Every week brings yet another Internet IPO and a raft of Silicon Alley employees who suddenly find themselves awash in a sea of mizuma. But the paper moguls are still a conservative lot; flaunting it generally means shelling out for a new Palm VII. The heavy-duty product placement hasn’t really started yet, as any significant liquidation by principal shareholders would make the next CNBC newscast. And not knowing whether the company stock will be in the shredder a year from now is a powerful argument for diversifying, say, into a two-bedroom apartment in Park Slope or Star Wars memorabilia instead of a redesigned Porsche.
So who’s spending all the big money in New York? Wall Street money still skulks behind every act of in-your-face shopping in this town, whether it be that sunken tennis court in Georgica (to muffle the sound of bouncing Slazengers) or a membership at Westchester’s new Hudson National Golf Club in Croton-on-Hudson (initiation fee: $317,000). Throwing money around is becoming a new sort of performance art, and economists have coined a word to describe the genre: hyperconsumption.
Just what would possess a sane person to spend a quarter of a million dollars on a Hamptons rental (sans cable), or install an underground garage for 200 cars in this same neck of the woods (as Ira Rennert is doing at this very moment, spurring others to dig their own)? “This is a classic case of discomfort anxiety,” says psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis, president of the Albert Ellis Institute, a facility celebrated for its pioneering cognitive-behavior therapy. “Wall Streeters think that if they’re deprived of anything, they’ll be too uncomfortable. They cannot tolerate any type of deprivation. It’s all ego anxiety to impress others. What we’re talking about here is a bunch of 200-pound babies.”
Jets Host the Giants
Last year’s needful appliance was the Gulfstream V. Priced at $38 million, the GV is still limited to the certifiably filthy rich, Fortune 500 guys. But today’s flush hedge-fund managers are having REM visions of their very own Boeing Business Jet kissing the tarmac at JFK. Known among tail-number groupies simply as the BBJ, this executive jet is redefining the high life.
What, exactly, sets the BBJ apart from the GV? The BBJ is big. Make that huge. It’s essentially a customized Boeing 737 whose design has been tweaked for better performance (tell-tale winglets distinguish it from its commercial counterpart). The BBJ’s cabin is nearly three times the size of the GV’s, a palatial 807 square feet versus a puny 210. Not only can the BBJ cruise at Mach .82, but it can also transport an entire office party from New York to Beijing without refueling. Cost: $35.25 million, minus the amenities inside like a master-bedroom suite, a conference room, a lounge area, and a media room tricked out with DirecTV and 42-inch plasma flat-screen monitors, which typically add another $10 million to the sticker price. (Note to the thrifty: Any interior that sets you back less than $10 mil is considered “very vanilla” by the boys at Raytheon, the conversion center that snares the lion’s share of BBJ business.)
Boeing optimistically projected five orders this first year of availability. Instead, as of today, 46 BBJs were on order, the first of which will be delivered with its Raytheon-outfitted interior in mid-July to General Electric CEO Jack Welch. As weight restrictions prohibit BBJs from landing at East Hampton Airport, those who summer on the South Fork will have to touch down at Westhampton’s Gabreski Airport (not necessarily a bad thing, considering this is where Air Force One is cleared for landing if the Clintons do Shelter Island this summer). Have the Sikorsky copter gassed and waiting for the second leg.
“Wall Streeters are partial to big California wines, things like Opus One ‘95, $175 and Joseph Phelps Insignia ‘94, $210,” says Mauro Maccioni, son of Sirio and co-owner of Circo, an upscale Tuscan restaurant in midtown. “Unless they’re with a girlfriend they want to impress. Then they order French. Usually a first growth, something really expensive, like a Latour ‘85, $600 or an Haut Brion ‘85, $625.”
Of course, to impress the truly high-maintenance dinner date, a Wall Streeter will need to make a trip to Morrell & Company at 535 Madison Avenue to pick up a couple bottles of the 1870 Château Lafite Rothschild, a wine considered by oenophiles to be the greatest Lafite in history. Industry wine snob Michael Broadbent gives the 1870 vintage his five-star rating, praising it as “the Lafite blockbuster of all time.” And at $10,000 a bottle ($120,000 per case), it had better be. Peter Morrell has sold four cases of this incredibly rare wine, three of them to Wall Streeters. At press time, there was one case left in stock, considerably more than even the venerable Château Lafite has in its own cellar. “This is crazy!” Morrell says incredulously. “I’ve never sold anything this expensive in my life. Thank God for the bull market.”
Talk to the Hand
At $25,000, a white-gold Frank Müller or Patek Philippe may be considerably more expensive than a stainless Rolex Daytona, but they are not nearly as coveted by style-conscious brokers and investment bankers. “It all has to do with sight recognition,” explains Tom Pozsgay, a Tourneau salesperson attuned to horological trends on the Street. “You see a Daytona from across the room and your eyes immediately home in on it.”
What stokes the Daytona’s cachet even more than its high Q-rating is the fact that it is nearly impossible to find. The $5,100 Swiss automatic has been on back order at Tourneau since 1993. Indeed, the store has been so inundated with requests that it no longer accepts orders.
Since the retail market is virtually nonexistent, the secondary market has gone ballistic. A used stainless Daytona in excellent condition routinely commands more than twice its original retail price. A call to Tourneau’s 52nd Street store revealed a ‘97 model priced to move at $11,900. Why would anybody pay such an outrageous premium for a used watch? “Instant gratification,” answers Wesley Wang, an emerging-markets-group manager at Euro Brokers. “Besides, who’s to say what a watch is worth? It’s like stocks – the retail price is just an arbitrary number.”
The other timepiece seen peeking out from under Turnbull & Asser cuffs lately is Bulgari’s Scuba Chrono; the model that’s been flashing around trading floors like sell tickets is the SC38SV, with a stainless-steel case and automatic movement (quartz is considered bush league; strictly for day traders). At $4,600, the Scuba Chrono is far from a bargain, considering its Seiko-like rubber strap and unremarkable movement (with only two functions – seconds and minutes – versus the standard three). But this sort of registered-in-the-Cayman Islands swank is somewhat more attainable than the Daytona; at press time, not a single Bulgari store in the country had an SC38SV in stock, but the waiting list is only two to six months.
Even the most yahoo traders from Queens know that the limo thing is history. The company that has the monopoly on the low-key car-and-driver trend in Manhattan is CLS Transportation. Behind the tinted windows of those Mercedes Benz 500 and 600 S-Class sedans sit the likes of Carl Icahn, George Soros, and Ron Perelman, who keep CLS cars with their Hugo Boss-clad drivers idling curbside. And in case a heart attack strikes after that bunless burger at Cipriani, it’s good to know the driver is also trained in CPR. Banking houses that use CLS to ferry their more senior money men around include J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank. Every car has reading material like the Robb Report and the duPont Registry in the back. At $68 per hour (two-hour minimum), a CLS car represents asset-management at its finest.
The neglected wife. The ex-wife. The mistress who knows how to be discreet. The 12-year-old daughter who should see her father more often than alternate weekends but doesn’t. Every female in the Wall Streeter’s complex life must somehow be appeased, pacified, placated. But how? According to an informal survey of store clerks working in fancy Manhattan boutiques, the guilt gift du jour on Wall Street is an expensive handbag.
Not just any expensive handbag, of course. Young girls, for instance, go gaga over Kate Spade’s messenger bag. Give them one, and they will forgive practically any parental transgression, like climbing Everest and missing grade-school graduation. Get the smaller size in silver slate ($160), the one with the Velcro closure that’s constantly out of stock.
To atone for more serious sins against womankind – like sleeping with your wife’s Lotte Berk instructor – only a Tod’s “Lady D.” bag will do. The same people who make those cushy Italian driving shoes with the rubber pebbles imbedded in the sole offer this answer to the Kelly bag. It was immediately adopted by another princess – Diana – after it was introduced in August 1997. Lady D. enthusiasts include Uma, Gwyneth, and Julia. Everyone seems to want one in the natural “Vachetta” leather – $1,300 for the medium size. Handmade in Central Italy, each Lady D. usually takes about six months to fabricate. Why so long? The hides are buried underground to give the leather its unrivaled patina.
Do You Know the Way to Y2K?
To get Fisher Travel’s unlisted number, you need to cough up more than his standard $10,000 membership fee. You need a personal reference from a Fisher Travel client in good standing. Someone like Tom Cruise, Ian Schrager, Jonathan Tisch, Donna Karan, Diane Sawyer, Calvin Klein, or one of the many I-bankers whose itineraries Bill Fisher, 65, plots like intricate flow charts. To ensure personalized service, the exclusive client list maintains a steady head count of 500. Nothing much fazes Fisher and his beeper-clad staff of eighteen, who routinely meet clients at airport curbs and whisk them to their gates on electric carts.
Need a room at the Gritti Palace during this summer’s Biennale? Done. Want a Place Vendôme suite at the Ritz for this millennial New Year’s Eve? Ho-hum. For an extra $10,000, he’ll get you over there on the Concorde, secure a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce ($6,000 a day), connect you with a personal shopper who will trundle you through the couture houses ($2,000 a day), and rent a helicopter ($5,000) to take you to the three-star Boxer restaurant in Reims for lunch before the $3,000-a-person Bal Du Roy at Versailles that evening. Not a bad show for a guy from Brooklyn who used to book Club Med vacations for a living.
Paintings by Numbers
Kim Heirston’s Wall Street clients don’t gravitate toward idyllic and overpriced sun-dappled landscapes. Under the tutelage of people like Heirston, an “art adviser” whose client list is 20 percent investment-banking money, they learn to appreciate far more adventuresome work, preferring to leave the so-called pretty pictures to the buyers just now careening into the art market via Silicon Valley. “Decorative art is not what my clients are interested in,” Heirston says matter-of-factly. “They want edgy stuff that is relevant to their lives.”
Edgy means artists like Robert Gober, Jenny Holzer, David Salle, Julian Schnabel, and Chris Wool. Heirston’s specialty is post-sixties art, with an emphasis on eighties and nineties photography, sculpture, and multimedia. The six-foot Yale graduate with an equally edgy wardrobe and hit list of parties to attend every night honed her art education at Chelsea and 57th Street galleries like Pace, Robert Miller, and Stux. For those clients with an eye toward investment, Heirston, who launched her own business in the early nineties, has not disappointed. In 1992, she purchased Cindy Sherman film stills in the $10,000 range for a client and Damien Hirst dot paintings for others at $8,000 apiece; comparable works are now selling in the six figures at auction.
“It’s nice when the art I buy appreciates, but the most gratifying thing for me is when there is critical acceptance,” Heirston says earnestly. “The Whitney recently had a Charles Ray retrospective, and the moma has acquired an entire set of Sherman film stills. I was into these artists long before the museums were willing to take a chance on them.”
Jeffrey A. Collé has taken the “McMansion” concept (six-figure, “near-custom” suburban spec houses) and has airlifted it to South Fork. But not without making a few modifications. “My spec houses don’t have anything to do with what’s going on anywhere else in the country, or anywhere else in the Hamptons, for that matter,” the 47-year-old contractor says emphatically. “They’re bigger, the detailing is first-rate, and everything is totally custom. Most spec houses are garbage.”
This past year, Collé began construction on five houses, three of which are finished and sold: a “budget” project for $2.5 mil on Hedges Lane in Sagaponack, a six-bedroom with maid’s quarters on Ox Pasture Lane for $4 million, and another house on Further Lane, which fetched $4.75 million. The remaining two properties, which are currently being completed, are a $5.2 million dacha with a gambrel roof on Hither Lane in East Hampton and a $6.5 million plantation-style manse with 400 feet of horse-field frontage and ocean views in Wainscott on Town Line Road.
With a client list that includes Alec Baldwin, Donna Karan, and Billy Joel, Collé is not hurting for celebrity references. And say what you will about the vulgarity of it all – Collé’s creations are imposing structures, great, sprawling compounds with andro practically coursing through the plumbing. How big? The typical Collé spec house is 10,000 square feet (a six-bedroom, seven-bath), sits on a two-acre parcel, and features a gunite pool and such personal touches as wide-plank antique flooring ripped from New England farmhouses and vintage bathroom fixtures. Other standards include wraparound porches, two-story foyers, French doors, terraces, 1,200-square-foot master-bedroom suites, herringbone brick-inlaid fireboxes, and hundreds of feet of pine wainscoting.
Collé downplays the cost of his “traditional shingle-style” homes, pointing out that, in the end, buying his product will actually save the prospective home buyer money. “Lots of things go wrong when you build a big house,” he says ominously. “Costs add up, unexpected expenses are incurred. With one of my houses, you know exactly how much you’re in for.” Which is anywhere from $4 million to $6.5 million. Asked why his spec houses are so popular with the Wall Street crowd, Collé replied: “These are busy people. They don’t have time to get a variance or meet with their landscape artist. The time they waste supervising the construction of the house could be spent making another billion dollars.”
“All my Wall Street clients are maintaining multiple residences,” gushes interior designer Victoria Hagan. “Aspen, the Hamptons, Greenwich, Nantucket. But the thing that everybody really wants is a ranch in Wyoming. It’s all about privacy and simplifying one’s lifestyle.”
A call to Ila Rogers in Sotheby’s International Jackson Hole real-estate office confirms this recent migration: Once a bargain compared with their Montana counterparts (now perceived to have been ruined by the influx of movie stars), decent Wyoming ranches have since gone up in value. So what will a prime, Redfordly ranch – with fly fishing and horses – set you back? Anywhere from $4 million to $30 million. For that kind of serious bonus money, you’d get 5,000 to 90,000 acres, panoramic mountain views, and a “fishable” body of water. Of course, with 10,000 acres, you could build your own private airstrip. Warning: Most of the structures on these ranches are either dilapidated or in urgent need of renovation. Best to just hand architect Peter Marino a blank check and call in periodically between deals.
Better than Bloomberg
The new electronic gadget that every Timothy Featherstone wants desperately isn’t the Palm VII. When it comes right down to it, wireless Internet access is as overhyped as The Phantom Menace. The next big interface thing goes way beyond reading Weather Channel updates on a postage-stamp-size screen. Known among hardware geeks simply as PHAST (Practical Home Automation System Technology), this incredibly sophisticated system allows you to control every conceivable element in your home by simply touching its ATM-like screen.
Press the party on icon, for instance, and your house swings into instant Austin Powers mode: The light levels are lowered, the security gate opens, the hot tub kicks on, the gas fireplace gets going, a Burt Bacharach tune wafts through the rooms, the home-theater screen descends from the ceiling, and vintage Mary Quant runway footage starts up on the projector. phast is dauntingly versatile: You can turn on your coffee machine from a cellular phone or monitor the nursery from your PC. The price for having your house wired for phast starts at $10,000 (including programming) and can go well into six figures. “This is the way we’re going to be living in the next century,” says Cello Music & Film Systems system designer Nick Lucci, whose company is the city’s premier authorized phast dealer. “In the future, everybody will be a control freak.”
Anyone who has been to the Hamptons in the summer months has noticed the proliferation of yachts anchored offshore, bobbing gently on the slate-blue surface like great, bloated, fiberglass whales. “It’s quite amazing,” says superstar real-estate agent Peter Hallock. “Sag Harbor is littered with so many yachts, it looks like Portofino or St. Barts.” And each year, the pleasure craft get slightly larger. Last season, old-money residents complained about a yacht of such obscene proportions that the owner was required to attach a beacon to the top of the mast to ward off low-flying planes.
Although there are about twenty builders of luxury yachts in the world, the gold standard is Feadship, the same Dutch yard that handcrafted the late Malcolm Forbes’s beloved Highlander. But what really sets Feadship apart from, say, the sleek Italian yachts is superior engineering. A Benetti, for example, may have fantastic-looking woodwork and Carerra-marble baths, but the less-glamorous details – plumbing, pumps, wiring, etc. – leave much to be desired.
The venerable company is delivering only three boats this year, with twelve currently under contract. Place an order now, and you’re looking at a 2002 ready date. “I’ve got a 35-year-old managing director who works for Soros and has been trading up for the past several years,” says Michael Rafferty, a broker at North Palm Beach’s Gilman Yachts. “He ultimately wants to get a Feadship.” New Yorkers who plan on making the local “milk run” (Sag Harbor, the Vineyard, Newport, Nantucket) should limit themselves to a 150-footer, which runs a cool $26 million.
From the June 14, 1999 issue of New York Magazine.