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Cultural capital: why business now draws from heritage

November 9, 2012

British culture came to the fore during 2012's 'summer like no other'. Now a number of emerging economies are drawing from their traditions to attract visitors and drive investment.

n recent times, celebrating national culture has become somewhat a staple on British soil - the boost that events such as the royal wedding, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and London's 2012 Olympic Games provide to the economy are undeniable.

And, while 2012 has seen the UK revel in national traditions and heritage, 2013 will see this replicated in the new emerging superpowers as cultural capital becomes just as dispersed as its financial equivalent. Symbols, lifestyles and traditions that may have been downplayed in the past are being brought up to date by local luxury brands to cater to increasingly wealthy and self-confident domestic consumers, but also increasingly to interested global shoppers and travellers.

Here are just a selection of new brands from emerging economies that revel in proudly flaunting their cultural heritage in the global marketplace:

China's first luxury fashion brand, NE-TIGER is renowned for its East-meets-West, ethnically inspired designs. September 2012 saw the company's founder Zhang Zhifeng give a speech entitled 'From China, to the World' before the brand presented its latest haute couture 'Huafu' collection in Milan, Italy.

Mumbai-based luxury fashion designer Masaba Gupta's House of Masaba has reinvented the traditional Indian saris with quirky, modern motifs and Pop Art prints that are targeted at young female consumers. Released in spring 2012, her black-and-white camera print sari has been favoured by several Indian celebrities, as have her cow- and animal-print versions. Prices start from INR 8,000 (around £90).

Luxury Brazilian fashion house Osklen unveiled its spring/summer 2013 collection at New York's Fashion week for the first time in September 2012. The brand's founder and creative director said that the style was "Brazilian soul meets Californian dreaming". Osklen has 62 stores in Brazil, and is available in stores in the US, Japan and Italy, amongst others.

In April 2012 Studio Tsimáni was invited to join the Destination Mexico initiative at the MoMA Design Store in New York. The project saw MoMA's retail outlets promote and sell Mexican goods for a three-month period, in tribute to the country's emerging design credentials. Studio Tsimáni takes inspiration from traditional Mexican culture to develop contemporary furniture and homeware products that embody the people and identity of the country. The Mexican Embassy in the US supported the programme and it was preceded by the exhibition Rethinking Tradition: Contemporary Design from Mexico which was shown in the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington DC.

From October 2012, shoppers at Neiman Marcus stores in San Francisco have been able to purchase the Korean prestige beauty brand Sulwhasoo. Noted for its distinctive package design reminiscent of classic Korean pottery, its products feature native Korean botanicals and medicinal herbs, including ginseng, and white peony root.

Released in Indonesia during October 2012, Batik Swap is a free mobile app which offers users the opportunity to learn about the country's traditional patterned fabric, called batik, through a series of puzzles. The game is divided into seven levels, with each corresponding to a different Indonesian island and its style of batik. The app is free to download.

The question is whether these high-end brands from emerging economies can challenge, if not overturn, the traditional European masters of fashion, art and design so beloved of luxury tourists?

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