April 30, 2007

THE CLASSIC PLIGHT OF THE NOUVEAU RICHE...:


The Pirate Pose
: Twenty years after Bonfire of the Vanities, the author checks in on the new masters of the universe and finds them even coarser and ruder than their predecessors could have ever imagined being. (Tom Wolfe, May 2007, Conde Nast Portfolio)

Somehow the members of the Knickerbocker, the Brook, the Union, and the Leash, for that matter, do not seem too keen on recruiting people infinitely richer than they are who pride themselves on their aggressive nature and will happily see to it you enjoy doing things their way; even less so, the three clubs that count, socially, in Greenwich, the Round Hill Club, the Field Club, and the Greenwich Country Club. The country club is bigger and doesn’t seem as picky as the others, but it is not eager to welcome these people.

So what? We will build our own clubs! Our own sports emporia! Our own resorts! We will outdo the wobbly too-tall old elite with their scrubbed-wood aesthetic left over from the early days of the 20th century. Have you -ever actually been inside that Round Hill Club they’re so proud of? The worn wood, the rickety sashes, the tired paint, the failing fabrics, the cracked leather—the place is falling apart, the way we see it. (We’re capital-M Modern.) Imagine how it would look if it were set beside Stevie Cohen’s own 32,000-square-foot clubhouse and 14 acres of grounds! Next to Stevie’s art collection—which is nothing less than a world-class museum!—Stevie’s indoor basketball court, year-round swimming pool under glass, his gym, his spa facility, his theater for movies and every other electronic medium, his hair salon, two putting greens complete with sand traps and a fairway in between, and, as the pièce de résistance, an ice rink the size of Rockefeller Center’s with a 30-by-24-foot rink house for the Zamboni! Clubhouses? We’ll show you clubhouses!

The only thing missing is an entire 18-hole golf course. There is always the Burning Tree Country Club, whose membership is largely Jewish, nearby, but who has to bother with “nearby”? When we want to play golf, we just go over to the Westchester County Airport, where our Gulfstreams, Falcons, and full crews fly us anywhere in the world to play on courses that make the Greenwich Country Club look like miniature golf. Every weekend? Anytime we want!

As for the co-op buildings in New York, their residents having felt already burned by the fabulous new money, some are now considering new screening devices. The “good buildings” have traditionally required full financial--disclosure statements, certified by C.P.A.’s, to make sure applicants have enough money. The board of a building on Park Avenue is now considering rejecting applicants who have too much money. These days, when a personal net worth punches a hole in the earth’s atmosphere, it invariably signals one of these people.

In Greenwich, the two charities with old-money cachet, namely the Boys and Girls Club and Greenwich Hospital, will gladly accept these people’s money but don’t seem to have them on their boards. So these people’s money goes mainly to the Bruce Museum, which has no such scruples. The Bruce Museum’s Renaissance Ball is perhaps the most lavish party of the year in Greenwich.

In New York there are now, as there have been for 125 years, two cracks in the “walled city,” as Theodore Dreiser called it in Sister Carrie, through which new money can slip: charity and the arts.

But these people keep getting stuck halfway. On the art front, they soon realize they have a problem. New York’s great cultural repositories, the museums, libraries, and performing arts centers, have a social hierarchy. To use an N.C.A.A. analogy, there is Division I, consisting of (1) the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (2) the New York Public Library, (3) the Museum of Modern Art, and (4) the Frick Collection. From that elevation it is a terrifying plunge in status to Division III: the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, Lincoln Center, the Museum of Natural History, the Morgan Library, the Museum of the City of New York, and the New-York Historical Society. There is no Division II.

All these institutions are dying to get their hands on the stupendous palletloads of money that socially ambitious hedge fund managers have amassed. The Division III institutions can’t resist. For example, 43-year-old David Ganek of Level Global Investors is not only on the board of the Guggenheim, he is treated as a star. He is touted as having assembled a breathtaking art collection of his own, of the Richard Prince, Jeff Koons hot-now variety. He was co-chairman of the museum’s annual benefit extravaganza in November and appeared onstage with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and celebrity lure Dennis Hopper. The party brought in $4 million, which made the museum’s director ecstatic.

On the other hand, it was anemic compared with the Robin Hood Foundation’s $48 million. That may explain why another Division III board, Lincoln Center’s, has made Bruce Kovner of Caxton Associates vice chairman and featured star. Kovner has donated $20 million (as well as $25 million to Juilliard). He is also head recruiter of other hedge fund managers. Last year, he convened a breakfast meeting in his office with six of them, including Steven Mnuchin of Dune Capital and Eric Mindich of Eton Park, both of whom are also on the Division III Whitney’s board.

Lincoln Center’s gratitude to Kovner knows no boundaries—except possibly for a single tiny leg up he accomplished in all innocence. There were old-money sorts on the board who rolled their eyes in a northerly orbit the time he sat down at a meeting and slung one leg over the arm of his chair.

Only halfway, halfway, halfway … These people have yet to actually make it into the walled city and onto the boards of the Big Four. Steve Cohen has a $3 billion fortune, according to Forbes, and a huge collection of Modern and contemporary art reportedly worth $500 million one day and $750 million the next. That may be so, and the Museum of Modern Art would no doubt like to have some of both, but Cohen has gotten no further at the museum than its paintings-and-sculpture-acquisition committee. Ganek, likewise, has made it to the Metropolitan Museum’s photography committee, and that’s it for him.

Edith Wharton’s New York new money, embodied by Undine Spragg in The Custom of the Country, wanted nothing so much as to replicate the status symbols and customs of old money—the architecture, the art collections, the country estates, the dress, manners, politesse, sophistication, worldly wisdom—in order to achieve certified respectability. But we can assume no such thing about our new hedge fund money. Getting in socially in the Edith Wharton sense may be part of their ambition, but it crashes head-on into their most cherished values, their very status fixation. The animal spirits that have brought them their astounding fortunes and, equally important, honor in the eyes of one another practically guarantee that they will be shut out of places like the Knickerbocker, the Brook, the Union. For that matter, even a much younger, hipper club, such as Soho House, hasn’t welcomed them either—and these people thought they would fit right in.

So in the spring of 2005, they opened their own club, the Core Club, in midtown Manhattan, a club to beat all clubs, a billionaires club. No amenity would be regarded as too over-the-top. Every member working out in the club’s fitness center would have a butler at his elbow. To do what, was not immediately evident. Nevertheless, the prospects of the ultimate club seemed so swell, 100 people ponied up $100,000 each as “elite founding members,” reported a wide-eyed Time magazine. Each of the 400 other members—500 was the limit—agreed to pay an initiation fee of $55,000, staggeringly high for an in-town, indoor club, plus $1,000 a month in dues, meaning the club would take in $6 million a year in dues alone. The membership was a royal assortment of hedge fund managers and suchlike: David Ganek, Richard Perry, Stephen Schwarzman, Barry Rosenstein, Teddy Forstmann, Bruce Wasserstein, plus a few female celebrities such as Patty Smyth and Fergie, Duchess of York, plus—ahhhh, the poetry of status justice!—the bitterest and most poetic mocker of private clubs in our time … Daniel Loeb! Daniel Loeb … club man at last! The club remains flush with cash and Croesuses. Some have been saying, however, that there are reports that the members are not exactly wild about going to the club to beat all clubs anymore.

If so, the reason is not hard to find. At the Soho House, and wherever else the younger smart set convenes, the Core Club is now known as the “club for people who can’t get into clubs.”


...you don't belong anywhere and money doesn't buy belonging.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 30, 2007 9:42 AM
Comments

Groucho got it pretty much right on this one.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 1, 2007 2:36 AM

It was a project doomed to failure. The goal was to gain acceptance by out-doing the old money. And the old money didn't care - you were not getting in, you gate-crasher.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 1, 2007 11:06 AM
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