Can it really be just 10 years since the stripe-shirted young urban professional turned conspicuous consumption into a way of life? Much has changed since Recession cured the Eighties myopia which led to a widespread belief that the good times would never end. Today, it seems, people simply don't react in the same way to having a rosy income.
Take Richard Emanuel, 30, managing director of DX Communications - a mobile phones business which he launched in 1991 and which now boasts a turnover of pounds 50 million. "Today there's more of a focus on quality of life. There was a feeling then that the Eighties boom would last for ever. In the Nineties, however, you can't afford to just live for today. Rather than buy a Ferrari, people are spending to improve the overall quality of their life."
Alex Johnson, 33, director of PR firm Freud's, made a significant financial killing when the company was sold to advertising agency AMV.BBDO two years ago. "People don't spend nearly as much on looking good as they did in the Eighties," he declares. "They're spending more on promoting the values close to them - if they have kids, they're spending more on their kids, if not they're spending more on their friends. It's less about attracting attention, more about gratifying people's nascent spirituality."
Really? Tell that to the young professionals eager to spend their thousands on designer suits, flash cars and deluxe inner-city pads. Business has never been brisker at upmarket London estate agents Holden Matthews in trendy Islington. "There's steady demand for good houses in prime locations. Young blades are looking for something central - especially converted commercial properties. They're willing to put down pounds 250,000 for a first time buy, while thirtysomethings with families are looking to trade up from a pounds 350,000 house to pounds 750,000 in one move," managing director Paul Williams says.
Fashionable mens' outfitter Ozwald Boateng reports a rapid rise in the number of City types, barristers, media executives and celebrities popping in for an extra suit for Christmas. "We're traditional with a twist. A lot of men don't want to wear the classic Savile Row suit, unless they were born to that ilk," bespoke consultant Daniel Seisay explains. Popular purchases of the moment include classic fabrics, gold pinstripe and, for the more adventurous, purple mohair and velvet, he says. Ready-to-wear suits start at pounds 895. Bespoke suits tailored to an individual's requirements start at pounds 1,700.
Meanwhile, upmarket travel firm Abercrombie & Kent is profiting from growing interest in the upscale adventure end of their trade. "There are still a lot of people from the City coming to us for an exclusive destination to get away from it all. There's steady demand for small, exclusive Caribbean destinations and, of course, Necker Island," says spokeswoman Allyson Eggison. But, she adds: "There's growing demand for more challenging destinations or activities." These people need to get as far away from "reality" as is possible, and they're more than willing to pay the price. So, their tailor-made trips now include 10 nights in Oman for around pounds 2,000, 12 nights in the Antarctic, taking in the Falklands on the way from pounds 5,000 and quad biking in the Kalahari at pounds 196 a night.
But wait. It may not sound like it, but Messrs Emanuel and Johnson have a point. "Ostentation has become more subtle in the Nineties," says Nick Kendall, group planning director at advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty. One of BBH's clients is Audi, whose recent TV commercial lampooned yuppie values. The brash oik featured in the ad test drives and dismisses an Audi. "Not my style," he sneers. (Which for Audi and its discerning clientele was just as well.) Younger high fliers are increasingly buying classic cars rather than a Porsche or Ferrari, Kendall claims. Forget the Gold Rolex, the smart buy is a Platinum Tag.
"People are more careful," he believes. "They are more worried about showing it off and the trouble that can cause with growing tension between the wealthy and the larger, underclass. And they are more likely to put money into investment purchases - whether it's PEPs, pension funds or simply something that won't completely lose value in five years time."
Hoarding and hiding underpins the Nineties consumer's shopping mentality, Kendall adds. "People are expecting more from designer goods and luxury brands - they want quality rather than show and greater craftsmanship. They also want something personal. It's not about spending to achieve material wealth, it's about spending to achieve emotional wealth. People are increasingly interested in collecting experiences."
This can range from the seemingly indulgent to the coolly practical. "Yes I earn a lot but I work hard for it," says one thirtysomething trader who has spent the past seven years working for a US bank. "I spend on myself, on my family and on my friends but most of the money I make I invest. In 10 years time I want to be working for me. That's why I'm planning to invest in feature films. It will give me a foot in the door and it might eventually lead to a career change. By that point, of course, I'll be able to absorb the inevitable salary drop."
Richard Emanuel is an earnest advocate of developing interests away from business - which is why he's learning to fly. Thirty-three-year-old Brian Dodsworth, meanwhile, has put money he made from selling shares in his previous employer, a drug delivery system manufacturer, into funding himself to study an MBA at one of this country's leading business schools. "I didn't make enough money to retire on," he candidly admits.
Conscious of how insecure the job market has become, he decided against buying a sports car. "I decided instead to make sure I could move onwards and upwards and earn a shed-load of money elsewhere."
City hotshots itching to get their paws on this year's financial bonuses should take note. For as well as delivering the biggest pay-outs on record (worth pounds 1bn according to one estimate), 1997 has also been a year of fundamental change. The rollercoaster that now is the Far Eastern stock markets has left many leading banks with their fingers burned.
Meanwhile, a flurry of financial services mergers are now expected in the wake the recent union between Swiss banking giant UBS and Swiss Bank Corporation. Barclays and NatWest are likely to follow. The net effect is likely to be that star traders, who can today command basic salaries exceeding pounds 100,000 with bonuses of nearer pounds 1 million, find themselves playing a high-risk game of musical chairs. Thousands of job losses are predicted in the City of London alone as a result of this shake-down. And those who remain may soon see investment houses adapting their remuneration packages. A growing body of research suggests that employees are no longer motivated by salaries alone. Says Martin Short of City headhunters Jonathan Wren: "Increasingly, financial package is only part of the equation. Of growing importance is how stable a future employer is and whether they guarantee relevant training and clear career progression."
The end result - high income and attractive amounts of disposable cash - may not sound so different from the Eighties, but the difference is how it is achieved and, of course, spent. According to Richard Emanuel: "It's hard to say at 30 when and if I will want to take early retirement. But the important thing is to make sure that in 10 years time I will have that choice."
Inner-city pad, preferably converted commercial space
Avant-garde Italian, French and American designed furnishings, eg Scandinavia designs by Gubi stocked by West End store Purves and Purves
Classic cars - like a Bentley, E type Jag or VW Carmen Ghia
For the more flashy: bespoke, taylor-made clothes from trendy young designers. For the more discreet: jeans
Platinum Tag Hauer
Moroccan and Pacific Rim cuisine
Discreet cocktails - like Vodkatini
Africa, Antarctica, Oman, Yemen
Pensions, PEPs, investing in feature films, fine wines and art
Commuting from a country retreat
Off-the-shelf items readily available in the Conran Shop and Heal's
Ferrari and Porsche
Designer lines from Armani and Gucci - they're now seen as too mainstream
The Four-Hour Lunch
Magnums of Bolly
Thailand and the rest of the Far East
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