By FRANK SWERTLOW
L.A.’s nasty ’90s a time of recession, aerospace layoffs, natural disasters and riots are fading into memory. These days, with the economy and stock market surging, wealthy Angelenos are on a spending spree reminiscent of the high-flying ’80s, according to shopkeepers, car dealers, real estate brokers and others working the high end of the market.
“The rich are buying huge,” said Linda May, a broker in the Beverly Hills office of Coldwell Banker/John Douglas Co. “Everybody has loosened his belt. L.A. is soaring.”
One way to soar is to buy a Ferrari, the Italian stallion that can easily zoom past the 150 mph zone that is, if you can get one. “We are pre-sold through the entire summer,” said Bryant Kraden, a salesman at Ferrari of Beverly Hills where a top-of-the-line four-passenger 456 model sells for $230,000. “Why spend this kind of money? It’s a wonderful reward for success.”
So are diamonds. The 70-carat blue diamond created by Harry Winston for Gloria Stewart in “Titanic” was subsequently sold to an undisclosed buyer for $20 million. A similar sized white diamond, not as rare as Stewart’s, sold for $10 million.
“Business is up more than 50 percent,” said Armand Espanol, the manager of Winston’s Beverly Hills store. “People are calmer.”
Unlike previous spending sprees, however, this one is not fueled by Middle East oil money or Japanese real estate fortunes. The boom of ’98 is all American and mostly Angeleno.
“I did a survey of how many homes sold over $5 million during the last three years,” said John Bruce Nelson, of John Bruce Nelson and Associates, a Beverly Hills real estate company that specializes in multimillion-dollar deals. “Two years ago, there were 30. Last year, there were 40, and this year we’ve already had 30. How many were bought by foreigners? One, Dodi Fayed. The rest are Americans, principally local people.”
May agreed. “No Middle Easterners, Japanese or foreign investors,” she said. “It’s investment bankers, entertainment executives, lawyers.”
So far this year, sales of L.A. County homes in the $1 million-plus category are up 30 percent over the like period last year, said John Karevoll, financial editor of Acxiom/Dataquick Information Systems Inc. in San Diego, which maintains a nationwide database of home sales.
He said the highest price was fetched for a home in Malibu, which sold for $12.3 million last month.
“People have made a lot of money in the stock market,” May said. “In the early ’90s, some people experienced a loss of 50 percent in their equity. It’s come back. People are buying and selling.”
And shopping. At Louis Vuitton in Beverly Hills, the biggest sale so far this year was $50,000 in custom luggage. “It was sold to someone in Beverly Hills,” said Ron Michaels, the manager of the French leather-goods store.
Dawn Moore, managing director of Cristolfe, the French flatware company, said her biggest sale this year was $270,000 to an Angeleno.
High-end men’s wear is also booming. Stores like Armani on Rodeo Drive are jammed. Neiman Marcus is selling a custom-tailored Brioni suit for about $10,000. Even so, Amy Vizek, manager of Ermenegildo Zegna boutique on Rodeo Drive, said many men these days are careful not to flaunt their wealth.
“They want quality but no logos,” said Vizek, whose suits start at $1,500. “We have men who insist we take off any labels you can see. Less is more.”
Some Angelenos, of course, still want to be loud. They confidently smoke $25 Cubans and drop by smoking shops like Dunhill or cigar bars like the Grand Havana Room.
For many of these people, you are what you drive. Rolls Royce of Beverly Hills sells five Bentley models, starting at $205,000 for the Arnage and moving to $400,000 for the Mulliner Azure. Rolls, itself, only has one model available, the $216,400 Silver Seraph.
“People are not blas & #233; about their toys anymore,” said Derek Tracy, manager of the Rolls dealership.
Mike Gerrity, of North Hollywood-based Legendary Motorcycles, said lawyers, accountants, doctors, actors and entertainment technicians are becoming more adventurous when it comes to what they drive. They’ll spend $15,000 to $60,000 for customized Harley Davidson bikes.
“It’s boys and their toys,” he said. “They are trying to recapture their youth. In the past, they all played golf or skied. Now executives go riding on weekends to places like the Rock Store in Malibu Canyon. But it’s an extension of their business.”
Gerrity said many of his clients are buying expensive Western wear and horses. “They want to be cowboys,” he said. “They collect vintage guns and saddles and paraphernalia. It’s not uncommon for someone to spend $25,000 on a quarter horse.”
The opening of the Getty Center underscores the arrival of Los Angeles as an art center. Yoram Gil, who operates Alter & Gil Inc., a private art dealership in Brentwood that caters to wealthy clients, called the Los Angeles art market “vivacious, exciting and excitable.
“A lot of people think they need an important work of art in their homes,” he said. “They will pay good prices for important names, often as much as $5 million.”
Wealthy Angelenos, however, are buying more than just expensive homes and luxury keepsakes. It is not uncommon for parents to spend $15,000 a year for private schools like the Brentwood School or Harvard-Westlake.
Catherine Painvin, who designs children’s clothes for the French boutique Tartine et Chocolat, which has just opened on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, said her clients like to take care of their youngsters. Cotton dresses at her shop sell for $99. Silk ones go for $300.
To keep youthful, wealthy Angelenos turn to a list of high-priced surgeons. It is not uncommon for patients to spend $25,000 for facial surgery and liposuction.
Todd Person, owner of Metabolic Project in Westwood, offers a less-severe alternative. He sells home gyms to wealthy clients. Outfitting a top-of-the-line gym, complete with the latest audio and video equipment so you can watch TV or listen to tunes while you sweat, costs as much as $60,000.
“People are looking for the Fountain of Youth,” Person said.
Marshall Blonsky, a New York University professor who studies semiotics non-verbal communication, such as the way people dress said the burgeoning materialism of the late ’90s represents the unveiling of a new order replacing the old guard that recalled the bleak days of the Great Depression.
“Today, you need stuff and above all, you have to show your stuff,” said Blonsky, a longtime student of L.A. culture.