Cannes? Oh that's just for the merely rich

The super rich attend Cannes Lions and other ultra glitzy and ultra exclusive events

New York - Venture capitalist and art collector Jean Pigozzi was lounging by the pool at his villa in Cap d'Antibes, France, early this month, enjoying a rare break from what he calls "the circuit".

After attending the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, he flew to the TED ideas conference in Vancouver, mingling with the likes of tech investor Yuri Milner and Mr Larry Page of Google at the "billionaires' dinner". Next came the art auctions in New York and the Cannes Film Festival, where he threw a pool party attended by Woody Allen and billionaire Paul Allen.

In the next few weeks, after the Art Basel fair, he will be off to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and "the Mediterranean milk run" - the summer megayacht procession leading from St-Tropez to Portofino and Capri.

"We go all around the world to see some of the same people," Mr Pigozzi said. "It's a circuit. There are a lot of parties, sure. But you'd be surprised at how much business gets done."

While the wealthy of the past travelled mainly for leisure and climate, today's rich crisscross the globe almost monthly in search of access, entertainment and intellectual status.

Travelling in flocks of private jets, they have created a new social calendar of economic conferences, entertainment events, exclusive parties and art auctions.

And in the separate nation of the rich, citizens no longer speak in terms of countries. They simply say: "We'll see you at Art Basel."

An analysis using data from NetJets, the private jet company, and studies from Wealth-X, the wealth research firm, offers a look at the annual flight path of this elite travelling circus.

It starts in St Bart's, with the New Year's Eve party thrown by Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich on his 28-ha estate, with top celebrities and business and media titans in attendance.

After that, it is on to the World Economic Forum in Davos, then the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, where this year politicians like Tony Blair and Wesley Clark, along with billionaire hedge fund and private equity chiefs like Ken Griffin and Leon Black, chatted about the global economy.

The art auctions in New York in May kick off the spring. Then it is back to Europe for the Cannes International Film Festival, the Monaco Grand Prix, Art Basel and the Royal Ascot horse race in Britain.

In the summer, the wealthy disperse to the Hamptons, Nantucket, the South of France and other resorts.

In late August, the car-loving rich head to Pebble Beach for the Concours d'Elegance auto show and auctions, where last year a vintage Ferrari sold for US$38 million (S$50 million). Then it is back to New York for the Clinton Global Initiative for philanthropy mixed with hobnobbing.

Mr David Friedman, the president of Wealth-X, said many of today's rich are self-made entrepreneurs who prize business connections and making deals over spending time on the beach.

Saying that you chatted about self-driving cars over drinks in Sun Valley with Google's Sergey Brin conveys far more status than a winter tan from skiing in Gstaad.

"When they travel or socialise, there has to be some redeeming business value," Mr Friedman said. "They want a transaction, even from their social calendar."

The calendar is a closed loop of access because the rich want to be seen, he said, but only by one another. With outrage over inequality driving more wealth underground, flashy spending and public hedonism have become less fashionable in very wealthy circles. But the competition for status among newly minted billionaires has never been stronger.

So many rich people have been joining the circuit that Mr Pigozzi said a new "supercircuit" is emerging, one that has VIP events within the VIP events.

At the TED conference, the aptly named "billionaires' dinner" held nearby has become the most sought-after ticket. And true media moguls now attend the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, a few weeks after the film festival. "Lions is now the important one," he said. "Cannes has become too mainstream."

New York Times

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Cannes? Oh that's just for the merely rich'. Print Edition | Subscribe