On Friday night, we set out to rub shoulders with Shanghai’s glitterati, nouveau riche, assorted celebrities, politicians, and captains of industry at the Millionaire Fair, where we watched them splurge their hard-earned, unearned, or ill-gotten gains on some of the priciest merchandise in the known universe. There were stretch hummers, Scotch whiskey, French wines, US$350,000 diamond necklaces, and quoting from the New York Times, “Blüthner pianos, private islands off the coast of Dubai, beluga-size speedboats, snub-nosed sports cars. It is a woozy carnival of excess, with Cuervo cocktail shakers hurtling through the air and vaguely Soviet floor shows to delight or repulse, depending on how you like your entertainment served.”
Among all the hubbub, a US$70,000 Limited Edition Ego Diamond laptop from Tulip Ego caught our limited attention. The chrome-plated x86 machine is encrusted with 358 diamonds set in 18 carat white gold, and the exterior is covered with genuine shark skin leather, which the salesman assured us still smells like a shark. We didn’t poke our nose through the glass case for a whiff of this absurd creation, but we did express our concern for the safety of the Ego in the presence of house cats. He said that they typically sell one such bejeweled computer per show.
According to the organizers, Friday was a “black tie” affair, and in fact, prior to the event, a text message was circulated reading, “Dress code:Black suite and black tie (strickly)…” This may have been a last-minute effort to avoid the inevitable appearance of Chinese in office casual, laowai in Converse All-stars, and gay couples in matching floral shirts, but alas, shoppers were not cowed by the “strickness” of the dress-code. But realistically, who’d turn away a guy who wants to drop US$65,000 for wrist watch?
While the branding of the fair sounds like something that would appeal to China’s goldrush sensibilities, in fact, Millionaire Fair is a Dutch creation. Again, quoting the New York Times,
The Millionaire concept started with Yves Gijrath, 39, an obnoxiously tan Amsterdam entrepreneur and marketing consultant who has experienced the evanescence of money. The son of a failed travel agent and a concentration-camp survivor,Gijrath made his first fortune as a marketing consultant before blowing it all on civilization’s best hotels. He then made a second fortune (and soon unmade it) in Amsterdam’s free press. A second mortgage later, he started a magazine called Quality, but with everyone trying to reach millionaires, he thought, Why not just name a magazine Millionaire? The fair seemed a clever way to split the stock.
With his history, Gijrath easily identifies the cognitive biases of the newly wealthy. “It’s like the movie Pretty Woman, when the rich guy, Richard Gere, returns to the shop with Julia Roberts and says, ‘I want some maaajor sucking up.'” Russians expect this level of sucking up.
The Millionaire Fair is being held at the Shanghai Exhibition Center and runs from June 1-3 and tickets are available online here. In 2007, fairs will be held in Shanghai, Kortrijk (Belgium), Cannes, Moscow, and Amsterdam.
Photo from The Shanghai Eye