Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The secret economics of a VIP party

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Ashley Mears describes in the Economist an existence that strikes me as grim:

The nightclub pulsed in the Miami heat. Dancers waved glow sticks with neon letters spelling out “F*** me I’m famous”. The millionaire was dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans, and would have been easy to miss if he hadn’t been surrounded by a dozen tall, thin, beautiful women and waving a pink bottle of Cristal champagne. His next drinks order arrived in a ceremonial procession, known in the nightclub business as a bottle train. A group of bouncers carried two bins full of champagne bottles and sparklers, lifted high above their heads. They were followed by a procession of stiletto-clad waitresses, bearing the same gifts.

Onlookers cheered in the glow and held up their phones to take pictures. A man standing next to me looked blasé at the unfolding scene and offered me a swig from his own champagne bottle: a 2004 Cristal rosé.

How much does this cost?” I asked him, gesturing at the bottle.

He told me it was $1,700. I watched as the millionaire shoved his bottle towards the face of a nearby model, causing the expensive liquid to foam wastefully over the neck.

We’ve all seen scenes like this on Instagram or the pages of glossy magazines. Over the last few decades, a new elite has emerged, partly as a result of deregulation of the financial sector in the West and partly because of the spread of global capitalism across the world. This elite is more geographically dispersed and mobile than the aristocrats and capitalists of yesteryear. And an industry has sprung up to feed it.

A small cohort of oligarchs, New York hedge-fund managers and Silicon Valley investors now patronise a network of nightclubs that span the globe. Whether they’re in Miami or St Tropez these clubs tend to have similar decor and the same clientele. The coronavirus pandemic has temporarily paused the partying, but you can be sure that this sector of society, locked down in large homes and insulated from the economic recession, will soon be up for a good time again.

The visual tropes of this world are familiar even to non-vips: angular cheekbones, Louboutin heels, sprays of champagne. What most people don’t realise is that the apparently spontaneous abandon of those extravagant nights is, in fact, painstakingly planned. It takes a carefully hidden, intricate economy, based on a complex brokering of beauty and status, to create an atmosphere in which people will spend $100,000 on alcohol in a single night. This economy’s currency is young women. The leggy blondes who surrounded the millionaire that night in Miami were not there by chance.

I went behind the scenes in this world between 2010 and 2014, trying to establish how it worked. Because I was a model before I became a sociologist, I was able to enter roped-off areas that ruthlessly exclude any woman who does not conform to a certain body type. I talked to the young women who surrounded the millionaires and came to understand that, whether they fully acknowledged it or not, they were being managed: shunted in and out of nightclubs with brisk efficiency. Women in this world were living props in a carefully scripted theatre that created real financial value for men – the promoters who set up the scene, the nightclub-owners who raked in the bar bills, the wannabe billionaires who used the environment to network. The women’s motivation was harder to pinpoint. But every night they gamely donned their heels and hit the clubs. The show had to go on.

Dre was a promoter for some of the biggest clubs on the vip circuit (like others in this story he asked me to use a pseudonym). He was a handsome 38-year-old with a shaved head and dazzling smile, whose job was to encourage big spenders to book tables at the clubs he worked for. He achieved this partly through his own charisma. He’d dabbled in the music business before becoming a promoter (at a certain point in the night he performed an unforgettable rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean”), and was the kind of person celebrities liked to greet on a night out. But Dre’s main talent was his ability to bring in models, ideally at least five a night (other promoters aimed for ten – it was important for there to be an excess of beauty). “I know how to talk to girls,” Dre often said. “They like me.”

Through spending a lot of time with Dre in New York, I learned the basic economics of the system that he worked so effectively. In some ways Dre’s job resembled that of a pimp but, like every promoter, he flinched when I raised the idea. Some of the rich nightclub customers may have had sex with the beautiful women rustled up for them by promoters, though I didn’t see much evidence of this (often the men hardly spoke to them). But fundamentally that was not the reason the women were there. The point of gathering a crowd of models was to put customers in the right kind of mood to spend money. Dre’s ultimate client was the club-owner, who transformed that ambience into profit by inflating the price of the alcohol they bought by up to 1,000%. That mark-up included the invisible labour it took to summon the models. Customers paid so they didn’t have to bring the women themselves or engage a broker to procure them. They paid for the illusion of spontaneity.

Dre had a gift for creating a relaxed atmosphere in fancy places. I watched him at work in a famous restaurant in SoHo, where the owner was paying him at least $1,000 a night to bring in the right crowd. He sat flanked by bottles and beautiful women, apparently kicking back but in reality watching the room like a hawk. “ . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. Later in the article:

Katia took what she could from the scene: sex with a promoter, smoking his pot on the beach, dining in fancy restaurants and the excitement of seeing where the night would take you. Yet she couldn’t simply leave a club if she wasn’t having fun, or when her feet hurt from the heels the promoter made her wear. She kept a credit card tucked in the back of her phone for emergencies, but she didn’t have much money so she relied on promoters to get around. Katia looked back on the experience as an overwhelmingly positive one. “It was amazing, no?”

Yet I wasn’t totally convinced. The Miami experience seemed pretty exhausting, and Katia and the other women had little capacity to determine their own movements. Another model I met, Petra, had been taken to Miami by a different promoter for a client whom she described as a “Brazilian mafia guy or whatever”.

Petra had been put up in a penthouse with a group of women, but it turned out not to have any furniture, so they were moved to a bedroom inside the client’s place. On the first night there, Petra’s friend Rose felt ill during dinner and wanted to go back to rest. No one would take her, and since she didn’t have a key to the flat, she had to wait outside the nightclub until the early morning when the clients had finished partying. Petra, meanwhile, felt she had no choice but to go into the club without her. “I had to go there alone not knowing these people, and then I did feel like a piece of meat, like totally, I had to be fun…so I was like, dancing, and laughing, and hating my life at the same time.” She had no control over her own time: “Just not being able to eat on time, you think that’s ok, but when it happens, it’s not,” she said.

Most of the women I spoke to seemed to think that following promoters around would be valuable in the longer term, though this value was hard to measure. One benefit was  . . .

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2020 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Memes

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