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Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  645 ratings  ·  89 reviews
A sociologist and former fashion model takes readers inside the elite global party circuit of models and bottles to reveal how beautiful young women are used to boost the status of men

Million-dollar birthday parties, mega-yachts on the French Riviera, and $40,000 bottles of champagne. In today's New Gilded Age, the world's moneyed classes have taken conspicuous consumption
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 26th 2020 by Princeton University Press
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Rick Wilson
Jul 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: class, ethnography
How do popular clubs fill their capacity with beautiful women and men who will spend outrageous amounts on bottle service and overpriced drinks? This book attempts to answer that question.

What emerges is a somewhat one note but still mostly interesting ethnography on the “high class party scene” and the semi-seedy underbelly associated with it. There’s always a bit of a voyeristic tingle to read about people who spend more money in a night than I make in a year. I definitely felt no small amount
Shane Parrish
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"Free things are a clear marker of status in the VIP world. Free entry, drinks, and dinners signal recognition of a person’s social worth. “I always said, in nightlife it’s not what you spend, it’s what you get for free. That’s real power,” said Malcolm, the promoter I followed in New York and Miami. “You got a lot of money and you spend a lot, of course you get respect. But if you don’t spend a dime, that’s power.”" ...more
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a sociology research project about promoters, models and prostitution. The author shadowed some promoters almost a decade ago in order to analyze gender stereotypes among other concepts. That is sort a fatal flaw -all her conclusions now belong to a world that has drastically changed: besides social media, the #metoo movement exploted and the Epstein case became known.
She does a good job of observing interactions among the willing participants and how they try to cover up what they are a
Jul 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
First things first, I am exceptionally glad somebody is writing about this. Nightlife might seem like a niche arena, but really we're talking about at best extremely gendered and at worst highly misogynistic and exploitative attitudes and practices amongst some of the world's most powerful men (yes, almost exclusively men) -- which obviously are not just confined to nightclubs, even if they're more apparent in that environment. This won't surprise anyone who's stepped foot into one of these type ...more
Jan 26, 2021 added it
I've been in a club VIP section with bottle service twice, both times in London. In 2012, I was invited by a friend who worked for the British government who had hosted an economic development event that Dr. Dre attended, and my friend got invited to a club where Dre would be hanging out. We sat on a red leather booth screened off from the main dance area and poured ourselves drinks from a cart of booze full of Courvoisier and Grey Goose, etc. Dr. Dre eventually showed up and sat about 10 feet a ...more
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I've never gone clubbing (nor had much desire to do so, despite a predilection for EDM).

Nonetheless this book was an utterly gripping (and devastating) ethnographic/economic analysis of the world of models, bottles, promoters, clients, whales, and clubs. Clear, direct prose hauntingly illustrates the gender-based inequities of power that persist in our world and are brought under a glaring flashlight in the club.
Deane Barker
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
An entertaining and well-researched examination of the "club economy" -- a world where "club promoters" worked "models and bottles." There exists a job where you get models to nightclubs to just...exist. It turns out that rich men spend stupid amounts of money in the presence of attractive women, so there's an entire business model behind this.

You know all the nights at the club the rappers are singing about? That's all choreographed. Tables are organized strategically, to maximize "filler" who
Aug 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is a must-read if you want to understand status, power, women’s emotional labor, how economic classes work in the United States, and, just importantly, because it’s a super interesting topic. Also, now I want some champagne.
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
I made a comment on reddit several years ago where I basically lamented that whatever power women supposedly get for being attractive is at odds with the general societal belief that women should not, under almost all circumstances, actually use that power for their own benefit, and society will punish women in various ways if they try to do so. This book is like the long-form version of that comment under the setting of the global party circuit.

"The phrase 'sex sells' is a deceptively simple w
Peter Colclasure
Nov 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Here is a description of a trendy nightclub (in New York or Los Angeles, say) from someone who has never been in a trendy nightclub:

A velvet line outside the door with 30 people waiting to get in. Inside, a dance floor swept by strobe lights, and a bar where sweaty hoi polloi jostle one another for the chance to buy $20 whiskey sours having already paid an exorbitant entrance fee. The clubs make money off these entrance fees and overpriced drinks. But just barely. The true economic engine drivi
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Prior to reading this book, the only thought I had really given to the VIP club scene was as a setting where the action movie protagonist and his rivals growl threats to each other before the fight choreography starts. Turns out, in the real world it's there's a whole lot more to it.

Ashley Mears is professor of sociology at Boston University, and this is her ethnography of the "models and bottles" scene at VIP clubs. The three most important groups for her story are the promoters, the "girls",
Colleen Oakes
Aug 03, 2020 rated it liked it
While I was originally fascinated by this world of "girls", promoters, club owners who fancy the world's party, the lack of an ongoing narrative made this book harder to get through than it needed to be. However, I learned a lot about a world that I will never be a part of - gladly and by it's very nature, I am less a fashion model than a real person who eats bread sometimes - and it was fascinating to glimpse the dark, glittering world beneath the lights. In the end I felt sad for everyone invo ...more
May 10, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio
A 31 year old sociology (?) professor follows a few promoters on the party circuit for about 2 years to document the lifestyle at elite clubs. But you can only hear models, bottles, young, thin, tall, attractive so many times before you start feeling like you're reading American Psycho.

The book heavily documents the lifestyles of the promoters, less so the models, and we hardly get any insight into the "whales" or the super wealthy white/Saudi men that drive this whole party circuit economy. Pr
Sep 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting, academic take on club / VIP nightlife culture and sociology. However, didn't feel very well organized and the repetitiveness of the nightlife visuals at times made me forget the points she was trying to make ...more
David Dinaburg
Jan 10, 2021 rated it liked it
For a rich text version of this book and other writings, check out [DinaburgWrites.com]

Cranking the subject/style balance slider to eleven one way or the other might work—if your style is strong enough it, like the extremely polished foundationally erudite structure of The New Yorker. But for a subject to drag you through something tediously constructed, you probably need to already be really interested in what it is dissecting. This might explain why I saw a nearly six-hour runtime on a Tokime
Alex Gruenenfelder
Jun 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a book about the exclusive and strange world of clubbing. It's a book about "the unseen work that makes conspicuous consumption possible," as Mears puts it. This complex society-unto-itself, one that has become increasingly globalized and standardized, has a lot to tell us about wealth. And in this Second Gilded Age of ours, that tells us a lot about our civilization.

Like most sociological books, it tackles sexuality and race. The author in some ways sees party girls as traitors to their
Nov 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
The writing was somewhat repetitive (how many times do you need to reiterate that models are tall) but I thought the subject matter revolving around the vapid, wasteful and exploitative theatrics of VIP parties. was really fascinating. It's nice to walk away NOT feeling envious of beautiful, adored models and once again blaming the gross narcissist men of the 1%.

I appreciated the way it made me think about power dynamics and exploitative relationships, especially those that are sometimes mutual
Jul 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“[Power] Some of it is fleeting —like women’s beauty, a short-lived asset that gets them into the room, but not recognition as serious players once inside.” (21)

“The top 0.1 % of families in America now own roughly the same share of wealth as the entire bottom 90 %.” (22)

“Olivier Godechot has noted the rise of the ‘working rich,’ whose fortunes come from booming industries like finance, real estate, and technology, where incomes and bonuses can outpace investment gains among the wealthy.” (23)

May 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
A book about the 'VIP party circuit' where millionaires/billionaires/sheiks/oligarchs go out and party by popping champagne bottles, focusing on the models that accompany these men in the night clubs. The writer is a former model who does field work by going with the 'promoters' and girls to go out and party and spend time with these people.

It's super weird. I don't really understand why people want to live like this, it seems pretty boring to go to these sorts of parties. But then I'm not reall
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
Very good. Really intriguing look into the world of elite and VIP. Also a concerning study on the still-prevalent practice of women's bodies being used as products to help men look better, and these very women being deemed of high worth for their looks and yet, outside the VIP scene, being deemed as worthless by these same people (in terms of their potential for romantic relationships). Fascinating read. ...more
Jun 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a social world where #Me-Too is nowhere to be found, the excesses of income inequality are on full display, and in the absence of any noticeable intelligence the author conducted a sociological study on “elite” nightlife in NYC and other exclusive locales throughout the world. Ashley Mears gives us plebeians a peek at a social environment where 4 or even 5-figure bottles of bubbly are quaffed (and act as the main item of commerce for all involved), lines of coke snorted, and ecstasy pills are ...more
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A serious look at a industry that I’ve rarely thought of as an ‘industry’ - the elite clubbing circuit, where rich partiers take conspicuous consumption seriously.

There are three main types of people highlighted as part of this ecosystem - clients (the rich partiers), ‘girls’ (the glamorous models recruited to give the clubs the right elite vibe - not paid, but all club expenses free), and promoters (paid to coordinate girl attendance, basically a broker of female beauty). None of these people s
Jun 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Planning to read again

Utterly fascinating to me as a person versed neither in sociology nor the experience of high end clubs. It opened up a famous but puzzling part of our culture to me. And gave me a logical framework to dissect it with. I throughly enjoyed the read.

The footnotes are excellent too!
Dec 29, 2020 rated it liked it
A really interesting type of book without itself being a really interesting book, where someone immerses themselves into a life, world and circle that is so far removed from my daily existence, an ethnographer's dream. As alien as the characters in this world are, their motivations, philosophies and Weltanschauung were too recognizable, ordinary and unsurprising to make for a very interesting read, unless of course the message is that everybody is exactly the same despite living in such unrecogn ...more
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Changed how I see relationships, seems like I can see another layer of economic transactions and sociological stuff that I hadn't before. Recommended for getting a clear understanding of a complicated set of social and monetary relationships.

Here's some stuff
An elite club in Manhatten holds a space which has
- wealthy clients who buy tables & bottles in performative potlaches to destroy wealth, waste beauty in order to buy status, and grease business deals.
- promoters, lower class men who use th
Sophie Nye
Jan 03, 2022 rated it really liked it
Wanted to read this book, because I saw a BU Today article about it (I go to Boston University). It's written by a BU professor, and the article said that for her research for the book she basically went clubbing for a year (obviously it was much more in depth than just going out partying). That part interested me, so I decided I wanted to read it, but I was reading other books at the time and I couldn't get a hold of it until recently, so here we are.
The book is centered around Mears' experienc
Jan 30, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviews
"Very Important People" is fundamentally an ethnographic study written primarily for an academic audience that examines how the body capital of "girls" (i.e., young women, typically models, who possess physicals makers of agreed upon beauty with the VIP space) is leveraged to extract economic capital by VIP club promoters, and the clubs themselves in setting the appropriate mood to allow apparently spontaneous displays of wealth on the part of "whales" (i.e., high spenders in clubs). The book is ...more
Rajiv Srinivasan
It's difficult to perform insightful and robust analysis on characters that are--at least in the economic lens of the book--one dimensional and transactional.
The economist view of this topic is best shared through an academic article or blog post. Trying to expand its value into a full non-fiction bookwas a missed opportunity at best, and a waste of time at worst.
I think a more valuable research question would be (not the economics, but) the deep psychology behind this elite party scene. The au
Feb 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
How much effort goes into entertaining the one-percent of the one-percent? Quite a lot, as Dr. Mears shows, and the bulk of the burden to demonstrate opulence falls on the backs of the club promoters and the "girls" that facilitate the events.

Mears gives us a capable ethnography and economic treatment of the actors who inhabit the world of VIP clubs. VIP deftly balances anecdotes and analysis, showing how money flows, hopes are dashed, and some (very few) dreams are made in the shadow of the el
Jan 15, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-cultural
An ex-model and current sociology professor goes "undercover" into the world of VIP clubs, bottle service and the ostentatious global party circuit. She explores the dynamics that essentially commoditise beautiful women and the uneven social and economic hierarchies that keep this system afloat.

In short: everyone involved in this scene is getting screwed over in some way, shape or form. Except of course the gazillionaires at the top of the pyramid spending thousands on Moet, 5 course dinners and
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Ashley Mears is an American writer, sociologist, and former fashion model. She is currently an associate professor of sociology at Boston University. Mears is the author of Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model, and is regularly quoted in media as an academic expert in the culture and economics of fashion.

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“Simply by being there and looking beautiful, they generate enormous value for the club industry, the individual men operating within it, and the larger urban economy of New York City. Their value emerges from the very specific conditions in which they are seen. Most importantly, these “girls” exist in an altogether different social category from women. And because I want readers to experience this difference, I strategically use the term “girl” from here on without quotation marks to refer to this category of women in the VIP arena. Because in this rarefied world there is an unspoken but widely understood logic: girls are valuable; women are not.” 0 likes
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