The Golden Keys: Inside the High-Stakes World of the Luxury Concierge
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The Golden Keys: Inside the High-Stakes World of the Luxury Concierge

By JOHN SCOTT LEWINSKI
Tue, Nov 29, 2022 8:21amGrey Clock 4 min

Corrado Bogni had less than 24 hours to get the diamond to Hong Kong. He would give up his Christmas Eve to accomplish the mission if need be. Still, could he find a last-minute flight out of London during one of the busiest travel times of the year?

It was 2006. A desperate hotel guest who frequented the five-star Connaught hotel in Mayfair trusted Bogni more than anyone else in the U.K. capital, because it is the pledge of the luxury hotel concierge to accomplish anything necessary, whenever necessary—no questions asked.

Welcome to the high-stakes world of concierges in the world’s leading luxury hotels.

“There really are only two rules to serving as a concierge,” Bogni says, recalling his journey to China and back. “We cannot get you drugs or ‘companionship.’ Other than that, we’re paid to get anything done without the guest having to worry about how we do it.”

The familiar Connaught guest would be working out of Hong Kong for the holidays and wanted to get a special cut of a glittering yuletide gift to his beloved in the Far East before Christmas Eve. The diamond needed to be picked up in Belgium and transported to the Connaught in Hong Kong, so the guest could present it under the Mistletoe faster than Santa could drop it down a chimney.

Bogni explains he took it as an honour that the generous client would entrust him with such a valuable trinket. “He was a well-known guest who asked for help,” Bogni says. “My approach as a high-level concierge is always to say ‘yes’ to a request and then find a way to make it happen via my personal endeavours and with the help of many fellow concierge colleagues around the world.”

Bogni, who has since taken a job at the luxury golf community Les Bordes in France, insists his peers rely on each other with growing frequency in the post-pandemic world. According to Andrew Sturge, head concierge at the London boutique hotel Flemings, Covid-19’s aftermath means supply shortages, business closures, transportation problems, and other snags that often hinder a concierge in sourcing whatever he or she needs.

“We (concierges) began relying on each other for ideas on how and where to source anything we need,” he says from the Flemings’ front desk. “We formed a new, unofficial network of support with our cell phones almost becoming walkie-talkies texting and calling back and forth. All that matters is getting what our guests need as quickly as possible.”

‘Clef d’Or’

Like all of his peers sending their requests across the new network, Sturge wears the Golden Keys, or Les Clef d’Or, on his lapel. Anyone who wears the pin has completed a five-year stint as a concierge before undergoing an application and approval process lasting about five months, according to fellow member Simon Thomas of the elite Lanesborough Hotel near Hyde Park.

With his own Golden Keys on display, Thomas and his Lanesborough colleagues confront a sea of requests on a daily basis. “One of our regular guests was a roller skate champion in the U.S. who wanted to have a space to practice,” Thomas says. “We created a huge roller skate rink in our ballroom.”

Thomas also cites “Parrot Gate”—the quest to acquire an African Grey parrot for a birthday present in less than 24 hours, complete with lessons on how to care and train the bird for the surprised recipient.

Giuseppe Pesenti, head concierge at Badrutt’s Palace high atop St. Moritz confirmed that the developing concierge network spread over all of Europe, with professionals turning away from rivalry and toward cooperation.

“We have a very close relationship with all the Golden Keys members as we are all very good friends,” Pesenti says. “Of course, we are in a competition, but it is friendly competition with respect and gratitude.”

Pesenti tells a story of a family hoping to organise a boat excursion to Italy’s Lake Como and a small restaurant on Comacina Island (about 60 miles from Badrutt’s Palace).

“Unfortunately the restaurant had been closed for two years and then looked abandoned,” Pesenti explains. “My colleague Augusto and I are originally from Lake Como. Since we wanted to surprise the guests, we arranged to clean the terrace outside of the restaurant and sent a driver from St. Moritz with food and a waiter. Once the boat captain approached the island to find the restaurant ‘open,’ our guests called right away to express their happiness.”

‘The Shirt off My Back’

Away from the resources of cities and luxury enclaves, David Rutherford serves as concierge and as a sort of “guest needs ombudsman” at Dundonald Links in Ayrshire, in western Scotland. He says golf guests come to him in desperation when airlines lose their gear and transportation fails them.

“I have very literally given guests the shirt off my back and the shoes off my feet,” Rutherford says. “I’ve let them use my golf clubs to play their rounds and my car to get them back and forth between courses.”

Rutherford insists those in need don’t come to him with a sense of entitlement or impatience. They’re people with problems in a region where resources are limited.

“My job is to get them what they need when they need it so they can enjoy themselves as much as possible,” he says.

Back in France, Bogni remembers London flights were booked solid as the hours until Christmas Eve ticked away with the diamond still in his care. Making matters worse was the heaviest December fog the U.K. had seen in years.

“I travelled by road from London City Airport to Antwerp to pick up the diamond—then back the same evening to catch one of only two flights that left that day out of Heathrow due to fog,” Bogni recalls. “I flew to Hong Kong, and a driver took me on arrival from the airport to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.”

Bogni delivered the diamond to his guest, visiting for not more than ten minutes, and returned to the Hong Kong airport to board the very same aircraft that brought him to China.

“I left on the 22nd of December, and I returned to London on the 23rd,” Bogni says. “After all, I had concierge duties at a major hotel in central London waiting for me.”



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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

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The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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