There is nothing quite like the feeling of security one gets from uncorking a $28,000 2003 Chateau Petrus in your own formal dining room encased in bulletproof glass. Or the self-satisfaction that arises when you have your $300 million Airbus A380 jet, capacity 525, to yourself. Or the comfort that comes by walking into your $135 million, 95-acre estate in Aspen, Colo., after a long, grueling day shushing down the slopes. It's nice to be excessively wealthy.
These days, though, having mere money appears to count for very little: You have to show you have it. And it's clear things have gotten out of hand when even Donatella Versace—she of the navel-deep necklines, golf ball–sized diamond rings and glittering Lake Como villa—has seen enough. "Today, in-your-face excess can be annoying and vulgar," says the designer, "so people shy away from being too excessive because they will be criticized."
Really? Where exactly has Donatella been hanging out lately? Clearly not in the bling-laden restaurants of London, Moscow, Shanghai, Macao or even New York. The world's newly rich oligarchs, real estate moguls and hedge fund managers seem to be abiding by Mark Twain's dictum, "Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess."
They're buying up art, property, cars, watches, wine and even social status in what appears to be a macho game of who's got the biggest. Consider Ken Griffin, who shelled out $80 million for a Jasper Johns painting in 2006, nearly five times the artist's previous record sale price. Or SAC Capital's Steven Cohen, who bought Damien Hirst's shark in a formaldehyde tank for $8 million. Now, perhaps fueled by the rush of that sale, the Young British Artist is marketing his much-publicized platinum human skull covered in more than 8,000 diamonds, for $100 million.
But even at that price it doesn't touch Jackson Pollock's No. 5, 1948, which a Mexican financier reportedly bought from David Geffen for a record $142.7 million.
Perhaps no money manager these days is quite as adept at big spending as Steve Schwarzman. The Blackstone Group co-founder eats $400 stone crabs for lunch and bought an historic Palm Beach manse for $20.5 million— just to tear it down. In February, he took the cake with his 60th birthday extravaganza by renting out the Park Avenue Armory and turning its front room into an exact replica of his own plush living room at 740 Park Avenue for cocktail hour. Martin Short emceed the affair, and both Patti LaBelle and Rod Stewart performed (Stewart was reportedly paid $1 million). As one of Schwarzman's friends told WWD, "It was over the top, but [Steve] never pretends to be anything else." (Rumored to cost anywhere between $3 million and $10 million, Schwarzman's party was peanuts compared with the 50th birthday celebration the Sultan of Brunei threw for himself in 1996. It cost approximately $27 million and included a performance by Michael Jackson.)