Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Lucyann Barry, the New York style guru, says people no longer want to be singled out.
Lucyann Barry, the New York style guru, says people no longer want to be singled out.

Hidden wealth - it's the new must-have

Each day brings fresh data pointing to a deepening US recession, which the rich cannot fail to notice.

NEW YORK // Lucyann Barry, a personal shopper and stylist for the super-rich, helped a client spend US$75,000 (Dh275,000) on clothes in three hours just a few months ago. The same client told her recently: "Now is not the time for excessive consumption." "Stealth wealth" was how Ms Barry described the shift among high net worth individuals towards a more discreet manner of spending. Less money is being spent on super-frivolous items, like yet another $5,000 handbag, and more on understated and utilitarian pieces, she said.

Each day brings fresh data pointing to a deepening US recession, which the rich cannot fail to notice. Last Friday, figures showed more than half a million jobs were shed in January, the deepest fall in 34 years and bringing the unemployment rate to 7.6 per cent. "The downturn is hitting every level of society in New York. Even the super-wealthy will have a neighbour who lost his job at Lehman Brothers and bring the troubles close to home," said Ms Barry, referring to the investment bank whose collapse last September signalled the start of severe financial turmoil.

"This country is ready for something new. The election of President Barack Obama indicated a move towards inclusiveness, not exclusivity. People don't want to be singled out, which means a new definition of status and brands," she said. George W Bush, the former president, was much derided when he urged US residents to "go shopping" as an answer to terrorism as well as economic decline. Now, it seems people are not just shunning conspicuous consumption but feel shame when they do enjoy themselves.

Investment bankers' slide in society from masters of the universe to masters of the dole queue has been accompanied by fear of the politics of envy and class war in some quarters. "I'd almost rather say I'm a pornographer," a retired Wall Street executive told The New York Times. "At least that's a business that people understand." Mr Obama's recent move to limit executive pay to $500,000 at banks that take government bailout money was received well by most Americans at a time when T-shirts emblazoned with "I hate investment bankers" are on sale.

"Anecdotally, we've noticed that this general sense of shame has been descending upon New York's society for some time now," said last week's New York Observer, which chronicles fashionable movers and shakers. "Companies and sponsors are afraid to host parties in fear of seeming insensitive. Socialites and celebrities are similarly hesitant to attend them. And for those still going out, seeming as if you might actually be having fun is absolutely, positively unacceptable."

The newspaper also reported that the mega-rich were using "hushed listings" to quietly signal if their multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartments were for sale, instead of publicly advertising as they used to. A venture capitalist, a widowed philanthropist, a pharmaceuticals mogul and a lingerie billionaire were those said to be selling real estate very quietly. "Some of the prices are so egregious and greedy," a real estate broker told the newspaper. "Why would you put the thing on, have friends speculate on why you would or wouldn't be selling? You do it quietly, and if someone gives you the right number, then great."

The coping strategies of the rich during difficult times remain in a different stratosphere compared to those less wealthy. For example, CoGoJets, a plane chartering company, says on its website that clients can save 50 per cent to 90 per cent if they use its "jetpooling" service and share a trip. A recent steep decline in overall consumption has left some analysts worrying about the "paradox of thrift" because if nothing takes the place of that spending, the recession could get worse. Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, described "how individual virtue can be public vice, how attempts by consumers to do the right thing by saving more can leave everyone worse off."

Mr Obama's stimulus package of about $780 billion in spending on public works to kick-start the economy is the focus of fierce ideological battles in Congress between tax-cutting Republicans and liberal-spending Democrats. Away from politics, retailers were preparing for more belt-tightening akin to a "financial hangover". The market for high-end luxury goods, in particular, was likely to fall into recession this year, according to the consulting firm Bain & Co.

On the brighter side, bargains abound and few believe the great American pastime of shopping will fade away but rather the new "recessionistas" will develop a heightened consciousness for when they do buy. Ms Barry has seen an increase in the number of clients who consign their barely worn designer clothes, shoes and handbags for sale through her appointment-only showroom, and more of them are donating the proceeds to charity.

Her international clientele include women in the Middle East who have bought her vintage Chanel jewellery and clothing. The average price of a new Chanel jacket is $6,000 but only costs a quarter of that at Ms Barry's boutique. "We used to have excessive spending when there was a lot of money around and the focus was on labels and status. It's good to have a correction," said Ms Barry, who used to provide trends and brands analysis for companies. "But there's this whole other group of women who have emerged who are buying consignment in order to treat themselves."

sdevi@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world, April 15

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National