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The year of living extravagantly
In 2004, we saw the return of something everyone can gawk at: ridiculously conspicuous consumption.
December 20, 2004: 9:31 AM EST
By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - This was the year that Americans reasserted their traditional values.

Heidi Klum in $11 million of support  
Heidi Klum in $11 million of support

I'm not talking about the red state-blue state election. No, I mean something Americans of all persuasions can celebrate: the return of vulgar excess.

After a period of relative restraint, somebody decided in 2004 that the super-rich might be ready for some financial frivolity.

Last spring, a New York restaurant tried to sell a $1,000 omelette topped with 10 ounces of sevruga caviar and large chunks of lobster. The only buyer: a British journalist with an enviable per diem.

About the same time, a Gotham bartender mixed up a $1,000 cocktail, slurped down by the first winner of "The Apprentice."

Of course, New York is a competitive place. Soon enough, an arms race developed among pricey restaurants. Masa, a really nice sushi bar, moved from Los Angeles to the Time Warner Center (home of CNN/Money). Dinner for two can easily top $1,000, even without overdoing it on the sake.

My favorite bit of culinary excess, though, was the $10,000 martini, which included a diamond floating in it. It seemed like nothing more than a publicity stunt for the Algonquin Hotel -- until some guy from Westchester bought one for his girl. He upgraded the rock, so it ended up costing $13,000.

The price of a nice pad

It's not just wining-and-dining that's going up. The cost of being a homebody also skyrocketed.

Last year, financier David Martinez paid $42 million for a condo atop the Time Warner Center, the most money ever for a New York City apartment. Rupert Murdoch topped that this week, by putting down $45 million for an old Rockefeller pad on Fifth Avenue.

What's more, Murdoch's record may not last long. Two other Manhattan apartments went up for sale last month at even crazier prices.

One penthouse in the Time Warner Center listed at $64 million, which would mean that Martinez's 12,000 square foot place wouldn't even be the best in his own building.

Then there's celebrity investor Martin Zweig, who is asking $70 million for his condo in the Pierre Hotel.

Is anybody buying?

The fattest section of mega-pricey consumer items may be in the automotive category, where the world's car companies are all competing to build rides for the ridiculously rich.

Among up-and-coming rap stars, the Bentley is a limousine of choice. Its $250,000 price tag looks economical compared to the new Mercedes Maybach or the Rolls Royce, each of which costs more than $400,000.

Sports cars are even more expensive. The top-of-the-line Ferrari model, the Enzo, goes for about $600,000. And rivals are rushing to the fore.

The new Mercedes SL McLaren got a lot of publicity this year, despite -- or probably because of -- its nearly half-million-dollar sticker. The new Porsche Carrera GT, priced in the same ballpark, received much attention, as well.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen is trying to revive the Bugatti brand, with the introduction of the Veyron, a $1 million car.

Inadvertently, though, the cars also demonstrate that vulgar excess is a tricky game. Maybachs and Rolls Royces are said to be selling below expectations. And the long-promised Veyron still hasn't launched.

Incredible intimates

If you're not in the market for property or cars, you may want something smaller and more intimate.

Follow the news that matters to you. Create your own alert to be notified on topics you're interested in.

Or, visit Popular Alerts for suggestions.

You could get an $11 million bra from Victoria's Secret. It has 2,800 diamonds, rubies and sapphires on it, and was modeled by uber-beauty Heidi Klum.

If that doesn't suit your taste, how about some jewel-encrusted shoes? Singer Allison Krauss performed at the Academy Awards this year wearing a pair from Stuart Weitzman that would retail for $2 million.

Still shopping? A diamond-studded pen by Montegrappa made it onto the Robb Report's "Ultimate Gift Guide" for 2004. Price: $1 million.

The Good Life is a weekly column that chronicles products, people and trends in luxury consumer goods, travel, and fine food and drink. Write to:  Top of page

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