LONDON, England -- Residents of the chic French ski resort of Courchevel, known as the winter playground of the rich and famous, are used to visitors throwing money around.
The town boasts 11 five-star hotels, at least three Michelin-starred restaurants and numerous diamond dealers to attract the well-heeled, including Beyoncé, the Beckhams and a fair few Russian oligarchs. Conspicuous consumption is nothing new.
However, in the middle of a worldwide economic crisis, the Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk may have pushed the boundaries of good taste when it comes to lavish spending.
Reports that the 50th birthday party he is throwing in Courchevel this weekend – featuring five-star food and vintage wines and champagne – is expected to cost €5m ($6.6m) have caused a certain froideur in the ski resort that has nothing to do with the latest snowfall.
Certainly the celebration will not be to everyone's taste. "Five million for a party ... it's indecent," said one skier, who asked to remain anonymous. "It's particularly scandalous because so many people in France are having trouble making ends meet, let alone buying Christmas presents, because of the crisis."
Metal magnate Pinchuk, who also owns a media empire including six television stations and three newspapers, has rented 2,000 sq metres of land where an army of staff is constructing an enormous marquee for tomorrow night's party.
An estimated 300 guests, flying in from all over the world, will be served an haute cuisine buffet prepared by the master of Gallic gastronomy, Alain Ducasse, the French chef with the most Michelin starred restaurants.
They will be entertained by Cirque du Soleil, whose performers are flying in from Canada, followed by a firework display. Amid frenzied rumours over the secret guest list – Pinchuk counts Elton John, Paul McCartney and Bill Clinton as friends – there are reports that Christina Aguilera, in France to promote her new film Burlesque, is also to sing for guests.
Officials at Courchevel's town hall said Pinchuk had rented the area in the multi-level resort at the usual price – €12 ($16) per square metre per day. The owner of a quad bike business that had been using the site was asked to go elsewhere, according to reports.
The resort's mayor, Gilbert Blanc-Tailleur, insisted there was nothing shocking about the party. "If this gentlemen didn't celebrate his birthday in Courchevel, he would no doubt go somewhere else abroad in a Swiss or Austrian ski resort. That would be a pity for our country," he said. "So it's a good thing for France and for our resort where the quality of services is well known and where it will give business to our hotels."
He added that the Courchevel authorities had asked for 150 children to be allowed to see the circus rehearsals.
Adeline Roux, director of Courchevel's tourist office, agreed with the mayor. "It's a private event so there's nothing to say," she said.
Pinchuk, who is married to the daughter of Ukraine's former president Leonid Kuchma, is worth an estimated £1.9bn ($3.0b) and has one of the world's largest private modern art collections. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people.
His press office refused to comment on the party. However a young chambermaid at the ski resort was not impressed. "I slave away all winter for a miserable wage and then when I see how some people can spend millions in a single evening it disgusts me," she told Le Parisien.
"We are on another planet here."