Spend, splurge, flaunt

27 November 2011 - 03:31 By Shanthini Naidoo

French champagne, gold pens, expensive help - take a look at how the other half lives. By Shanthini Naidoo

If you are reading this, our data says you are a middle-class South African. You are likely to own a car, live in an average house, have some appliances, a few nice outfits, some credit card debt and a job to pay for it all.

You are also likely to be one of those people who remembers that banking advert - the one that asked: "Who are these people?" of those who sit around at coffee shops, looking moneyed and leisurely in the middle of a work day.

Those who have fleets of cars while we have one; who drink French champagne when we settle for Cap Classique; who shop on Rodeo Drive while we shop at Sandton City; who swan past in Louis Vuitton and climb into a Porsche.

HOW STELLA KEEPS HER GROOVE

Stella Nondumo Buthelezi is a superwoman by most definitions. Many working moms qualify for the title, but she is a little more busy than most. She co-heads at least two companies, Masawu Investments and Affinity Properties, which have arms in mining, property and lifestyle events.

She recently brought beauty house Becca to South Africa. But she calls herself a mom first and foremost.

At her plush Fredman Towers offices in central Sandton, she chats about her brood - four children of her own, and two foster children whose pictures she proudly shows off on her BlackBerry.

"After that, I'm a wife (to Bruce, a royal descendent and business partner) and then I am a businesswoman," she says, flashing a smile that could have sold washing soap.

Oh, and she also runs a charitable foundation that educates indigent children, she says, expressive with her hands and showing off perfectly manicured nails.

How does she fit it all in? With help, and a lot of it, is her answer.

Having unashamedly grown up without wanting and hugely successful now, Buthelezi says she learnt early to have an "entourage" of staff at work and at home.

Along with a chef, nannies and several domestic helpers, she is a client of luxury concierge company Quintessentially.

Subscription to the service costs between R10000 and R250000 a year depending on client needs. Their job spec is to cater to every whim. They will do anything, including feed your cat, plan travel to remote mountains or find tickets to sold-out shows.

"I am very organised, my skills help me to cope, but I surround myself with the best personnel I can find," says Buthelezi. "That means that even though I have a chef, I can still make my children's school lunches. I still cook for the family as many times in the week as I can, and my husband is served supper on a tray when he gets home.

"Having help makes me focus on other things that are important, like driving the kids to school. We used to have a driver, but we realised we were wasting time we could spend with them."

The family travels extensively, especially to sporting events overseas. Buthelezi does not have the time to arrange this herself, so Quintessentially takes care of treats such as watching Arsenal, their favourite soccer team, play in England.

"I like my life, no apologies. I count my blessings every day, from my house (in posh Dainfern estate) to the many transport options we have (among them Range Rover, Aston Martin and Ferrari) to lovely clothing (her 24-month-old wore a Burberry jump suit to his christening). But would give it up if I had to give up my family.

"You have to decide what is important. I take time for coffee with a friend, and to take staff members out for their birthdays.

"The other day, I spent two hours at a spa with my mother-in-law. They are important to me and time is more personal than anything I can give them. And I schedule time for my hair and nails, because I must take care of 'me', too."

THE FLUTE OF WEALTH RUNNETH OVER

Economist John Maynard Keynes said: "My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne."

Vivien Natasen is not likely to have this regret. The man behind Neo Africa, Natasen started quaffing the good stuff when he was young. His self-made wealth comes from his tech company, which has evolved to include consulting and events.

A deceivingly diminutive powerhouse, Natasen's palate acquired the taste for expensive French bubbles when he became a partner at Deloitte in his 20s. He started his company soon afterwards. Business skyrocketed in the mid-2000s, when he was in his early 30s.

"Back then it was all about the bling lifestyle. People who were historically disadvantaged (which he was not) suddenly had lots of money. Moët sells for about R600 a bottle, but you would pay at least R1200 a bottle at a club or restaurant.

"If you ordered champagne, it would be delivered with a sparkler and everyone noticed. It showed you have arrived, that you have a presence. In those days, people would be flash, and you had to prove a point by flashing back," he says from his Morningside, Joburg, home. "Success should be celebrated. I don't judge people who do that, they've earned it."

Natasen, who served plenty of the good stuff at his wedding yesterday, said nowadays friends were more likely to find him hosting parties from his kitchen, and the effervescent drink is ever-present.

He has up to 10 magnums of premium champagne at home, some vintage and "some regular bottles" for when he entertains privately. He has been known to favour yachting parties in the summer.

"Champagne is no longer for a birthday or celebration. Serving champagne is a great start to a dinner party, without having to mix drinks and get into the hard tack immediately. For business, it is a networking tool. We recently hosted a bespoke dinner at the Westcliff Hotel, matching Moët with great food, and it was hugely successful for making connections."

But with maturity comes discretion. "If I do go to an event, I will ask for a few bottles of champagne because I like it and I want to share it with my friends who like it - but it will be delivered without the sparklers and I won't wave the bottle around for everyone to see," he laughs.

In spite of the Kenny Kunene brigade, moneyed people are trying to be less showy, Natasen says.

"Luxury brands worldwide have taken a knock. There is a fear factor out there about another recession. People are trying to cut down, or show that they have".

He adds that wealthy people who have earned their money should not feel guilty about their indulgences.

"I am quite spiritual and have come to accept that each person is born with lessons to learn and a path to follow. For some that lesson is poverty, for others it is extreme wealth. These lessons are a function of life."

A PEN IS A PEN IS A ...

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then a Montblanc pen could fight a war. To own a "writing instrument" featuring the famed splodgy white star - which represents the Alps' Mont Blanc snowcap in aerial view - with a starting price of several thousand rand to more than R1-million, you must have arrived.

This was what Cape Town entrepreneur Gavin Daitsh realised early in life: "My first nice pen at university was, of course, a Parker. I upgraded to a Cross in my early 20s, but I got my first Montblanc at about 26 when I began to travel internationally," he said.

Daitsh made his fortune with Forever Trees, a Christmas tree, decor and packaging supply company. He spends a lot of time overseas, sourcing products, and sometimes to ski.

"I would meet affluent people who owned the pens and see the stores overseas. The brand was attractive. I saw it as a prestigious status symbol, stylised and of high quality. I also realised that I could afford to buy this."

While he does make use of a laptop and iPad, he says: "You have to write some things down. And it is sign of character to write with a nice pen."

But he calls himself frugal compared to other collectors. He has "six or eight" pens in his stylish home in Fresnaye and several at work. A fountain pen, rollerball and pencil, along with a range of accessories, travel with him. These include a diary, notepad and cigarette box.

"I won't buy a pen willy nilly, only what I can afford. And I stick to entry-level pens that go for about R5000 each.

"When I was in Geneva recently, I saw a pen in a shop window for à120000. R1.2-million for a pen? No, I won't buy the collector's items. Maybe the odd special thing. The most I've spent on a single item is about R10000," Daitsh says.

He understands that the collection could buy, say, a car. "Yes, but there is an emotional connection to the collection which I could possibly pass on to my kids," he said. "It has taken years and years to collect them. They don't date. Montblanc is classic good quality."

An example: a StarWalker pen is made from "black precious resin and a handcrafted ruthenium-plated 14K gold nib".

Such a small item must be easily pocketable or lost, though.

"I've never lost a pen. You are either one of those people who loses keys and wallets, or not. I'm a controlled person and I will leave things in the same place that I found them most of the time. If you have something that is this beautiful, take care of it."

AND SOME ARE FRUGAL

"Working in a corporate environment should not degrade women into dressing like men," says Monica Singer. The CEO of investment company Strate, Singer admits that she is, ultimately, an accountant. Just don't expect her to be seen in a grey suit.

"The reality is that I am not all about clothes, but clothing helps me to be a professional. It is a fact: the first perception people get is visual," she says.

A visit to her Linksfield, Joburg, home reveals a 14-door walk-in closet. The floor-to-ceiling cupboards are neatly filled with bags, clothing and many, many shoes - more than 120 pairs, which she divides into a summer and winter range in their own closet.

Among the items are high-end brands such as Louis Vuitton, and medium-range Kurt Geiger, Carvela and Nine West.

She says that despite her vast wardrobe, she is a numbers person by nature.

"My job is to figure out how much I can save rather than how much I can spend, so I am huge bargain hunter. I don't believe in buying Jimmy Choos, because I wear my shoes. They will be destroyed after a while, so I can't bring myself to spend that much on a single pair."

She poses in a white suit, red heels, matching "Louis" (Vuitton bag) and iPad, pinning her style down as "corporate feminine".

"Clothing is a self-esteem boost. Some people are happy to wear a T-shirt, sandals and jeans, but for me, looking beautiful and elegant is part of who I am," says Singer.

"From Audrey Hepburn to J-Lo, women who want mystery about them dress well. And I love dressing up. My job is my excuse for that."

Singer shops overseas when she travels on business every six weeks.

"I always make some time for shopping. My favourite place to shop is New York," she says.

But she insists she is not extravagant. "I would rather shop at Macy's, where a suit costs three times less than from Bloomingdales across the road. I go for value for money. Yes, I love beautiful clothes, but I won't spend more than I need to. I am very good at buying pretty but not-too-expensive items."

Another way she stays on trend is that she constantly recycles clothing.

"I love to wear something for a while and then give it away.

"And I appreciate my things. When the young ladies at the office see my Louis I tell them: 'Girls, I waited 45 years to have one' and believe me, I was radiant when I walked out of the shop with it."

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