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Archive for July, 2009

#39 - Auction Houses

#39 - Auction Houses

Sir Anthony Van Dyck
Price: $4,080,349 incl bid premium

Rich people love auctions as much as the rest of the world. Name a product and there is an auctioneer that will sell it. Ask people what comes to mind when you say auction and you will hear eBay, perhaps Ritchie Brothers if you come from an Italian construction family or 4-H if you believe chewing grass while riding a tractor is a good day’s work. For the rich, the timeless auction houses of Christie’s and Sotheby’s are the only place to bid on rare items.

The difference between auctions that the wealthy attend and the fast-talking hawkers or electronic auctions that the rest of the world uses may seem as superficial as price but it goes much deeper than that. The rich love exclusive auction houses for the, well exclusivity of it. There is something intensely gratifying for the wealthy to sit in a hushed room surrounded by other sophisticated, educated, cultured and wealthy people. The sound of the gavel and the soothing English accent of the auctioneer make buying rare items with the flash of a numbered paddle worth the 10% to 30% premium that buyers part with as part of the “hammer price”. Yes, that’s right when you pay more than $6M for a little known Picasso, you can expect to give Sotheby’s as much as $1.8M for the privilege of owning it. On top of that, the house takes about 15% from the seller. Imagine that.

If you can get past the sheer volume of commissions you can better understand what bidders are really paying for. It isn’t about buying the art, but rather the peer recognition at cocktail parties and museum galas of your unspoken wealth and ability to pay extraordinary sums for products that will likely end up in a climate controlled vault. Remember, this is a world of exclusivity. Anyone can walk into a gallery in Chelsea to buy art or the local liquor store to buy wine but neither bestows the level of recognition from your peers as purchasing a Château Lafite-Rothschild Vintage 1982 from Christie’s for $186,643. So raise your glasses and toast the rich for their uncanny ability to lose touch with what things really cost.

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#38 - Alluding To Their Wealth

#38 - Alluding To Their Wealth

Joana Vasconcelos’ Golden Independent Heart
Price: $230,205

Rich people love alluding to their wealth. Few rich people will flat out tell you how much they are worth and if they do it is a sign that they are a flaming douchebag! Instead, rich people will drop not-too-subtle hints to ensure that you know they have amassed great wealth. Obviously this doesn’t apply to the children of rich people who will tell anyone within earshot the value of their trust fund.

The ability to integrate key phrases into normal conversation is a life skill that one must perfect if they are to mingle with the wealthy. As with most skills, timing is everything and without it you will seem like the poor, red headed stepsister. Allusion is an art but with some practice you can shine like the Hope Diamond or Julia Roberts’ teeth. First consider which of your latest material possessions will be most impressive to the group. Wait for the conversation to meander within the proximity of the topic most interesting to you before drawing a loose parallel to your topic. Now, offhandedly drop the bomb. If necessary, use this as an opportunity to land a figurative uppercut on the glass jaw of the most repulsive person in the group.

Let me give you an example. Some pompous ass, who claims to have worked on “The Street”, is talking about risk strategies and municipal bonds. He asserts that his portfolio is primarily weighted towards oil but he has hedged with airline stocks. You step in and mention that volatility in the marketplace has shifted your focus to investing in art. In fact, you just acquired a beautiful contemporary piece by Joana Vasconcelos while visiting London. Turn to the windbag and say, I was surprised you had not been invited to the auction at Christie’s. BOOM! He’s down for the count, you’ve impressed the group with your taste, and the conversation now centers on your knowledge of post-war sculptures and paintings while your colleagues are left to speculate about your net worth. Congratulations, you float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…Sun Tzu and Machiavelli salute you.

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#37 - Pure White Bathrobes

#37 - Pure White Bathrobes

Loro Piana Cashmere Robe
Price: $3,495

Rich people face a never-ending dichotomy, an inner turmoil that is rarely understood by the middle and lower classes. How does one balance a public image of importance and responsibility with a private life of leisure and luxury? Remember, their time is precious and it should be spent increasing wealth or enjoying life to the fullest. While yacht charters, island getaways, topiary and escort services are all important, the most accessible way to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle is the white bathrobe. Of course it helps if your major domo is serving fresh squeezed orange juice, Italian espresso and a selection of tropical fruits while you work through the NY Times crossword, in pen of course, but these are secondary to the primary luxury that a robe provides.

To befriend the rich, you will want to familiarize yourself with the comfort and luxury provided by this simple item. I know what you are thinking, my father wore a threadbare robe every Sunday morning and he definitely wasn’t rich. Don’t be fooled, there are robes and then there are robes. Any jackass can visit Target and pick up a terry cloth striped robe with bunny slippers for less than twenty bucks but these betray the essence of the real deal. A robe should be thick with plenty of material to wrap and long enough to avoid errantly displaying the family jewels. Next, you will notice the difference in the collar; luxury demands that a second layer is stitched on the inside to ensure you are swaddled in plush fabric around the neck and chest. Finally, deep pockets are required. You may wonder…what would I carry around in the morning? The answer is nothing; they act as a metaphor to remind you that you are rich and can afford frivolities like meaningless pockets.

Should you find yourself in conversation concerning morning couture, sharing breakfast with a wealthy colleague at the summer home or enjoying a steam bath at the club, it is wise to be versed in the subtleties of leisure wear. Debate continues around where one should acquire this essential apparel. To many, the only choice is a pure white robe from a high-end department store or local boutique specializing in fine linens and towels. For others, purchasing robes embossed with luxury hotel brands serves a dual purpose of showcasing your worldliness and accessing global luxury through well regarded purchasing departments. The danger with the latter is the lingering question of whether the robe was purchased or gauchely abducted from the Four Seasons without a second thought. For this reason above all others, err on the side of social acceptability and avoid branded robes, unless you are Winona Ryder of course.

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#36 - Dress Shoes With No Socks

#36 - Dress Shoes With No Socks

Salvatore Ferragamo Puntala Croc Oxford
Price: $2,300

Rich people love fashion. Rich people love beautiful shoes. Rich people love the feeling of soft Corinthian leather, or maybe that’s just life according to Ricardo Montalbán. Regardless, fantasies do come true and every summer thousands of rich people opt to leave their socks at home and slide their sweaty feet into extravagant Prada, John Lobb, Salvatore Ferragamo and A. Testoni shoes to express their carefree nature and show-off their lack of podiatric inhibitions. If you are rich and you wear socks you may as well drive a 1975 Chrysler Cordoba because that’s the level of respect that you will garner but at least you’ll still feel soft leather against your skin from your vintage automobile’s luxurious seats.

For many, the thought of sliding their feet into a pair of brand new shoes with nothing but a smile and a shoehorn is repulsive. In fairness, there are more disgusting habits that a man can pick up in the dirty streets of the world’s finest cities and unlike the aforementioned dirty habits, sans sock aficionados say don’t judge it until you’ve tried it. Of course, if you aren’t rich, you aren’t subjected to ridiculous peer pressure to adopt styles popularized by Miami Vice and other atrocities of the eighties. In fact, average men that show up anywhere in dress shoes without socks are most likely to become the butt of all jokes for the night and likely for the rest of their life. Not so for the rich.

The ability to destroy a pair of shoes with nothing but a thousand sweats glands is a status symbol more than it is a comfort choice. While middle class white kids wear Che Guevara t-shirts and baseball hats with sticker attached to express that they are badass, the wealthy adopt a modest subtlety to show that they have more money than most Caribbean nations. Sockless Italian loafers are akin to standing outside Goldman Sachs’ headquarters and screaming “I just cashed a million dollar bonus check! Screw you taxpayer!” Of course they never would, so they let bare ankles do the talking under their perfectly tailored suit. A quick glance around Madison Ave, Lexington Ave, Fifth Ave and the men’s department of Bergdorf Goodman will reveal them as playgrounds for the sockless masses. A word to the wise, steer clear of Japanese restaurants that require patrons to remove their footwear if you want to avoid the pungent smell of old money at lunch!

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#35 - Cappuccino Machines

#35 - Cappuccino Machines

Franke Evolution 1-Step Espresso Machine
Price: $21,230

Coffee is the most popular beverage on the planet. I don’t know if that’s really true but it sounds believable. Coffee’s cheap, readily available and addictive, add socially acceptable to drink before lunch and it explains why alcohol is a distant runner-up. While most people have their favorite coffee shop, be it Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, MacDonald’s or the local beanery, rich people manifest their love for coffee with overpriced and overcomplicated espresso machines.

Cappuccino machines can rival NASA for technological advancement. Fully automated, these marvels of brewing achievement feature multiple grinders for different roasts, single touch brewing, hands-free milk steamers and auto rinse for the perfect double shot, latte or cappuccino. You may ask, what’s the point of having a state-of-the-art, barista-free coffee maker given that the cook, maid or nanny is undoubtedly responsible for brewing a fresh cup for them? It is this brand of logic that ensures you will never be invited to their home to find out. If you want to make friends, keep your cynicism to yourself.

In fact, the wealthy take great pride in owning top-of-the-line European coffee makers. While an architect and interior designer will be commissioned for new builds and home renovations, espresso machine selection is strictly off limits to anyone but the man of the house. Choosing the right model may take months of research; for this reason, always accept an offer of coffee. Complimenting your host on the outstanding flavor will act as a verbal diuretic for your host and lay the foundation for a lasting friendship. Be warned though, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill, watered down grande mild. Pace yourself or by your third cup, you’ll seem like an inattentive child anxiously wondering whether it’s too soon to revisit the Philippe Starck bathroom suite! The wealthy, after all, are rarely amused by the bursting bladder bounce.

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#34 - Infinity Pools

#34 - Infinity Pools

Infinity Pools
Price: $100,000

Rich people love homes with spectacular views. After spending millions on a dwelling that they may inhabit for as little as a few weeks a year, it is a shame to ruin the splendor and magnificence of the horizon with an unsightly pool edge. Imagine if you will, the distraction that concrete or natural stone could pose when staring across the turquoise seas of the Caribbean, it’s enough to ruin the weekend; it’s like wearing polyester underwear, going to Kansas or flying economy class. Fortunately, architects and pool designers the world over joined forces and collectively tackled this global problem. The result; they gave the world the infinity edge pool. This gift means the wealthy will never again have to tolerate the interruption of their views and can get back to amassing wealth and talking about amassing wealth.

The infinity pool has emerged as a dominant feature of luxury homes and resorts in every corner of the globe. Originally found in villas with spectacular ocean views and hilltop homes overlooking the city below, the infinity pool is now featured in jungles, mountain resorts, rain forests and even golf courses. The most interesting part of the infinity pool is that you will rarely see someone actually use it. Nothing illustrates how bloated you have become after years of Foie Gras and Kobe beef like displacing 25 gallons of water over the side of a large pool.

For many people, the only time they will see an infinity pool is in a photograph or on the television. The simple explanation, rich people don’t do cannonballs while the lower classes believe this is an appropriate baptism for any body of water regardless of size and occasion. Don’t believe it, search YouTube for ‘cannonball pool’ and results include videos of naked cannonballs, flaming cannonballs, cannonball contests, cannonballs from the roof, cannonballs from the wall, etc. Let me put it this way, you will go through a lot of pages before you find a cannonball in The Hamptons. The math is, infinity pool plus cannonball equals funny but you will never get invited back so enjoy it while you can. Besides, nothing ruins a good umbrella drink like the sight of a grown man hurtling through the air!

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#33 - Pulling Themselves Up By the Boostraps

#33 - Pulling Themselves Up By the Boostraps

New York Military Academy
Price: $221,250

Rich people love to tell anyone that will listen that they are self-made men and women. To the average Joe this means starting with nothing, sometimes less than nothing, before emerging as successful members of society with a life much better than before. To a rich person, self-made typically means starting with little more than boarding school education, a family fortune of $1 million to $10 million and little or no reliance on maids, butlers and nannies.

The annals of the rich are filled with hard luck stories of having to summer in Cape Cod while their wealthy friends were in The Hamptons and parents sending the children to boarding school where lump crab salad was only served on the second Friday of every month. Despite these horrific upbringings that remind us of Oliver Twist, L’il Orphan Annie and 101 Dalmatians, these deprived men and women still managed to pull themselves up and succeed in spite of their dark pasts. In 2007 Forbes took the opportunity to showcase twenty of America’s richest men in a segment called the “Secrets Of The Self-Made”, Donald Trump is the poster child for the article. His rise to the top was accelerated at age 13 by attending the New York Military Academy where they “make good kids better”. The cost of becoming better; tuition, as of July 2009, was $33,425 and $36,875 per year for domestic and international students respectively. He later attended Wharton, one of America’s premiere schools for finance and economics. Also on Forbes’ list is Ken Fisher; his story starts after working in the investment business under his father Philip A. Fisher, a noted money manager, author and bearer of a middle initial. Ken then clawed his way up from the tough streets of San Francisco’s financial district to start his own investment firm before making his first billion.

In no way should any of this be taken as a slight against the hard work, creativity, instinct, intelligence, determination and self-professed luck that it takes to become wealthy. Each of the men on the list, and there are plenty that did come from humble beginnings, moved the bar significantly from where they started. The fact remains that some rich people love to create myths around their success when the fact is they began their careers with a bit of a boost but I suppose that doesn’t make for as compelling a story. After all, Horatio Alger, Jr would not have been as popular if his protagonists started in the suburbs with Mom driving them to soccer practice.

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