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Come out come out wherever you are, rich people

October 4, 2009

Forget the difficulty of getting a mortgage. The really depressing barometer of the times a little over a year after Lehman and co. imploded is that we’ve lost our knack of having fun. By this I mean spending money. Blowing cash (when we have it, or just enough of it), preferably on things we don’t need and shouldn’t want. The baubles, the bottle of fizz, Paris for a day.

But alas, the fashionable thing has become to suppress excessive, flagrant consumerist tastes in favour of more wholesome, green, waste-averse activities. This is the year that recycling became super-chic and meal deals became de rigeur for business lunchers. One glamorous society woman in London was recently overheard proclaiming, with a big smile, “should I sell my jewels to pay my house tax?” Scrimping has become the new spending.

And yet, other currents are trying to push through. Good old opulent, overpriced frippery – the sign of a healthy capitalistic society – is still there. In London, Claridges Hotel has recently launched a £300 “Christian Dior dressing table service” – that’s £300 in addition to your stay in one of its suites, which cost over £1,000 per night. For that you get a nice vintage-style dressing table, a load of Dior cosmetics, an Evelyn Waugh book, a Frank Sinatra CD, a silk monogrammed robe and a cocktail. In Milan, the five star Hotel Principe di Savoia is offering hunting weekends that cost €1590 per person. The Dorchester Collection (which includes London’s iconic Dorchester Hotel and is owned by the Sultan of Brunei) is opening two new luxury palaces- one an annex to the Dorchester on Park Lane and one a country manor hotel- in 2010. Things can’t be that bad, right?

So you might think. In Paris, at the Plaza Athenee (where season six of Sex and the City was filmed), a new spa has been launched. It’s not any spa, mind, it’s the Christian Dior Institut, and was opened for the kind of clients that would fly in for a facial. Its prize offering is a €500 anti-ageing treatment called L’Or de Vie and, being non-surgical, is basically two hours of creams and massage.

There’s still- at least- a perception of a market for €500 facials and cocktails with your dressing table. But is that perception founded on demand or on a pre-Crunch confidence that enough people can be whipped into spending frenzies at the drop of a press release?

I was able to arrange a press visit to the Dior Insitut to have the second best facial on offer – it costs €320 and all but guaranteed to erase signs of ageing. The Institut was brand new, super sleek… and empty.

I felt bad for them – and that ruined all sense of fun and indulgence. There was this futuristic matrix of luxury- from the spot lit Dior monogrammed pool in reception, to the treatment rooms with state-of-the-art exfoliation and massage technology, purple leather walls and plush white beds- and it was dead. I seemed to be the only one who was “paying” so much for a facial- there may have been other customers but I couldn’t see any. Yes, it was shortly before Ramadan so the hotel’s devoted Arab clientele may have been thinner on the ground. But it was so far from the kind of buzzing salon full of high-octane, super-glossed women as one hears of in New York and expects of in Paris that it was hard to imagine it lasting. And where were the new breed of over-preened men? Surely this would be their mecca?

More important than feeling bad for them, I felt sad at what has come to pass. The Dior Institut is a great thing- a triumph of luxury. It’s what money’s all about – splashing it on behalf of your own vanity when and if you want. It’s the reward for and prerogative of those who make or have money. So where were they? Unable to spend it? Or just afraid of being seen spending it?

I checked out the Claridge’s deal too. It was also a monument to impeccable luxury: lots of money for an overpriced but still delicious product. I am not complaining: the Dior lipstick is in my bag now; the perfumes made my friends happy; the room service cocktail (served in an Art Deco martini glass) was delicious and the robe soft on the skin.

But when I called down for the cocktail, the Fumoir (Claridge’s bar) had no idea of what I was talking about. It had been running for a while but he had never heard of the package because I was the first who had ever had it.

Again, sad. A downer. Two years ago, the Dior dressing table would have been the must-do for every moneyed couple or mother-daughter duo in town. Now it’s like the odd one out on the playground. Its not that the money isn’t around, it’s just that it’s being spent differently. Take the wealthy diners at star-studded Japanese restaurant Nobu, ordering the most expensive sake on the list – but asking it be served in an anonymous jug so their neighbours can’t see how much they’ve spent.

Money’s being spent – but quietly and therefore with cowardice. The days of splashing cash are gone and have been replaced by false modesty, good causes and – of course- lots of recycling.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 4, 2009 5:18 pm

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