Upscale is being scaled up

Late last week a popular New York City chef announced that despite the financial crisis, he would be plating a $200 price fixe dinner for interested clientele. Within a few hours, his special evening was sold out. A Forbes magazine article this week reports that Lamborghini orders are still on track. This serves to remind us that despite the financial meltdown the millions of millionaires around the world are still buying (there are over nine million millionaires in the United States alone). And remember that even if a billionaire lost ninety percent of their assets, they would still be worth one hundred million dollars.

This is further evidence that upscale is being scaled up.

Despite an overall feeling of “status despair”, there are an estimated 1,125 billionaires in the world today. Moscow reports 88,000 millionaires and more billionaires than any other city in the world. China has 345,000 millionaires according to a report released jointly by Merrill Lynch and Cap Gemini. And the list of the uber-rich keeps growing.

As has been true throughout history, the very rich work hard to differentiate themselves from, well, those who are not. In fact, the aforementioned feeling of status despair running through the ranks of the world’s richest right now has brought them to the crisis point. Why? It’s our fault. When even 16-year-olds can run around with Gucci bags, suburban Des Moines housewives can sport Versace sunglasses, and real estate agents can drive Mercedes, how can the rich differentiate themselves?

The answer is easy. All the wealthy have to do is take out their checkbooks.

The result is that upscale is being scaled up as millionaires and billionaires take out their checkbooks and, instead of driving Mercedes 600 Series, Range Rovers, or Jaguars like the rest of us, today the truly rich slap down $600,000 for a new Maybach.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Says travel blogger Randy Petersen, “The country has gotten wealthier, luxury has gotten more luxurious. Until maybe 30 years ago just flying was considered a luxury. Today most people view it more akin to Greyhound. One of the biggest changes is that people don’t get excited about First Class, where you sit for twenty minutes watching two hundred of the unwashed trounce back to the Coach seats. Real luxury is private jets, today there are five or six private jet companies. If you’re flying commercial airlines, you’re just flying with the rest of us.”

The real rubber will meet the road when the housewife from suburban Chicago can no longer afford to buy her Louis Vuitton or even her Louis Vuitton knock-off on Sixth Avenue in New York City. That’s when the rest of us will understand the true meaning of status and the true status of despair.