Oct 24, 2009
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Party over mood at Russian 'Millionaire Fair'

Oct 24, 2009

MOSCOW, Oct 24, 2009 (AFP) - Despite its show-boat extravagance, Moscow's top annual luxury fair was morose on opening night as champagne-sipping party goers complained of a hangover from the global financial crisis.

In the surest sign the good-time highs were over, few even bothered to attended this year's Millionaire Fair, Russia's main exposition of luxury goods and services, which kicked off Friday 23 October.

"The entire luxury industry is shaken by the crisis. There are 30 percent less participants this year," Oleg Makarevich, the head of yatch-distributor Mas, said leaning on a 225,000-euro (337,545-dollar) model beached on the red-carpet at his stand.

"In the space of one year, my overall turnover dropped 40 percent," lamented Mark Tuck, the head of Paradise Properties, which markets villas in Bali. He added that half of the group's clientele are Russian.

"Everyone has been affected by the crisis, including the rich," admitted Tuck, who nonetheless voiced faith that business was picking up again.

The mood was no brighter next door at the stand of Anson Estates, a Spanish real estate firm offering luxury homes in Marbella and the Dominican Republic, each worth between 3.5 and 8.4 million euros.

"The crisis is hard, sales are down," one sales representative Francisco Galvan said. "We sold only two villas this year compared to six in 2008."

In a bid to mask the poor turn-out, organizers hosted the fair a short walk from the Kremlin in the 18th-century Manege centre -- a tiny space compared to the immense Crocus-expo centre outside Moscow, where the event unfolded previous years.

At the fair's entrance Friday 23 October, an oversized limousine, 13.5 metres long by 1.8 metres tall, attracted visitors to its opulent leather interiors and VIP bar with deafening club music.

Bear-skinned covered arm chairs were also among the gilt furnishing, extravagant accessories and novelty gadgets on display.

In one corner of the hall, the world's most expensive thoroughbred horses showed off under bright arena spotlights.

But market-leading, high-end brands Bentley and Rolls Royce were absent from the fair, as were Italian-made Agusta helicopters, a favorite prize of Russian oligarchs.

Russia was to be a bright spot amid a recession on the global market for high-end goods in 2009, according to many analysts, driving the luxury industry to push its wares in Moscow and compensate for slacking sales elsewhere.

Some vendors seemed to have developed a sudden allergy to the word "crisis" and insisted on an upbeat take that sounded a bit forced.

"Up until now things have been fine, let's see things in a positive light," said Nasser Al-Hai, the head of the Dubai-based firm Ultimate Motors.

"I don't speak about the crisis, I think positive!" a smiling salesgirl said at a stand featuring Swiss-made Zai skis of granite and wood that sell for up to 8.500 euros a pair.

As the fair wound down in the early morning Saturday 24 October, a protest by activists from the opposition movement The Other Russia broke up the flashy scene.

One activist climbed on stage shouting to the assembled crowd to "Go to Hell!", news agency Interfax reported.by Benoit Finck

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