Hunting the Luxury Man in Shenzhen

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Fast Company

What’s a pretty girl in a slinky black dress supposed to do when she’s surrounded by legions of other pretty girls in slinky black dresses, all looking for Daddy Warbucks?

She has to find an edge, a place to hunt, of course. And that is what the Borrison Shanghai Expo Company provided last weekend, when it put on what it called the “World’s Most Exclusive Luxury Show” at Shenzhen’s convention and exhibition center.

That, said the pretty girl in the slinky black dress, is where I had better spend my Friday night.

The customers for the World’s Most Exclusive Luxury Show, according to the organizer, “are yearning to increase their status by spending their way up the social ladder.”

That’s for me, said the pretty girl in the slinky black dress. Unfortunately, that was where lots of girls also decided to spend their Friday night.

Borrison seems to think it knows where the money is. It has organized similar expos in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, where invitation-only guests could consider the merits of spending 1.5 million yuan (US$205,480) on a 6-liter “Mathusalem” bottle of Hennessy cognac displayed in a glittering crystal box surrounded by a fountain.

In Shenzhen, the guests were supposed to be men in black tie, and it would have been nice to have at least a few of them turn up at the World’s Most Exclusive Luxury Show. I was ready to help them spend their way up the ladder of success. Alas, they didn’t. But there were plenty of pretty girls in slinky black dresses looking for them. Organizer Sheng Lei, managing director of Shanghai Borrison, explained the concept. He expected to see people “who went to school overseas and are looking for a higher quality of life. All these factors are driving the luxury goods market in China, which is expanding rapidly."

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16.8million yuan furniture

The legions of well-dressed young women wandering about were also looking for a higher quality of life, but maybe with a different twist. As with most Chinese luxury shows, cars were the main attraction. This one sported a Ferrari Enzo, one of only 399 in the world; a Porsche Carrera GT (one of three in China); a 10.5-meter Hummer costing 2.58 million yuan and a Dutch Spyker C8 Spyder costing 5.88 million. A Rolls Royce and pricy Audis were also on display.

The pretty girl in the slinky black dress circulated through the cars, seeking handsome men in black tie but finding only other pretty girls in slinky black dresses. One, wearing a silky black shirt and tight black pants, black high heels, her hair long and straight and her makeup polished to a high gloss, seemed a bit bewildered, asking what the show was all about but taking a particular shine to the man standing next to her. Nearby, two other women, dressed in even skimpier black dresses, shivered their way through the autos and the home displays in the January weather.

A lesser item included a Swedish-made Hastens mattress made of sterilized horse tail hair worth 700,000 yuan but sadly there was no one testing out its glossy extravagance.

Antique Chinese furniture – some looted during the Opium Wars – is also finding its way back to posh Chinese homes, via the West, if one believes the show. Zhuang Bing En, the owner of Han Jiang Classical Chinese Furniture, told Asia Sentinel that he’s been importing antique Ming and Qing Dynasty Chinese furniture from the US and France.

Zhuang said he has been living in New York for 14 years and had brought an ornately carved rosewood and steel-lined Ming Dynasty icebox priced at 850,000 yuan back home – arguably the world’s most exclusive and expensive refrigerator. A Ming Dynasty clothes closet for 3.5 million yuan was also on sale. “I treasure artistic Chinese artworks and am trying my best to bring them back to the motherland – and make some money, too,” Zhuang said.

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Where is everybody?

But where were the wealthy males perusing the goods, champagne flute in hand, eyes scanning the horizon for a suitable spending partner? The majority of attendees were fashionably dressed young women and obvious gawkers who were taking pictures of themselves and friends in front of that shiny red Enzo and perhaps wondering where in China they might drive a car that is closer to an F1 race car than the neighborhood Toyotas. The fantasists were obviously not among the 908,100 US dollar millionaires American Express says live in China. (American Express also says there will be 4.2 million people in China by 2011 with more than US$300,000 in immediate assets. Right now, the card company says, there are 2.24 million).

One foreign attendee was less than impressed. “The show is okay. I expected to see more, like really fancy jewelry. I was told there were some items worth over 100 million yuan but I didn’t see them,” Brian Ridley, a New Zealand horse trainer who has been working in Shenzhen raising thoroughbred race horses for clients in Hong Kong and Macau, said. “It was just okay.”

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1.5 million yuan (US$205,480) 6-liter “Mathusalem” bottle of Hennessy

Previous expos have been criticized by Chinese bloggers and netizens for encouraging conspicuous consumption and for violating President Hu Jintao's 8th Shame ‑ wallowing in luxury. (At a previous filthy excess show in Beijing, Borrison invited coal bosses from some of the notorious mines in northern China to unload some of their lucre on baubles, bangles and fast cars. Borrison exec Sheng Lei explained the invitations this way to a Chinese magazine: "I invited the guests from Tangshan (a coal mining area). They're primarily in the energy industry… They are enthusiastic buyers of luxury items, and they're potential purchasers of fine cars, high-end watches, jewelry, and real estate.”)

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Ming dynasty icebox

In Shenzhen, one buyer said he was perfectly happy to wallow in luxury. “I bought an imported sandalwood bed and I sleep better since I bought this bed,” he said, declining to say how much he paid for his newfound rest. “And I feel very energetic when I wake up!”

While the idea of bagging a wild animal with a gun has steadily lost popularity in much of the modern world, the Chinese are still on the hunt. Instead of spending to donate for wildlife conservation, the World’s Most Exclusive Luxury Show gave them the opportunity to take advantage of the Beijing Zhengan Safari Club, which not only books trophy hunts for foreigners to shoot exotic animals in China such as the Shaanxi Gold Takin (an enormous hoofed and horned musk oxen-like animal also known as “China’s Inscrutable Hulk”) but also books trips for Chinese hunters to Africa and America.

A two-week tour overseas costs somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million yuan. Those who pay 500,000 yuan, would be able to bring a dead Southern White Rhinoceros from South Africa (one of 11,000 left in the world, though its cousin, the Northern White Rhino, numbers less than 100) back to China. Some 900,000 yuan would bag another endangered species – an elephant from Tanzania, said a spokesman for the company.

“Three years ago the first Chinese sports hunter booked through us and hunted in Tanzania. He harvested 18 trophies including an elephant, a leopard, a crocodile and a cape buffalo,” he said.

But the game the pretty girl in the slinky black dress was looking for were unavailable. She went home without a trophy.