Super-rich kids: How the other half lives
In 1990, sociologists identified the birth of a generation of New Zealanders who will never know poverty.
Now, these children of the privileged and moneyed are out of high school and making their own way in the world and, in Auckland at least, they appear to be moving in packs. Four elite social clubs for these first sons and daughters (Max Key is among their ranks) have popped up in the last year. Their social media accounts are littered with pictures of helicopters, diamond rings, BMWs and spirulina smoothies. But what's it really like behind the scenes?
If you know the right people it's easy to infiltrate. A former flatmate - from a free-loving, vegetarian flat of uni-days - is dating a member of The Ya Ya Club. For $65 I got a ticket to their Christmas party inside a rotunda at Auckland Domain and the subsequent after party in Parnell. At 22, how hard could it be to relate?
Arriving on time is my first mistake. Three young men in white suits take pity and muster me into their conversation: David Grr (who took photos of Lorde in a bikini and told her to harden up after she criticised him), Jandre who just turned 18 and Loic whose brown hair is half-shaven with the top tied into ponytail. He's yet to get an iPhone 6. The others remind him of this.
Companies pay Grr to Instagram for them. He runs the Better Burger account. "Shit, I've forgotten to post," he says. Shop is closed, should he put a sad face? Defs. "There. That's work for the day."
Jandre brought a $65 Nerf gun for the Salvation Army which is collecting presents from the event (most people forget to bring one). He works as a waiter at Auckland's newest trendy bar, 46&York. The three plan on going there before the after-party. There's a really good special. A dozen fresh oysters and a bottle of Moet Ice Imperial for $100.
As more Ya Yas and my former flatmate arrive, white chairs form a circle and offers of Marlboro ciggies are taken up. Onlookers stare and take photos: who are these people wearing fancy dresses and drinking Moet beside the museum?
They're models, bloggers, Instagrammers (brands offer them freebies to post to their large follower count) and photographers. Most spend daddy's credit card - "I miss those days" remarks an older Ya Ya. Some work: wait-staff, bartenders at the hip restaurants. One blushes: "I work at a supermarket."
There's caviar, grilled salmon and chicken sandwiches. It's a paleo catering company that's feeding us, owned by the dad of Ya Ya organiser, Phoebe Loloma Trezevant-Miller.
Gemma, opposite me, went to King's College. Her Louboutins are worth $1200 but they hurt so she removes them. White with the signature blood-red sole.
Jandre pulls out his iPhone 6: "Look what mum got me," he says. More shoes: Leroux. Worth $1300. What a sweet Christmas present. "No, they were for passing my restricted."
He already had a car. At 15 his dad bought him an Audi but he swapped it for a Volkswagen: "I like the old-school cool."
This generation is unlike anything New Zealand has seen before, says Max Rashbrooke, author of Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis. Despite an alleged global financial crisis, the super-rich, an entity we'd brushed off as belonging to Englishmen and New Yorkers and their offspring - Eton boys and Kardashians - are on the rise here.
"New Zealand up until the 1980s was fairly egalitarian, apart from Maori and women, our increasing income gap started in the late 1980s and early 1990s," says Rashbrooke. "These young club members are the first generation to grow up in a New Zealand really starkly divided by income."
It's natural for people to be drawn to those who are similar to them and there's nothing wrong with that, he stresses.
"But if you don't understand what's going on in other people's lives, you can't make informed choices about policies. As income gaps increase, we know people start to trust each other less. They're less likely to get involved in community activities that bring them in contact with people who have different incomes.
"In the past, no matter how much more a judge might have earned than a butcher, their kids could have gone to the same school, but now they aren't. These clubs are the result of such stratification happening earlier on."
"I'm a nobody." Sixteen-year-old Molly introduces herself at the Les Gens lunch for an inspiring women campaign with Servilles hairdressing. She's not. She's witty, thoughtful and wearing a spotted coat worth $900 (she got it for $100 on sale).
Les Gens - a social "community" not a club - gained Molly as an intern a few months ago. She left "princess school" St Cuthbert's to get real-life experience and admires Les Gens founder, Clare Andrew: "So clever, beautiful, creative . . ."
Molly has done a lot of behind-the-scenes work at the Les Gens functions since it started seven months ago. There's been a garden party at Highwic historic house with cakes, white tee-pees and canapés ($50). An opera - some proceeds went to orphans in Latin America - where Marlena Devoe entertained guests in the ballroom of Marivare House ($50). A ladies lunch at Sugar Club in the Sky Tower. A winter masquerade ball in a private mansion. $100. "Intimate dinner and drinks" with Labour MP Jacinda Ardern and entrepreneur Derek Handley. The next event is at Waiheke Island's Oyster Inn. In case you want to test what Andrew claims: "Anyone is allowed to come."
The entree at the sophisticated lunch is confit-cured Akaroa salmon, apple horseradish salad and blinis. For the main I choose market fish, cauliflower puree, asparagus, pinenut and grape agrodolche. Dessert: Eton Mess, Tahitian vanilla, strawberry meringue and thyme.
Brands are keen to be featured at such events: Grey Goose, Bombay Sapphire, East Imperial and Uber offer discounts and freebies.
Pretentious? "I guess some people might think that," says Andrew. "But if they came along to an event they'd realise it's not at all. Maybe on the outside it looks that way, but on the inside it's not. More people are starting to come, different people, not just friends of friends."
Stephanie Lai, 22, considers herself a socialite. She can spend up to $7000 on an outfit - accessories take up most of that figure - such as her $550 Louis Vuitton keychain and $750 Hermes bracelet. Lai's dad bought her a house and her mum gave her a Range Rover ("she was too short to drive it"). Her 21st was on a ship that cruised around Auckland harbour and involved two dress changes. She loves to party at Auckland bar Zeus where she drinks apple sours.
A lively, good-natured AUT Communications graduate, Lai enjoys volunteering and will buy homeless people food and post pictures on her Facebook to inspire friends to do the same.
She never got pocket money as a kid and housekeepers did the chores - "I regret that actually, but there was never a need to."
Working in promotions for Red Bull, Lai gets frustrated by stereotypes of rich kids: "I don't like that people think I'm just lucky and I've been given everything I have because I've worked quite hard to get where I am, just like everyone else."
"White shows off gold better," says a Ya Ya to me at the Christmas event when I ask what is with rich people and that shade. The club will be hosting a few tables at February's Diner En Blanc event - a Parisian tradition coming to a secret location in Auckland - where people dress in white, bring a white tablecloth, drink bubbles, have a meal, then pack it all up.
"I'm not a smart-casual dresser. You won't hear the flick of a jandal as I walk up to the barbecue," says Trezevant-Miller, who can spend up to $5000 on an average "going out" outfit - although she also loves a vintage bargain.
"It's hard to push through to the other side of New Zealand's relaxed dress code barrier. If you do you're noticed, criticised, commented on and often made to feel unwelcome. I've always been noticed because I'm 5ft tall and if not wearing a heel I'm looking up to everyone and they're looking down on me."
Ya Ya Club offers numbered black cards. The benefits include first-dibs for tickets and free drinks. "Black cards aren't bought," says Trezevant-Miller. "They're given."
It's alluring, says an older member, 36, who didn't want to be named: "Gone are the days of dressing for dinner and debutante balls and I think that's a little sad - thus, for me, the appeal of the Ya Ya Club. Fine wine, great food, excellent company and an excuse to dress up is entirely life-enhancing as far as I'm concerned.
"One of the disadvantages of modern life is being so busy one fills the void for sociability with the contrived interactions from the comfort of one's bedroom . . . In the words of Bob Fosse's Cabaret - 'What good is sitting alone in your room?' "
For all the cries of socialising and harmony, there are problems. The circles are rife with malicious gossip and a desire to be extreme - a Ya Ya recalls being force-fed champagne like a yardie.
Such is the desire to be exclusive and original that Trezevant-Miller and Andrew have a file lodged at the Disputes Tribunal. Neither will talk about it but it's understood to be regarding fallout from a social club the two initially started together.
When my cover is blown at the Ya Ya Christmas party and my new friends subtly inch away, Jandre does the opposite. "I know you're a reporter and I've got some good goss for you."
Alas, no secret backroom deals, no ministers falling from grace, just a rival from Les Gens who was drunk at 46&York: she apparently spilt a bottle of champagne, fell in the puddle and cried.
- Sunday Star Times