Bling: Gold Ferrari.
The Vulgarati. You may not have heard the expression before, but you don't have to be a Mitford sister to know exactly what it means, or rather who it means.
Right now, it is a neologism being whispered in the headquarters of the UK's Conservative Party, as news filters through about the latest munificent donation to the Tory offers. The sum is said to be £50,000 ($89,090) which entitles the donor to hobnob at party events. Unfortunately though, there may not be enough room to park his Flash Harry cavalcade outside.
James Stunt, 28, businessman and husband of Petra Ecclestone, daughter of billionaire Formula 1 boss Bernie, is apparently the one tossing his small change over to David Cameron. Stunt recently caused a stir when he arrived at a London art gallery in a fleet of vehicles comprising a Rolls-Royce, two Ranger Rovers and a Lamborghini, which is unlikely to garner much affection among the party faithful, even though they might raise a ragged cheer to learn that he did appear to get a parking ticket for his troubles.
Petra Eccelstone and James Stunt.
"I can just imagine David Cameron's rictus smile as he pretends to be pleased," chuckles one Tory insider. "The Conservatives have always attracted embarrassing people who enjoy flashing their cash, but the Ecclestone clan inhabits another planet."
It was for them - and uberwealthy types like them - that the term "the Vulgarati" was coined. And what a pleasingly snobbish term it is, too: term-fresh as a black-and-gold $US1.7 million Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport double-parked outside Harrods, bling as a diamond and ruby-studded USB stick, aspirational as a New Year's Eve Rihanna concert on a private island. And quietly damning as a (reality TV show) Made in Chelsea wannabe holding her knife like a pencil.
But then again, there's no point partying like a Vulgarista if the common people don't know what uncommon fun they're missing. Because the new breed of Vulgarati is international, brand-conscious and, for all its insistence on private jets when travelling, very much preoccupied with public displays of consumption once it arrives.
Earlier this month, what has been dubbed the "Ramadan Rush" saw the annual influx of hyper-rich Middle Eastern families into London intent on a spending spree. Last year, the credit card processing giant Worldpay handled more than £73.2 million (close to $13 million) from shoppers hailing from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar; this year the figure is estimated to rise by a quarter. While huge sums changed hands in London's Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Bond Street for the sort of lavish jewellery that would bring a tear of envy to Cleopatra's eye, it was the hyper-cars parked outside (with blithe disregard for traffic regulations) that really caught the attention. One Arab news channel reported a mirror-coated Porsche jostling for space beside a bright blue Ferrari and a silver Lamborghini Aventador. It was scenes like these that led the Financial Times journalist Paul Murphy to first identify the Vulgarati as a phenomenon.
"We've nothing against the accumulation of wealth and we certainly appreciate high-end motoring," muses Murphy. "But flaunting both in such a comical way, with this cavalcade on the streets of Mayfair, strikes us as rather unbalanced. It's this need to show off that struck us as absurd, but maybe we are just out of touch with the new breed of inherited wealth."
Most of us still naively associate inherited wealth with the ancien regime, dynasties who can trace their ancestry back to the reign of Henry VI and perhaps a hundred acres of grazing. These days the only fields worth inheriting are of the oil and gas variety; in a world that is ruled by plutocrats, mere pedigree is of little import.
"The Vulgarati are confined to central London and very much tend to be people from overseas, because British people simply aren't in the wealthy super-league," says plummy social commentator Peter York. "I know a lot of English people who would say that if you have a lot of money then you ought to do something useful with it and spend it in a more elegant, dignified and evolved way. But I think if you've got pots of money you've got a right to be vulgar, and you should be judged not on what you buy but on how you behave and whether you pay any UK tax that is due."
Some sections of the Vulgarati, of course, make a good living from it. The Kardashians are undisputed poster girls globally, although of late Tamara and Petra Ecclestone have been giving them a home-grown run for their money (given the sheer amounts of lucre involved, the run is more of a marathon than a sprint). The Blairs, I'm afraid, fall into this category, too, holidaying with anyone who'll offer them board and lodgings (this year it's reported to be the Italian businessman Massimo Carello, in his luxurious villa off the coast of Sicily), although it's hard to match the disgraced former Italian premiere Silvio Berlusconi, who was so pleased to host the rent-a-couple back in 2004 that he held a fireworks extravaganza spelling out the words "Viva Tony" in the sky. Cherie professed it to be "the best night ever".
Simon Cowell qualifies as the Bond Baddie of the bunch, with his penchant for superyachts and a 50th birthday bash in 2009 that was riotously crass (faux Michelangelo artworks featuring his face, wallpaper patterned with - yes, you're ahead of me - and ditto the loos, where mini sharks swam in a tank.
We have, to some degree, seen it all before: Oscar Wilde was given to opine that "death and vulgarity are the only two facts in the 19th century that one cannot explain away".
In recent memory there has been the rise and fall of comedian Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney, the Burberry-wearing chav brigade, gold grillz gangsta chic (as in tooth grills, rather than George Foreman's).
And then there are those who have successfully turned their backs on excess and look-at-me flamboyance; the Beckhams have come a long way since their purple wedding-day thrones. Elton John is viewed more as a loving father than an orchid-obsessed diva.
Meanwhile, the Vulgarati vanguard is going strong; the all-conquering oligarchs seem to be here to stay (and let's face it, who would have the nerve to ask them to leave?), not least because their scions are propping up the public school system.
A British education, like a berth on Billionaire's Row, is a sought-after commodity among wealthy Russians, Chinese and Nigerians, who now make the fastest-growing population in our top independent schools. A report earlier this month by stockbrokers Killick and Co revealed that school fees, which have risen by almost 300 per cent in two decades, are becoming the preserve of the super-rich. But while the Vulgarati's children, educated in UK schools, may adopt more British values and some measure of restraint, the current crop of Vulgarati continue to flaunt their good fortune.
In the words of Coco Chanel, "Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity." The classic tell-tale signs are easy to spot; an overdone dress sense, trying-too-hard VIP tickets for the smartest events (even if they spend most of Turandot texting) and multiple (probably empty) houses in the best locations.
"You can instantly spot these people because they are bedecked with brash designer labels and are terribly keen to talk about things they have bought," shudders etiquette queen Jean Broke-Smith.
"For this section of the population the emphasis is on acquisition, but the one thing money can't buy is class. They name-drop, they brand-drop, they show off at every opportunity. You see them at the races teetering about in their 75-inch heels unable to tell one end of a horse from the other. They will never blend in, because the truth will always out."
Quite so. But do the super rich really care? High net worth may not yet equate with high social standing, but when a hefty donation buys a place at the top tables, the day may yet come when the Vulgarati inherit the earth.
The Telegraph, London