OCTOBER 9 will be forever etched in the minds of Wall Street traders. In 2007, it marked a record high for the US stock market, and last year the date entered the history books again when the market ended trading below 8,600, reaching a five-year low. The financial crisis seemed halfway toward terminal velocity.
That same day, away from the market mayhem, Wesaunard - manufacturers of exclusively hand-crafted towel warmers - unveiled its latest creation, a towel warmer shaped like a guitar. At a time when global markets were imploding, news of this bathroom accessory seems beyond absurd - as if their creators thought: 'We know you have a lot on your plate right now, so let's ease one of your worries. No more cold, soggy towels this winter!' But at US$3,000, it's no cheap joke, nor is it a one-off kooky creation.
Such luxury novelty items are not new, but in tough financial times production of these frivolous toys could be expected to wane. A browse through the Born Rich website, however, reveals otherwise. The site that features the 'snootiest thingamajigs around' seems oblivious to any financial crisis, conveying an optimistic view with its array of expensive gadgets.
Take, for example, Billionaire Couture's umbrella. A creation by the Italian luxury brand founded by Formula One magnate, Flavio Briatore and designer Angelo Galasso, it is made from crocodile skin and has become the world's most expensive brolly at US$50,000. Or how about gold- and diamond-studded earphones for GBP3,499 (HK$41,000)? Made by Belgian jeweller Casa Gi, they are adorned with 118 premium quality diamonds and set in 18-carat gold.
That such extravagant items are still being made in this climate is surprising. But there are people willing to buy them. At the time of going to press, an Ariel-powered wooden car was up for grabs on eBay, with bidding standing at US$22,456. Originally built in 1959, it boasts a rare 1952 Ariel Square Four motorcycle engine, four-cylinder 1000cc engine and an assortment of parts from Citroen, Renault and a Cadillac. And last November a car's number plate 1 RH sold at auction for GBP247,652.
Says Jacques Blanc, the general manager of Alchemist, a bespoke service provider specialising in gold and platinum paint jobs for cars: 'Pure luxury isn't a trend; it's about difference. You will always find people who feel different and want to show off that difference. Ours is definitely the first market to be hit during a credit crunch, but the thing to remember is that you don't need to be rich to be different.' The company recently covered an Aston Martin DB (007) in 24-carat gold leaf.
Even the young have a role to play. New from the house of Fendi is a white-mink baby pram. Giving new meaning to the phrase 'born into the lap of luxury', it takes six months to make and costs HK$82,000. All this before the tot's first birthday, because after that, it's on to Fendi's white-mink stroller.
While the fiscal future is not looking so bright, these sales prove that luxury, even the most over the top, will always have a market. And these cases are best summed up by the French proverb: 'It is impossible to overdo luxury.'