Parties, Planes, and Boats: The Lives of the Super Rich - Dinner Table Digest № 23
The Dinner Table Digest is an intermittent collection of interesting material from around the internet, curated by Peter Thurley at Dinner Table Don'ts. Subscribe today!
After going to high-end parties in Miami and Ibiza where we learn that women are, once again, economic commodities on display for men, we fly off to the London salesroom of a private jet salesman, who hooks us up with a promotional flight with Tony Robbins. Finally we dive into the world of super yachts, which have recently eclipsed private jets as the status symbols of the ultra rich.
Dinner Table Don'ts is supported by your continued gifts. To receive exclusive posts and support my work, please consider becoming a paid subscriber at $5/mth.
The Secret Economics of a VIP party - Ashley Mears - The Economist
Before there are boats and planes, there are parties were the moderately rich look for opportunities to become super rich.
The spending sprees which the promoters’ women stimulated were not necessarily motivated by a desire to impress them. I came to realise that such gestures were often directed at other rich male customers. One club-goer told me about a “bottle Olympics” between two customers from India and Pakistan that he witnessed one night, each striving to outdo the other in ordering rare bottles of champagne. A backdrop of beautiful women facilitated such primitive battles. Status is a sensitive thing. It exists only when an audience recognises it: it cannot be bought outright without a loss of status. This means that VIP clubs have to construct an environment which makes status-seeking seem the by-product of a fun and spontaneous night out. “Each night is a production,” one promoter told me. “It’s a show.” …
Good promoters strived to make their relationship with their female entourage feel authentic. During the day, they might treat women to generous lunches or drive them to castings in big SUVs. Some women described their connections with promoters as being like “family”.
Promoters also became romantically involved with the women: one described his tactic for bringing a new group of models under his wing as: “You find the popular girl – the most exciting popular girl in the apartment – and you fuck her.” Above all, promoters didn’t want women to see them as brokers or employers compensating them for labour.
The reality is that promoters do manage young women’s labour. They recruit, control and discipline them like a manager overseeing their workforce.
Selling Airborne Opulence to the Upper Upper Upper Class - Gideon Lewis-Kraus - The New York Times
Before the leisure that a yacht provides come business needs; when time is money, being able to fly to a meeting on a moment's notice is worth it. But how, exactly, does one go about buying a private jet? Steve Varsano, who operates the world's only physical jet dealership in London, gives us the lowdown:
A research staff works on a trading floor behind convexities of smoked glass, at cockpit-like desks of kid-glove Bentley leather with three screens apiece. They begin with an industry-standard subscription database, but its information — serial number, registration information, sales history, whatever is known of the ownership and any publicly listed current prices — is almost always incomplete or unreliable, as the most sensitive data is concealed underneath layers of shell companies incorporated in places like Delaware, Panama or the British Virgin Islands. Beyond ferreting out the basic question of ownership, Varsano’s researchers try to gather as much market information as they can. They’ll see that a given plane is going out of warranty in a year or two, or is about to hit the end of a corporate depreciation schedule, or is due for the sort of routine but expensive engine check that regulators require, or they’ll know a new model is due from the factory soon, and they’ll ask if the owner has given any thought to a sale. Varsano is known to represent serious buyers, so if they call and say they’ve got a customer in the market for a G650 or a Falcon 900LX, his researchers are confident they’ll get legitimate (if exaggerated) bid-ask spreads.
…on some level he’s well aware that his business relies on covetousness and increasingly customized definitions of need. One of the peculiarities of inequality, as psychologists and social scientists have somewhat belatedly come to understand, is that it has a kind of fractal nature. The relationship of the middle class to the rich is replicated in the relationship between the merely rich and the extremely wealthy. Varsano’s target class is so small that these dynamics, here between the extremely wealthy and the unimaginably so, are crystallized on the level of the individual. The owner of a $25 million plane feels morally judicious — even humble — insofar as he doesn’t own a $70 million plane, while at the same time he admires that of his neighbor and hopes for an upgrade. The three or four hundred owners of the $70 million plane come to see it in short order not as a luxury but as a business and lifestyle requirement, and are in turn frustrated that the wireless signal isn’t strong enough and that there just aren’t enough landing slots in Hong Kong or hangar spaces for parking in Mumbai.
The Haves and the Have-Yachts - Evan Osnos - The New Yorker
And then there's the boats. In a world where L.O.A. - Length Over All - reigns supreme, the yachts of the world's richest individuals are getting bigger and bigger. It is, in my view, the filthy rich equivalent of a dick swinging contest. Unlike private jets, which are, at least superficially, a legitimate business expense, the only purpose of a yacht is pleasure. Or is it?
For the moment, a gigayacht is the most expensive item that our species has figured out how to own. In 2019, the hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin bought a quadruplex on Central Park South for two hundred and forty million dollars, the highest price ever paid for a home in America. In May, an unknown buyer spent about a hundred and ninety-five million on an Andy Warhol silk-screen portrait of Marilyn Monroe. In luxury-yacht terms, those are ordinary numbers. “There are a lot of boats in build well over two hundred and fifty million dollars,” Jamie Edmiston, a broker in Monaco and London, told me. His buyers are getting younger and more inclined to spend long stretches at sea. “High-speed Internet, telephony, modern communications have made working easier,” he said. “Plus, people made a lot more money earlier in life.”
A Silicon Valley C.E.O. told me that one appeal of boats is that they can “absorb the most excess capital.” He explained, “Rationally, it would seem to make sense for people to spend half a billion dollars on their house and then fifty million on the boat that they’re on for two weeks a year, right? But it’s gone the other way. People don’t want to live in a hundred-thousand-square-foot house. Optically, it’s weird. But a half-billion-dollar boat, actually, is quite nice.” Staluppi, of Palm Beach Gardens, is content to spend three or four times as much on his yachts as on his homes. Part of the appeal is flexibility. “If you’re on your boat and you don’t like your neighbor, you tell the captain, ‘Let’s go to a different place,’ ” he said. On land, escaping a bad neighbor requires more work: “You got to try and buy him out or make it uncomfortable or something.” The preference for sea-based investment has altered the proportions of taste. Until recently, the Silicon Valley C.E.O. said, “a fifty-metre boat was considered a good-sized boat. Now that would be a little bit embarrassing.” In the past twenty years, the length of the average luxury yacht has grown by a third, to a hundred and sixty feet.
BONUS: Wild Superyacht Secrets I Learned When I Became a Deckhand - Brandon Presser - Bloomberg
What's it like working on a superyacht anyway?
All FREE subscribers have access to Dinner Table Digests, and to any past content that has been made available to everyone.
A paid subscription nets you Special Edition Digests (like this recent edition on Abortion Rights), my Peter, What Books Are You Reading series, original essays, and acerbic social commentary. Become a supporter of my work today!
I am grateful for your support, and your eyeballs; I look forward to producing interesting and engaging content in the future. I would be especially honoured if you would consider donating $5 per month so that I can continue to create more excellent work in the future. And, of course, if you have any ideas about what you would like to see among the special content, I am all ears!