Crisis Fails to Dull Luster of Millionaire Fair

MTA model posing in front of a Humvee at the Millionaire Fair this weekend.
In its brief history, Moscow's Millionaire Fair has become a symbol of the exorbitant wealth that has been acquired by some during years of an oil-fueled economic boom.

This year, the glitzy show of mega-yachts, private helicopters and designer villas has been overshadowed somewhat by the global economic crisis, but that didn't stop the fair's organizers from seeming like they were in their own little world.

"Welcome to our anti-crisis event," It-Girl Ksenia Sobchak exclaimed from the main stage at the opening gala late Thursday. "Everybody else has a crisis, but we have the Millionaire Fair!"

Visitors were greeted with free champagne flowing out of oversized bottles after entering the Crocus Expo center on the city's northwestern outskirts for a VIP night that lasted until the early hours Friday. The fair itself continued through Sunday.

Official ticket sales were not released for the fair, which was held here for the first time in 2005, but according to the event's web site, 40,000 people visited in 2007. Organizers said they were expecting 50,000 this year.

All the same, guests inside the airy exhibition halls Saturday said the event seemed less crowded than in recent years.

"It is nice this year with fewer people around," said Alexei Shavrin, a real estate investor.

Part of the feeling that there was more space to go around might have been generated by the difficult economic times, but those on hand were saying the segment at which the fair is targeted is unlikely to feel the bite of a recession.

"For those who have millions, the crisis is no problem," said Timor Romanov, who was wearing a fur-lined leather coat and carrying a tiny terrier — Tracey — with a crystal-studded collar.

Romanov was inspecting a scale model of a 98-house community called Monolit — with its own church and a lake — on Novorizhskoye Shosse. The houses in the development are listed for between $2 million and $5 million.

For the Millionaire Fair, the homes in this community are facing a tight market — far too pricey for upper middle-class buyers but below the standards of the enormously rich.

"Today, we are selling houses for above $10 million," said Igor Sukhov, a consultant with Kalinka Realty. "Three-and-a-half million dollars to $5 million is not good. Nobody is buying."

Romanov's son, Roman Romanov, 17, said he was not doing any shopping because he did not yet have a job.

"I think there are a lot of beautiful things here," he said. "Soon, I hope I will make some money to buy an Aston Martin like James Bond and maybe a house in Dubai."

Richard Orme, managing director of Large Yacht Solutions, a consultancy based in London and Barcelona, said people could still afford to buy luxury products but were probably too busy these days.

"A lot of people here are still able to buy, but they are sitting on their hands," he said. "Buying boats is more of a thing for your spare time."

An Italian designer said the crisis was real and it gave the wealthy an opportunity for introspection. Curtailing purchases, he said, was a healthy thing to do.

"In a time of crisis, I think I take care of something that I have inside," said Roberto Gallazzi, a designer with Cyrus Company. "I spend because I'm happy to spend, because I like what I'm buying, not just to spend money like I smoke cigarettes."

The fair, nonetheless, presented many opportunities for people to spend money on opulent objects. Yachts, jewelry and furs were ubiquitous. Those with more eccentric tastes could be found, for example, browsing at a display of intricately engraved knives.

"It is a kind of art," said Nikolai Razgulyayev, resplendent in tan ostrich-skin shoes. "You can actually compare it with a kind of painting."

The knife he was admiring was on sale for $30,000. The steel blade had a double-headed eagle on it, with the words "St. Andrew, Patron Saint of Russia" carved in Latin and leafed in gold. Dozens of diamonds sparkled on the scabbard.

Two booths overflowed with giant bouquets of flowers attached to charred wood. The exhibits were being run by designer Araik Galstyan, who for 25,000 euros ($32,000) will help you name a new breed of flower.

"Everywhere around the world, it will be sold by your name," he said. "The crisis is not ours because we have very rich clients."

Several real estate agents said they did the most business Thursday night at the special VIP gala.

Seven people bought inspection tours to a new resort opening on the Cape Verde Islands called Nikki Beach, a part of a chain of elite lifestyle beach clubs.

"You have to have something very different to make it work," said Peter Perfect of London-based Stately Partners, who represented the property. "We play on the exclusivity and the fun of having the beach bars and the hotels and everything there. … It's all for the beautiful people, if you know what I mean, or the people who like to think they are beautiful."

Many beautiful people at the event, it turned out, were models working to promote various brands.

One insurance company model, however, inadvertently commented on an irony of the event: Beauty and money don't automatically go together.

"I just sit here and look beautiful," said Darya Novikova, when asked about her job.

And what did she think of the fair?

"It's not very interesting for me," she said. "Everything's too expensive."