The Russian economy is one of the hardest-hit by the global recession. But that hasn't stopped the country's richest from gathering in the capital and showing off how much luxury they can still afford.
Plenty of fur was on display at the Millionaire Fair
Peruse the offerings at the Moscow Millionaire Fair and you're bound to be impressed. Fast cars, high-bred horses, even cell phones cased in solid gold are just a few examples of the luxury items the fair marketed to wealthy attendees over the weekend.
Nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, few things in Russia show the dramatic changes capitalism has brought to this country more than this.
"We have everything here in Moscow these days," said 22-year-old Oksana, a self-described "party girl of Russian high society" who was attending her fifth Millionaire Fair. "Ten or 20 years ago we were immensely far behind cities like Paris, London or New York, when it came to luxury goods. But we have caught up."
New year brings new concept
The very rich can afford a silvery Kamrus Mercedes SLR 750
The atmosphere was considerably gloomier at last year's fair, when the economic crisis was reaching its peak. But rising oil prices have put wealthy Russian's in a better mood, and the fair's organizers this year hoped for a better turnout.
"We have changed our concept, and beginning this year we'll have one fair in the summer and one in the fall instead of one big autumn show," said Yelena Kudosova, the fair's director.
This year's fair was also considerably smaller than previous years, which were held on the outskirts of the capital in a 33,000 square-meter exhibition complex. The new location was less than a quarter of that size, but in the heart of downtown Moscow.
"(The smaller size) allowed us to move into this beautiful space next to the Kremlin, where we always wanted to be," said Kudosova. "This is the appropriate surrounding."
Forgetting the past
Kudosova said the Millionaire Fair was in no way an attempt to mask the devastating effect the economic crisis has had on Russia. However, there is no denying the facts: According to Forbes business magazine, the 25 richest Russians alone have so far lost a total of 180 billion euros ($270 billion).
But according to Galina Dorafeyeva, an exhibitor showing top-of-the-line fur coats, many of Russia's wealthy want to forget about last year's losses and move on.
"Of course the crisis hasn't ended yet, but it's obvious that people are sick of being too cautious," she said. "They want to go out there and treat themselves again, for example. Yes, some might be investing a little less than usual, but they do want to spend money."
On the outside looking in
Meanwhile just outside the fair, security was making sure that no one without an invitation or ticket got inside. Several passersby strolling in the Kremlin gardens stopped to gawk at the big banner advertising the Millionaire Fair.
Expensive high-bred horses were one of the many luxury items at the fair
Many, like 29-year-old project manager Igor, seem torn between fascination and disgust.
"The whole world is still in the middle of a crisis," he said. "And such a lavish event in the center of our capital - is that really necessary? But in Russia people have always loved glamour and luxury, and they like to show it off."
Showing off is precisely what the Millionaire Fair seems to be about. But for 22-year-old Oksana, who is not a millionaire herself, it's a chance to escape the economic gloom and experience a world many Russians can only dream of.
"Just look around here at the high-end real estate, the yachts, the horses over there that cost up to 200,000 euros," she said. "Here at the Millionaire Fair I can look at it, touch it, feel like I'm part of this luxury world myself."
Author: Mareike Aden (acb)
Editor: Nancy Isenson