially isolate in luxury. Sonu Shivdasani, the Indian-British hotelier and CEO of uber-luxury resort spas, Soneva, in the Maldives, says that they will soon have guests fly in from Mumbai directly to the island country for long-stay vacations.
These, of course, are the extreme of luxury experiences. There are other smaller ones, the desire for everyday luxury that is far easily fulfilled. St Amand, a private concierge service for Lodha residents, available to residents of their luxury properties in Mumbai and London, has extended its services beyond the essentials (groceries, healthcare, and such) at the start of the pandemic, to luxury experiences now, among them, completely curated gourmet meals cooked by chefs.
“We organised a curated meal for a lady who wanted to surprise her husband for his birthday,” says Shyam Kaikini, who manages the hospitality division at Lodha Group and is a hospitality veteran. “Food is one of the cornerstones of our brand. Our private dining butlers have been housed on-site so there is no risk of travelling them up and down. They go home every two or three weeks and the next batch come in.” For the curated birthday dinner, the team drew up a menu with the lady of the house, the ingredients were sourced and the family’s kitchen was used to cook.
The St Amand team has sourced even the most exotic ingredients on demand for residents, from rare truffles to exotic fruits.
You don’t need a luxury concierge to be your private genie, though. You can opt for those one-off experiences too. If you miss going to the movies, for instance, call IMAX to set up an IMAX Private Theatre at home, complete with high-definition TV, Blu-ray, DVD and CD, which costs a cool $400k to $2million.
There are experiences at the premium end of the market, too, all on hire. In Bengaluru, you can rent out Binge Club, a private mini theatre for a premium—Rs 4,000 for three hours. Hospitality professional Dhaval Raghuraman did just that for three friends early this month. “I thought to myself, there must be some way to distance, and yet meet friends over a movie and some food. There has to be something out there in a city that is home to expatriates from across the world!” A search led him to the aptly-named Binge Club, set up in 2019.
The trend extends beyond the metro cities, interestingly, particularly on the spa-end of premium experiences. Kiran Bawa, founder of IOSIS Wellness, with centres in Mumbai, Raipur, Lucknow and Guwahati, and pre-paid membership, has been fielding requests for spa and salon services at home. “In cities such as Raipur and Guwahati, the elite are wary of stepping out, so we have begun providing salon services at home. Services such as manicure, pedicure, facials, dry pack massages and haircuts are rather popular.”
They have also reported requests for at-home massages and have experimented with Thai stretches, dry pack massages, back massages with warm bundles filled with oil and herbs, for Rs 3,000 onwards. “From 25 to 80 years, our clientele age bracket is rather large and each with a different need,” says Bawa. “A popular demand is for Thai stretches combined with Bolus massage; bolus or potlis of Ayurvedic fresh and dried herbs, soaked in hot medicated oil are used. “The therapists sanitise their PPE kit and tools in front of the client. They wear disposable shoes. They set up the massage bed in a private area of the house. Disposable towels are used.”
Most luxury brands in India such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton, besides designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, have begun at-home consultation, particularly for the wedding season, which may be small and intimate but luxurious.
The private luxury concierge and spa-at-home services aren’t a new spin-off. They existed even before CVOID and the lockdowns, more as privileges for the rich and the famous.
In a COVID-defined world, they are considered a necessity by the affluent, a need that will extend beyond the time the lockdowns are completely lifted and the peak is reached, a means to further separate themselves from India’s masses.
Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.