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India’s Reliance sets sight on luxury brand market including LV, Gucci with new mall

Indian tycoon Mukesh Ambani is betting a shopping palace within a $1 billion Mumbai business showcase will tap into surging demand for Western luxury goods, installing his Reliance empire as a portal through which most of the biggest brands must pass.

Though still small for a country of its size, India’s luxury market is set to nearly double in size to nearly $5 billion within five years, Euromonitor estimates.

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Targeting that growth, Reliance is building a mall with dozens of outlets for powerhouse brands from Louis Vuitton to Gucci, documents reviewed by Reuters show.

The ritzy mall, Jio World Plaza, is the centerpiece of Reliance’s bid to lure uber-rich Indians eyeing expensive bags or shoes. Luxury dominance would come on top of its number one position in India’s nearly $900 billion retail market, where it faces intense competition in e-commerce and supermarkets from the likes of Amazon and Walmart.

Three people with direct knowledge of Reliance’s strategy said the push is aimed at leveraging foreign brand partnerships and being ahead of retail rivals in luxury offerings.

The total cost of developing the Jio World Centre – a giant commercial and cultural hub in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla business district that houses the luxury mall – is upwards of $1 billion, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

The hefty investment by Reliance, with a market value of $238 billion, shows the drive of Ambani’s family to expand in luxury – especially his 30-year-old daughter Isha, closely involved in directing the push.

“Global brands want to be here (India), Reliance is trying to drive that boom and act as a catalyst,” said a second person with knowledge of Reliance’s strategy.

The sources declined to be identified because they’re not authorized to disclose Reliance’s strategy publicly.

Reliance did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Mall design

The mall, spread across four floors and the size of 10 soccer fields, will come complete with marble floors and golden guardrails, the documents show. After COVID-19 disruptions delayed raw material imports, the mall will likely to open early next year, sources said.

A floorplan in a Reliance document reviewed by Reuters shows some 30 brands as confirmed in recent weeks for the upper ground floor of the mall, including LVMH’s Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Dior. Also present will be LVMH rival Kering’s Gucci, Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta, along with Versace, Richemont’s Cartier and Hermes.

The document doesn’t disclose financial details, nor whether the brand line-up might be subject to change. None of the brands responded to requests for comment.

The Jio World Plaza outlets represent significant India expansion for many brands. Company websites show, for example, Louis Vuitton has just three stores in India, despite opening its first outlet two decades ago, while Versace has just one.

Louis Vuitton’s outlet in the mall will be its biggest in India at 7,376 square feet, the document shows.

ANAROCK Property Consultants’ Pankaj Renjhen said India’s luxury market is so small that many foreign brands prefer partnering with Reliance to keep costs in check and capitalise on its grip – and understanding – of India’s retail market.

Euromonitor estimates the size of India’s personal luxury market was $2.6 billion last year, but set to grow 12 percent a year to reach $4.7 billion by 2026. By comparison, the market in China, where Louis Vuitton has around 60 outlets and Versace 40, will be up to $107 billion by 2026 from $58 billion last year.

Foreign brands for years have been hamstrung by issues including a limited number of stores in India, which “creates a chicken and egg problem,” said Luca Solca, senior luxury goods analyst at Bernstein.

‘Heiress on duty’

Rather than high-end bags, luxury for many aspirational Indians still means things like family holidays abroad – for now.

But according to Hurun India Wealth Report, the number of dollar-millionaire households in the country rose 11 percent in 2021 from the previous year. Their favorite brands – Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Burberry.

The Mumbai mall is the Ambanis’ first attempt to bring non-partner, high-wattage luxury brands together with existing partners for local sales like Tiffany and Bottega Veneta. Around half the luxury floor’s brands will be Reliance partners, documents show.

Luxury executives see the mall as a show of strength in a long-game bet for Reliance that is much more than a vanity project for Isha and the Ambani family, even though it won’t be a money-spinner anytime soon.

Isha has been closely involved in conceptualizing the new mall, including how Reliance pitched the highly sensitive placement of rival brands next to each other, two sources said.

Last year, Fortune India magazine referred to her as “Heiress on Duty” at Reliance, ranking her as the 21st most powerful woman in India.

Four Indian brands – in which Reliance invested in recent months with plans to take them global – will be the only domestic names on the luxury floor of the mall, which will also have cafes and a six-screen multiplex cinema.

“The mall will act as a great image booster for Reliance,” said Abhay Gupta, CEO of Indian consultancy Luxury Connect, which advises several global brands.

“It appears they want to convey: ‘You can’t think of India without thinking of Reliance’.”

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Dutch university gets cyber ransom money back with interest

A Dutch university that fell victim to a massive ransomware attack has partly received back its stolen money, which in the meantime more than doubled in value, a news report said on Saturday.

The southern Maastricht University in 2019 was hit by a large cyberattack in which criminals used ransomware, a type of malicious software that locks valuable data and can only be accessed once the victim pays a ransom amount.

“The criminals had encrypted hundreds of Windows servers and backup systems, preventing 25,000 students and employees from accessing scientific data, library and mail,” the daily De Volkskrant said.

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The hackers demanded 200,000 euros ($208,000) in bitcoins.

“After a week the university decide to accede to the criminal gang’s demand,” the paper said.

“This was partly because personal data was in danger of being lost and students were unable to take an exam or work on their theses,” it said.

Dutch police traced part of the ransom paid to an account belonging to a money launderer in Ukraine.

Prosecutors in 2020 seized this man’s account, which contained a number of different crypto currencies including part of the ransom money paid by Maastricht.

“When, now after more than two years, it was finally possible to get that money to the Netherlands, the value had increased from 40,000 euros to half-a-million euros,” the paper said.

Maastricht University will now get the 500,000 euros ($521,000) back.

“This money will not go to a general fund, but into a fund to help financially strapped students,” Maastricht University ICT director Michiel Borgers said.

The investigation into the hackers responsible for the attack on the university is still ongoing, De Volkskrant added.

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Singer R. Kelly sues Brooklyn jail for putting him on suicide watch

R. Kelly on Friday sued the Brooklyn jail that has housed him since his racketeering and sex crimes conviction, saying it wrongly put him on suicide watch after he received a 30-year prison sentence despite knowing he was not suicidal.

In a complaint filed in Brooklyn federal court, the 55-year-old multiplatinum R&B singer said officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center ordered the watch after his June 29 sentencing “solely for punitive purposes” and because he was a “high-profile” inmate.

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Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean quoted a prosecutor as saying the jail’s legal counsel had told her that “per the psychology department, is on a psych alert for various reasons, such as age, crime, publicity and sentencing.” No timetable was provided.

Bonjean wasn’t satisfied with the explanation. “Simply put, MDC Brooklyn is run like a gulag,” she wrote.

Kelly said the “harsh conditions” he faced led to “severe mental distress,” and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment that violated the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, though the docket suggests Kelly is seeking $100 million.

The jail did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Known for the 1996 Grammy-winning hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly was convicted last September on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which bars transporting people across state lines for prostitution.

Prosecutors said Kelly exploited his stardom and wealth over two decades to lure women and underage girls into his orbit for sex, with the help of his entourage.

Kelly said he was also put on suicide watch after his conviction.

Ghislaine Maxwell, another inmate at the Brooklyn jail, was placed on suicide watch on June 24, four days before being sentenced to 20 years in prison for aiding financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls.

Maxwell’s lawyer said the British socialite had been given a “suicide smock” and deprived of clothing, toothpaste and soap though she too was not suicidal.

Friday’s filings did not say what specific conditions Kelly faced.

Kelly still faces an August trial in Chicago federal court on child pornography and obstruction charges, and various state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

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Sharjah Museums Authority launches activities to mark International Museum Day

Sharjah Museums Authority (SMA) is marking the International Museum Day with a number of events held for three days between July 1 and July 3, 2022, at Al Zahia City Centre Mall.

During this year’s celebration under the theme ‘The Power of Museums,’ SMA’s lineup of activities will reflect the importance of museums as significant cultural and educational destinations.

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Members of the public will enjoy replicas of museum’s collections such as one-of-five astrolabes preserved by international museums, pearl sieves that were used to categorize pearl sizes, the ‘Burqa’ which is a traditional face wear that adorned Emirati women’s faces, and a statue of a camel that was uncovered in Muweilah area of Sharjah.

Activities between 10 am and 12 midnight at the mall’s main hall and theatre will also include guidd tours, live performances, and calligraphy workshops.

More events will focus on old Emirati professions and their tools with an aim to better connect community members with the rich history and heritage of the UAE.

“From promoting an understanding of differences, to addressing key social issues, museums are more important today than they have ever been,” said Manal Ataya, Director General of Sharjah Museums Authority.

Being educational centers and social spaces, Ataya said museums have the power to influence both change and development because they broaden knowledge, stimulate new ideas, encourage creative thinking, and help build social cohesion in their respective communities.

“Museums provide visitors with new perspectives and nurtures their curiosity to learn about other cultures, thereby building cultural bridges and supporting diversity in multicultural societies, in particular, as seen in the UAE,” she added.
The list of events also include a number of interactive programs and workshops about Islamic architecture, marine turtles, and pottery making that aim to engage children and adults alike.

Sixteen doors that represent SMA’s themed museums will introduce participants to the diverse offerings of the authority's distinguished cultural and educational centers.

International Museum Day is celebrated annually on May 18 to raise awareness about the importance of museums as means of cultural exchange and as centers of learning that educate people about the history of humankind.

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