November 1, 2008 / 2:34 PM / 10 years ago

Downturn, what downturn? Fair shows lap of luxury

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - As they follow the red carpet into Expo Grand Luxe and an evening’s shopping for flights into space or handmade sports cars, visitors do not have global recession uppermost in their minds.

A 475,000 euros gold watch is displayed before the opening of the Grand Luxe exhibition in Brussels, October 30, 2008. The exhibition gathers high luxury items including cars and jewellery and focuses on gastronomy, art and fashion. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Staged in a vast exhibition hall on the outskirts of Brussels city center, the three-day event ending Sunday is an unashamed showcase of luxurious living for the super-rich.

And while some may question such extravagance as the world eyes what could be the worst economic slowdown for decades, those at the fair seemed unconcerned.

“There will always be people who can afford cutting-edge technology,” said U.S. businessman Howard Blank, who purchased one of the first tickets for a commercial flight in space.

“I’m terribly excited. I only wish it was sooner rather than later,” said Blank, chief of a Belgium-based consultancy and one of the first buyers of Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceflights.

The price of a flight into zero-gravity is $200,000 and trips are due to begin in a couple of years. Already some 280 people from 35 countries have reserved places.

Others at Expo Grand Luxe preferred the high-performance Spyker car, designed by Maarten de Bruijn from the Netherlands.

Completely handmade, the Spyker weighs less than 1,000 kg and has a top speed easily surpassing 300 kilometers per hour (190 mph). Event organizer Filip De Brouwere called it a “motorcycle on wheels.”

At a price of about 250,000 euros ($319,400) and with only 200 made a year, De Brouwere predicted the model would see strong demand from enthusiasts.

“The biggest car collectors in the world want this car because it’s so hard to get,” he said.

Show publicist Andree Senelle dismissed suggestions the event was out of place as key industries such as the auto sector warn of plummeting sales and temporary plant closures, and economists predict rising jobless totals.

Besides, she said, planning for the event began a year ago, well before the scale of the U.S. credit crunch and ensuing economic slowdown was known.

Some visitors like Dirk Jacobs and Amina Meettioni had decided merely to indulge in a bit of escapism and said they were invited by Jacobs’ friend who had an exhibit at the event.

“We’re just here for the free champagne,” he said.

Editing by Louise Ireland and Mark John

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