Tigers, Diamond Hubcaps and a Place to Chill

ReutersA $350,000 Mercedes sedan covered in swirls of Swarovski crystals at the Millionaire Fair at Crocus Expo on Friday.
KRASNOGORSK, Moscow Region -- Toward the back of the cavernous exhibition hall, Alexander Svalov leaned nonchalantly against the body of the 2-meter-long saber-toothed tiger and smiled.

"Why shouldn't someone have this in their living room?" he asked, patting the fur of the snarling taxidermic model. "You don't have to worry about feeding it, and it's easier to look after than a real cat."

Svalov then cheerily explained how the model was made. The skin had come from a real tiger, and the huge, curved front teeth are genuine, he said. And, for 1.8 million rubles ($75,000), the cat could be yours.

Svalov's company, Ice Age, was just one of dozens offering an eclectic range of eye-catching and pricey luxury goods Friday afternoon at the city's third annual Millionaire Fair, which ran Thursday through Sunday.

This year's extravaganza of excess, held in the Crocus Expo exhibition center on the city's northwestern outskirts, was the biggest in the event's brief history. Over 200 brands from around the world were on display, and organizers expected around 45,000 visitors.

Svalov's stand was cluttered with a macabre collection of extinct animal parts, including chess pieces carved from mammoth tusks, a mammoth's skull and the giant skeleton of a Siberian bear priced at 750,000 rubles.

While most of the items he sells abroad usually end up in museums, in Russia they are far more likely to decorate the homes of the super-rich. And there is certainly an increasing demand for such products in the country.

According to Forbes magazine, Moscow now has more billionaires than any other city in the world, and the Russian rich are younger, more willing to spend and, apparently, less discerning than in some other countries.

Standing in a beige ball gown, Lidia Pozdnyakova posed demurely next to a glittering white Mercedes sedan for sale at her stall. Under the bright lights of the exhibition center, the $350,000 car sparkled ferociously: It was, after all, covered in swirls of Swarovski crystals.

"We recommend that the owner only use the car on special occasions," Pozdnyakova said as one of her colleagues, crouching by the car, hurriedly glued back on a handful of crystals that had fallen off. "It's not been sold yet, but we already have some potential customers lined up."

Similarly striking was a set of diamond-encrusted hubcaps on display at a nearby stand. The set of four hubcaps sells for $1 million, but you also get a $250,000 Bentley Coupe and a round-the-clock security guard thrown in for free, said Andrei Postnikov, a sales representative for Kosmos Zoloto.

"They are on sale both here and in the United States," Postnikov said. "So far no one has bought the wheels in Russia, but I've heard that they have sold some in America. If they can sell there then I am sure that someone will buy them here."

For companies selling luxury goods, Russia is fast becoming a vital marketplace -- rapidly catching up countries such as Saudi Arabia -- thanks to its rate of conspicuous consumption.

"We have been coming to the exhibition since it started three years ago," said Anna Shelgunova, advertising manager for helicopter dealer Aviamarket. "It's a very important way for us to publicize our company."

Shelgunova conceded, however, that she was unlikely to sell any of the U.S.-made, four-seat helicopters -- priced at $600,000 -- directly at the exhibition.

"You can't exactly expect people to show up at the exhibition with suitcases stuffed with money," Shelgunova said.

In four years the company has sold around 100 helicopters in Russia, she said. "There would be more [sold] if they would permit people to fly over Moscow to avoid the traffic jams," Shelgunova said. There's a waiting list of several months for the helicopters, she added.

The bulk of the fair consisted of traditional luxury goods, such as real estate and sports cars.

But from pianos that play themselves to diamond-studded pocketknives, there was something for everyone, and even an unusual offering for the more health conscious among Russia's rich.

At one stand, Anton Yerganokov's company, Criohome, was selling the latest in German-made, personalized "cold rooms." A sort of giant refrigerator for people, the contraption goes down to minus 85 degrees Celsius and is meant to act as a panacea for a host of ailments, including hangovers.

As he ushered three lightly dressed female models into the machine, Yerganokov explained that one should strip down to swimwear and spend at least three minutes in the freezing conditions every day. The private cabins sell for 160,000 euros each, he said. Larger versions can be found in hospitals around the world, but now the company has decided to manufacture private units exclusively for the Russian market.

Yelena Raumova, a stocky blonde from a nearby stand, braved a temperature of around minus 80 degrees Celsius to try out Yerganokov's machine. "It feels good, and it really isn't too cold," Raumova, standing inside the tank, said stoically. "I don't think I'd have space for this in my apartment though."