The Nostalgia Hunters: What’s making millennials

When Pratiksha Prashant, CEO of Kishandas & Co, a 150-year-old jewellery house from Hyderabad, got a call from film director Mani Ratnam to recreate Chola-era jewellery for his epic Ponniyin Selvan 2 (PS-II), she thought it was a good opportunity to replate her legacy brand for a contemporary audience. But she hadn’t expected to see 25- to 30-year-old girls walking into her store, wanting to buy the iconic mathapetis, nose pins and filigreed armbands worn by Aishwarya Rai after the film released this year. “They tossed various pieces of temple jewellery on their white shirts and hands and suggested embellishments that could be trimmed, to create a sassy grunge look. They just made us relevant all over again. Yes, traditional jewellery was always in demand for ceremonial occasions but to see millennials co-opt them is definitely new,” she says.

Among Prashant’s customers was 26-year-old Abhaya Reddy, a software professional from Hi-Tech City, who had trained in the US. In business suits and minimal accessories, she had always associated such jewellery with a studio photo of her grandmother in wedding finery, ethereal but distant, history rather than present reality. Reddy loves Rai for her fashion, following her looks from her Miss World days. “But her bejewelled look in the film was so similar to my grandmother’s, they could be sisters. She looked timeless and it made me wonder if I could look the same. That one picture of my grandmother encapsulated her persona. I may have a thousand reels on Instagram but there’s nothing there that defines me. So, I am mimicking my grandma’s armlet-look with a slight spin on the maang tika, hoping that it will set me apart in a crowd of images,” says Reddy.

In an age where there’s a rush to photograph everything and everyone, many are pausing to take a shot at what endures. “This generation has outgrown the idea that traditionality is down-market or uncool and is recasting itself as the new-age inheritor. In a fickle show reel of appearances, it has emerged as a tool of standout relevance. Most of my young customers tell me that they want to look timeless, be it for a wedding or a casual event, and want to hold the look for the next 20 years. It is their way of seeking permanence. Remember how Priyanka Chopra draped a 70-year-old Banarasi sari on the red carpet recently,” says Prashant.


One could argue that we have always sought comfort in nostalgia, going back into the past for the warmth it once held. In recent years, however, this has fuelled a cultural revivalism. A new consciousness of nostalgia-hunting is sweeping Generation Z, who are not only adding collectibles but recreating life experiences through them. They are looking at the past to build a connected identity because their present seems too fragile. This new phenomenon called “nowstalgia” has been mapped by the UK-based market agency GWI in January and shows how the turbulent COVID years have made people uncertain and anxious about everything that they thought were unshakeable. With every construct, be it societal or economic, collapsing, the past suddenly comes with a guarantee of stability and endurance. “Gen Z are the most nostalgic, with 15 per cent feeling that they’d prefer to think about the past rather than the future. Millennials aren’t much further behind at 14 per cent and the preference continues to taper off with age. Gen Z and millennials are driving nostalgia in the media, too. Gen Z are in the lead again with 50 per cent of this generation feeling nostalgic for types of media, followed by 47 per cent of millennials,” it says.

The study shows Gen Z’s nostalgia has not just extended to a revivalism in the usual spheres of fashion and food but extends to even resurrecting songs, shows and films. For some, retro-gazing is about digital saturation and the need to reclaim human control.

Delhi-based Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) lawyer Safir Anand, who is constantly in the thick of patent claims by global majors and corporations, often talks about the dehumanising uniformity of a digital word. “There is technology fatigue and digital saturation such that life itself seems gamified without the touch and feel of a lived experience. That’s why we hark back to a time before social media existed. There is a curiosity about how everyday life was lived. There is an attempt to blend that into our everyday, feeling secure that some part of our lives aren’t controlled by devices,” he says. That’s why he is toying with the idea of getting a 1940s-style jukebox in his high-tech entertainment space, and occasionally uses a typewriter so that he can’t delete words as easily. It gives him more clarity of thought. “Not only does it kill the boredom of sameness, the past becomes an aspirational statement and seems to outlast everything that’s wrong with the present,” he says.

For some, like 27-year-old marketing executive Ajay Rautela, it is about the “lost world” recreation on mass media. The Delhi-bred son of an Army man and grandson of a tea planter, he rarely remembers the colonial elegance of a tea estate, except splashing about in a bathtub and navigating his toy motorboat in it. But when he watched the OTT show, The Night Manager (2023), which featured a stand-alone enamel bathtub, a throwback to his childhood days, he was smitten and went ahead and booked the heritage suite at Wildflower Hall, Mashobra.

Similarly, the grandeur and elegance of Vikramaditya Motwane’s Jubilee, centred around the golden era of the film industry, has inspired the retro lookbook of not only furniture and glassware catalogues but left a generation longing for an era gone by.

In Kolkata, Richa Kanoi’s luxury store, Bombaim, located in a heritage mansion of over 100 years in Kalighat, has a group of youngsters looking up at the detailing in the atrium, its history setting the context for her sustainable clothing and accessories. “It adds a layer to our product lines which are local, sustainable and eco-friendly, messages that resonate with our youth,” she says.


Possessions are the visible manifestation of that which is invisible, often a means to create a bond with another. “That’s why there’s an attempt to connect with our grandparents. There’s an assurance in wearing that tweed or the HMT watch your grandpa left behind or listening to the songs he listened to. Most of the Punjabi and Sufi hits that we play today are actually songs from 60 to 70 years ago, that have now been adapted,” says Anand.

But legacy is more than just identity, it is also an economic asset. With all artisans gone, gallerist Saurabh Singhvi, who runs the Delhi-based Art Magnum, rescued the rare sandalwood cuts his family had collected as connoisseurs. Many youngsters insist on buying his pieces though they are not for sale. “It is not just about the past being an antithesis of the present, it is also about making a smart investment in something whose value appreciates as it becomes rare. With large disposable incomes, collectibles are also about making a sound investment,” he says.

The “Make in India” mindset also has a role to play. It could mean having a retrospective effect on acquiring post-Independence brands and products. “Be it cotton, which was superior to what the colonialists rolled out from Manchester, the Polydor or HMV records, the Bullet with authentic parts, the sturdy Ambassador, the first single-door Frigidaire by Godrej, the brands had long-lasting value and quality and didn’t fizzle out. Similarly, we are reviving our robust community cuisine as a boutique indulgence, finding virtues in ghee, using vessels of copper and brass. My friends tell me that revivalism has rescued the brass industry of Moradabad. I myself travel to Banaras only to relish the lusciousness of mithais on a leaf. Retro-tripping, in a strange way, is looking within,” says Anand.

And it is because of this asset value that our royal heritage is being resurrected as an investable option. “Since this neo-luxury is being reflected by today’s new royalty, namely film icons, our jewellery is flying off the shelves. Almost everyone has a social-media persona and photo reels have become a story of either a unique experience or material acquisition, which elevates desire,” says Prashant, who has brought back rubies and emeralds in her PS II-inspired line. Ask 25-year-old start-up owner Ishan Bhatt from Ahmedabad, who junked established Swiss brands to buy the Jaipur Watch Company’s limited-edition watch with one aana coins from the King George VI era embedded in the dial. “I have never seen an aana before. It’s old Indian currency that makes people sit up and take notice,” he says.

The market forces have drawn out erstwhile royals, too, who are customising their antiquities for a modern audience. Archana Kumar of Badnore (Rajasthan) who headed the luxury brand Frazer and Haws in India, has now started House of Badnore, which reimagines vintage accessories and adapts them to modern silhouettes. “Young people are picking up a lot of our cravats, pocket squares and scarves lined with cashmere, cuff links and buttons, all of which use motifs from our flora fauna,” she says.

Namrata Singh of Kishangarh, who is a trained gemologist from Jaipur, is adapting family heirlooms for watered-down silver and stone jewellery pieces “that you can easily carry off on the dance floor.” Nandini Singh of Gaura, Awadh, who began her collective during the COVID lockdown to help women karigars, found inspiration in her 20-year-old niece, who wore a vintage sari for the first time to a college frat party because it was lightweight and wasn’t overwrought with tradition. “She made me realise how functional our saris were and why generations of women loved its fluidity. So, I did what I knew, kept to light tones, hand-painted motifs from the lakes around our property and contemporised the muqaish or metallic thread embroidery of the Awadh region,” she says.

It is for the same reason that textile revivalist Alka Rani Singh of Pratapgarh is looking at old family photographs and reviving tissue and old French georgette fabrics, peppering the edges with tukdi and gota work, again from Awadh.

In fact, both Prashant and Kanoi are investing in “nowstalgia” to build multi-generational loyalty and a bankable asset. Prashant has a buyback policy: “We exchange and upgrade your grandmother’s and mother’s jewellery.” Kanoi consciously picked out an old mansion, keeping its art deco façade, rather than a high-end mall. “That’s because my buyers have stuck by the brand through two generations and this building embodies continuity and an assurance of old-world goodness and credibility,” she says. Nostalgia, then, is not just a powerful tool of self-expression, it is the new marketplace.

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