Lush life on loan

For those who can afford it, renting is the new luxury

Prince is going to lose his security deposit.

At $70,000 a month, he might have been expected to make a few cosmetic changes to his 10-bedroom, 11-bath Hollywood Hills rental.

However, painting the exterior in purple stripes wasn’t in the lease. Nor was the installation of monogrammed carpeting, much less the hair salon.

More than that, however, the recent lawsuit against the musician begs a question: If he liked the place that much, why didn’t he just buy it?

Renting is the traditional domain of people who can’t otherwise afford. However, it’s becoming a way to have the life you want and none of the attendant responsibilities that might otherwise come with it.

“I’m probably spending $450 a month on renting purses,” says Laura Hall, a mortgage banker and frequent customer at the Netflix-style online rental site Bag Borrow or Steal. “What I’m renting my Gucci purse for now, I could buy it for in about five months. But it’s not like I can’t afford to buy what I want. I just don’t want to make a commitment right now.”

Hall’s attitude might suggest she’s confusing leather handbags with annoying boyfriends, but after five months, “I’ve trashed the purse or I’m tired of it. I want a constantly evolving collection of items.”

The rental lifestyle is no longer confined to the roof overhead. For $99.95 a month, you can carry the latest bag from Dooney & Bourke. You can hang a painting by Benicio del Toro over your couch for $400 a week, wear this year’s Vera Wang for $175 a night or make a close, personal friend for just $19.95 an hour.

Edson Luxury Car Rentals specializes in automobiles like the Mercedes-Benz SL500 Convertible ($3,570/week) or the Ferrari 360 Spider ($15,000/week). Customer service rep Walter Bauer says many clients are high-profile foreigners who can’t drive the cars in their own countries because “they have to drive bulletproof vehicles. It would cause too much attention.”

If a customer is especially loyal, Bauer may draw attention to the fact that it would be much more economical to buy the car outright. Few take him up on it. “They don’t want to worry about it,” he says. “They want to have the cars delivered to them 24/7, when they want it, and that’s what we do.”

Peter Vorderer, Ph.D., professor of communication and psychology at USC’s Annenberg School, suggests that a MySpace mentality may be fueling an increasing fondness for impermanence.

“Perhaps we’re starting to expect the same excitement, diversity and change in our social life as in our virtual worlds,” he says. “In the virtual world, when you get tired of it, you get rid of it.”

Sometimes, the rationale is wholly practical. Los Angeles Daily News entertainment reporter Valerie Kuklenski rents Oscar night apparel from One Night Affair in what she calls “a slice of equality. News organizations pay for tuxedo rental for men, but women were presumed to own their evening gowns. I got my employers to realize the lunacy of that.”

Other times, it’s still about getting what you couldn’t otherwise obtain.

“People choose someone two steps above what they could get off the street,” says Steve Braem of his clients at Rent-A-Date, a Chicago-based escort service meant for temporary, upright companionship. Or, as Braem says, “We keep our clothes on.”

And what happens if the hourly romance becomes something permanent?

“We consider it time theft,” he says. “You go out not on the clock, that’s fine, but you no longer work for us.”

A renter’s market

Can’t commit to Balenciaga? Don’t trust your friends at the company picnic? Variety Weekend found four ways to live the good life on loan.

Rental company: Bag Borrow or Steal; Bagborroworsteal.com
Choose from: Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo
Make it look like yours: Throw in some gum wrappers and receipts
Rental fee: (Louis Vuitton Multicolor Lodge GM) $249.95 a month, includes $99.95 “Diva” membership plus $150 couture charge
How long to buy: 6 months

Rental company: Ghettogloss; Ghettogloss.com
Choose from: Lowbrow artist Robert Williams, Tobias Keene, Benicio del Toro, Lisa Loeb
Make it look like yours: Hang it over the couch
Rental fee: (Clive Barker’s “10048”) $400 a week
How long to buy: 10 weeks

Rental company: Doyle & Doyle Jewelers, (212) 677-9991
Choose from: Diamond drop earrings, diamond and pearl fringe necklace, sapphire and diamond cluster ring
Make it look like yours: Wear it to Ralphs
Rental fee: (Aquamarine diamond and sapphire bracelet) $3,200 a day; $4,800 a week
How long to buy: 3 weeks

Rental company: Rent-A-Pal; Rentapal.com
Choose from: The many faces of conceptual artist Paul Rebhan
Make it look like yours: Call him crying after a breakup
Rental fee: $19.95 per hour
How long to buy: A lifetime