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‘Millionaire-Fair’ flaunts wealth despite crisis

MOSCOW, November 29 – Moscow’s top annual luxury fair was extravagant as always on opening night: champagne flowed freely, sexy models showed off the new Hummer and hardly anyone seemed worried about the global financial crisis.

Yachts, private islands and even an Irish castle are on offer this weekend at Millionaire Fair Moscow, Russia’s most heavily attended exposition of luxury goods and services, which kicked off with a big opening bash on Thursday.

Vendors painted a rosy picture and insisted that their wealthy customers would always pay for quality, crisis or no crisis.

"We are optimistic and we are sure everything will be normal," said Yevgeny Kochman, the head of Nordmarine, a yacht distributor whose stand was dominated by a hulking 17-metre yacht containing three bedrooms.

Asked how much it cost, Kochman laughed and said: "It is totally cheap. Two million euros."

Russia is likely to be a bright spot for yacht-makers as the global luxury goods market enters a recession in 2009, according to a report released last month by US research consultancy Bain and Company.

While more mature markets weaken, in countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China there will be "a surge in spending" on luxury goods of between 20 and 35 percent over the next five years, the report said.

That has led luxury goods makers to turn their attention to places like Russia — a trend that was clearly playing out at Millionaire Fair Moscow.

On Thursday evening, a pair of models dressed in camouflage shorts with fake handguns strapped to their thighs posed in front of a Hummer, the jeep based on a US military vehicle that has become a status symbol among Moscow’s elite.

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"In Russia the road for the Hummer is bright," said Artyom Frolov, a sales manager with a Hummer dealership in Moscow.

Frolov did not anticipate a drop-off in sales due to the global credit crunch. Many of his customers pay in cash and do not need loans, he said.

And for some wealthy Russians the Hummer is not just a status symbol, but practical too: "Some use them as a school bus, to take their kids to school," Frolov said.

On more special occasions, a rich Russian might want to order entertainment, which is where General Entertainment Associates, or GEA, comes in.

The company has brought world-famous pop stars like Pink and Christina Aguilera to Russia for private parties, GEA manager Anya Kolesnikova said at the company’s stand on Thursday.

She added that Moscow’s elite are mainly attracted to big names: "You have to be famous…. Pick any Russian oligarch and they’re the type of person who would like to bring Christina Aguilera. While she’s hot."

High-end real estate from around the world was also on offer at Millionaire Fair Moscow, which attracted 40,000 people last year and is part of a network of Millionaire Fairs, with the others in Amsterdam, Munich and Istanbul.

One real estate firm, Intermark Savills, was selling an Irish castle for 55 million British pounds (83 million dollars, 65 million euros).

Meanwhile, Dubai-based realtor James Lamonde was touting a development called Pangkor Laut located on several artificial islands off the coast of the Persian Gulf emirate.

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"It’s ultra, ultra, ultra luxury," Lamonde said, adding that he saw no risk that the property would go unsold.

"Obviously there is a global financial crisis going on," he said. "But the kind of people who are meant to live there will always live there. They don’t see things like that."

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