|A DAY AT THE FAIR
by Jeanne Lawrence
Newly minted millionaires and billionaires in China have been on a buying spree of luxury goods these last few years. So The Fair — a luxury goods showcase/exhibit that made its third annual, three-day appearance in Shanghai last fall — was targeted for them.
Thousands came, saw, and lusted after thousands of wish-list items that included head-turning sports cars, dazzling jewels, Chopard watches, Wedgewood china, lavishly appointed yachts, exotic travel packages, rare vintage wines, custom-designed kitchens and one-of-a-kind apartments. Some even bought.
|Versions of The Fair — previously called The Millionaire Fair — have been held in Moscow, Cannes, Dubai and elsewhere. The founder and organizer, philanthropist David Zhong, kept the focus on the elegant lifestyle but played down consumption and put an emphasis on wealth management, the arts and giving.
China Charity Philanthropy Network ran forums and Rockefeller Foundation reps spoke about social responsibility.
As in past years, the venue was the Shanghai Exhibition Center on Yan’an Road. Considered a masterpiece of Stalinist design, it was built in l955 and at the time called the Palace of Sino-Soviet Friendship.
|The Soviets who helped finance it to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Chinese Communists’ Civil War victory would no doubt be flabbergasted to see it used as a showcase for capitalist luxuries.
One afternoon I accompanied my friend entrepreneur Yue-Sai Kan to The Fair and watched as she carefully made sure that all was perfect in the showroom she’d set up to promote her new interior design businesses.
While she greeted visitors, I dropped by various booths and stopped to say hello to Molly Goldfarb, representing Ivanka Trump at the eye-catching booth displaying her jewelry. By the way, Ivanka recently opened her jewelry boutique on Madison Avenue.
|You might wonder how, in light of the global meltdown, this luxury market will fare. In December, China Daily interviewed Rupert Hoogewerf, founder of the Hurun Report, a business magazine that compiles an annual Forbes 400-type “Rich List” of Chinese tycoons, who delivered some sobering news.
“In two months from early September to early November, the average wealth of the owners of listed companies here shrank 45 percent from early September to early November 2008 — and that after a 20% fall earlier in the year,” he said.
In November, China announced a $585.5 billions (4.0 trillion Yuan) economic stimulus package to counter the effects of the slowdown on China’s booming economy. Will it work? Only time will tell.
|THE CHARITY GALA
The grand finale of The Fair was on Saturday night. David Zhong and Emily Yu, publisher of The Fair magazine, held a glamorous, invitation-only charity dinner and art auction for business and society leaders.
The event attracted about 250 guests and raised almost $300,000, an amazing take for a first-time event.
|Arriving at the Shanghai Exhibition Center, aglow with lights, guests strolled through the stately columns down the requisite red carpet edged with gigantic “diamonds.”
Dressed as requested in traditional Chinese attire in black, gold, or white, we sipped champagne and mingled at Fair booths during the reception.
|Then we headed to the Gala Dinner benefiting the Confucius Ni Shan Education Fund, founded by Richard Hung, who is a 78th direct descendent of the revered philosopher and educator, Confucius (551-479 B.C.). I was amazed to learn that there are over two million registered direct descendants.
In keeping with the theme, we were greeted by young girls in costume and ribbons in their hair clustered onstage, reading aloud from the wisdom of Confucius, who taught peace and social harmony.
His teachings seem to be enjoying a renaissance of interest. When I attended the Beijing 2008 Olympics last August, I was struck by how often the word “harmony” was used.
|At the dinner table, I sat beside my friend Annie Wang, managing editor of Tatler Magazine (Shanghai). Raised in Beijing and a graduate of University of California (Berkeley), she’s also written the novels Lili and The People’s Republic of Desire — described as “a cross between Sex and the City and The Joy Luck Club” — which I’m currently enjoying.
Also next to me were Wang Shangju and her husband, the Metersbonwe apparel tycoon Zhou Cheng Jian, who opened a first store in 1995 and had 2,200 by 2008. We were joined by Zeng Fangzhi, whose Mask Series 1996 No. 6 sold for almost $10 million at auction at Christie’s Hong Kong in May, 2008 (that set a record for the highest price ever paid for contemporary Chinese art.) Completing our diverse group were businessman Wang Jun and artist Zheng Zaidong, known for his exquisite landscapes.
|Between dinner courses, singers and dancers drew on Chinese culture for performances so artfully that time flew by. Dinner was followed by an auction of works donated by some top Chinese artists.
Also, entrepreneur Dai Zhikang was honored as China’s “Most Respectable Social Entrepreneur” of 2008. Chairman of the development group, Shanghai Zendai, and founder of the Zendai Museum, he also holds a black belt in karate!
|NIGHTCLUBBING AT M1NT—NEW AND VERY EXCLUSIVE
Visiting a club after dinner seems to be a favorite custom in Shanghai, so after the Gala, a few of us hitched a ride with Peter Alatsas, the popular GM at the Westin Hotel, and headed to an invitation-only, pre-opening party at M1NT.
|A new, luxury, members-only club with branches in Hong Kong and Cannes, M1NT immediately created buzz here with its handcrafted Swarovski crystal chandelier and its aquarium containing 22 hammerhead sharks.
That night, it made a different type of impression with its show of sexy fashions by Lu Kuhn’s designer, modeled by some of Shanghai’s prettiest — and tallest! — women.
|When I left, the liquor was still flowing freely (literally; it was on the house), and M1NT was still packed and jumping.
When crowds come to browse an emporium for millionaires by day and carouse at a private club for millionaires by night, it’s clear that even in a downturn, Shanghai hasn’t lost its appetite for merriment.
|Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence|