Surreal. There I am, on the top floor of Sandton’s new Radisson hotel, faced by two portly men (both old enough to be my father), vying for my attention, each promising ever more lavish gifts.
‘St Tropez of Monaco?’ asks Mr. Silk-Shirt-and-White-Linen-Pants.
‘This man can’t stamp your passport,’ countered Mr Gleaming-Rolex, holding his pungent cigar away from my face.
A few tables away, Julius Malema and his entourage are quaffing Dom Perignon. Beautiful 20-somethings with weaves that probably cost more than most people’s car instalments swan around, hoping to catch the eye of a future benefactor. Waiters and waitresses scramble to ensure each table is well stocked with a choice of Moet & Chandon, Dom Perignon or Cristal. I’m surrounded by about 500 of Johannesburg’s beautiful and wealthy people.
The occasion: Kenny Kunene’s 40th birthday party at his exclusive nightclub, ZAR.
Yes, the party that earned Kenny the nickname Mr Sushi. The do with the R700 000 price tag that attracted the ire of Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi and dominated social discourse at the end of 2010. The party that, in one night of excess, reignited a national conversation about conspicuous consumption, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Khanyi Mbau first zipped around Johannesburg’s congested streets in her yellow Lamborghini.
Conspicuous consumption is, as the name suggests, about wearing your wealth on your sleeve. But this term isn’t new; it was coined in the nineteenth century by economist Thorstein Veblen to refer to the behaviour of America’s ‘leisure class’ - the so-called nouveau riche - characterised by the acquisition of luxuries to display their new-found wealth.
[You can read my entire article on pages 56 - 58 of the March edition of ELLE magazine. On shelves now.]