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The Russian Billionaires' Club

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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MATCHING TIE SOLD SEPARATELY Paisley Mercedes (Photo: Getty Images)

In Moscow, "tacky" is just another word for sickeningly wealthy, which is why hundreds of newly minted Muscovite millionaires headed to the city's Millionaire Fair last week to do a little shopping. Wal-Mart Black Friday, this was not. There were $170,000 orange Porsches and a paisley jewel-encrusted Mercedes, $70,000 mattresses, and $22,000 Swarovski wheel caps, all gleefully snapped up by Svetlanas and their loaded husbands. Across town, Tom Ford, Donatella Versace, and Louis Vuitton honcho Bernard Arnault's mouths were watering at a conference on luxury, where they pondered how best to get this Rusky money into their silk-lined pockets.

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But before you declare the spending of Russian billionaires grotesque, a new report suggests you pause and remember that the rest of the world said such things about Americans during the late 19th Century Gilded Age. The slur lost its bite a bit after the Great Depression. And funny how we're now shopping for bulk discounts on Cheetos while our erstwhile Cold War enemies are bathing in champagne and adorning their Rolls Royce Phantoms with $55,000 jeweled grilles. (But do they have whistle tips?)

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