It is a quiet evening. My little girl is on the sofa watching a rather psychedelic cartoon called Adventure Time (which I absolutely dig), and my 'famous' pasta rosè is on its way. That would be basil, with some salt and some sugar, oil and tomato all together in a pot of any sort, add parmesan and double cream when it smells good, throw the tagliatelle al-dente in the pan and stir: the only recipe I can perform for my family and the one they love the most.
I never wanted nor planned to be domestic, and I am today, like many female professionals I know, an unpaid housekeeper, a bad chef and a terrible laundress. I am an entrepreneur, that means my own emoluments depend on how effective (fortunate) I am and as a result, I suffer from constant anxiety: what’s tomorrow going to bring? Will this still work in ten years? Will I be able to provide myself a pension? Do we have enough money to pay all the employees?
I - we - operate in the field of luxury, rental properties and services division. While the largest part of the world sinks in debts, wars, poverty, criminality and similar events us humans supply to each other, I - we - control the movement of the fortunate and wealthy, provide them holiday villas that start at thousands per week and engage with chefs, butlers, tutors, personal trainers, private shoppers and yoga gurus to make sure they obtain what they wished (paid) for (and more).
Do not be mistaken: as per the assistants in a Gucci shop, we do not possess that kind of wealth - Gucci does, however, we are surrounded by exquisite and costly items. We speak the same language of our clients, an alphabet where the word ‘luxury’ is actually never murmured. Being relevant in this world means also communicating the correct message, with the appropriate terminology. A lot of understatement is involved and, contrarily to what most think, flashy is only for the nouveau riche and the juvenile supplier.
We have chosen the business to business side of the market many years ago, so we have ended being factotum for agents only and, for this reason, we do not market to direct customers. Our partners require a list of to-do things for their clients and we execute them, which could be as simple as it sounds if the bullet pointed list did not include such requirements like “please make sure all the trees smell like fresh peaches” or “please buy ten ponies for the check-in”.
I think we are good like that, we enjoy providing our very best, we love sitting together and creating new scenarios for our guests: a Berber-like tent in the olive yards with a grand piano and sparkly lamps, a Leonardo Da Vinci impersonator for the little ones, a surprise trip to the top of a Venetian Palazzo, where a helicopter, a lot of candles, violins and flowers are involved “will you merry me?” It’s a "yes" and a hundred percent of positive score.
We spend the majority of our time rethinking the obvious and making it surprising: it is not about welcoming guests on arrival into the mansion of their choice, it’s more about recreating the same feeling as they were the Rolling Stones entering the stage at the Royal Albert Hall.
We are hands on.
Most of our clients are the most inspiring of creatures. People (like us) would be surprised to see these sort of super-humans standing in the kitchen while religiously listening to their chef chronicles and sharing with them personal anecdotes that can never, ever, be repeated. Some episodes of our life are in fact worth telling to strangers only, because those who are the closest to us rarely gift us with a fresh conversation, a place where we can (finally) revisit our past decisions and make them sound much better. Most of the times, in fact, our closest ones were there with us when consequences hit, they know us way too well. Our job is in fact to create a nice environment with great humans inside, chefs with a heart, nannies with great appeal for the little ones, concierges that are compassionate, so that our guests will feel refreshed, renewed.
You think you know what luxury is until you start working in it.
So now it comes the season where all of us in the luxury villa travel become unavailable to our beloved ones and check the phone like it is the Delphi’s oracle. This is when we get up in the morning and by the time our teeth are brushed we have already checked emails, miscalls, messages and instant softwares of any sort and we have read the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and all the bulletins available: is it going good? Will they book again (with us)? What is the trend and how is the market responding to this humongous crisis? Bad, baad, subprimes.
My little girl has learnt to interpret me and she doesn’t come around too much if it’s one of those days, when everything seems to collapse and tomorrow is a menace. She comes and kisses me on the cheek a lot if she feels I am an emotional wreck.
She tells me she wants to be a hairdresser with a permit to sell chocolate one day, for girls like sweets while they get their hair do. I encourage her to be whatever she wants to be, although of course there is a list of roles I would never wish her to impersonate: I make sure I don’t say a word about those or that’s exactly where she will land, she is my daughter after all.
This is not that world any more where people with a degree were noble of a cultural sort and plumbers shall be ashamed of themselves. It is actually quite the opposite, as today few people know how to actually ‘do’ things while the rest of us debate around theory, marketing and social media contents to make our businesses (and ourselves) appealing. Culture is right there, available on the internet for everybody, possibly for free - check Stanford University’s website if you do not believe me.
I just hope she doesn’t feel the urge to be’ somebody’ for the sake of it and really goes for some job that will make her happy to get up in the morning.
So, before the Italian dolce vita holidaying servicing burst in our family life, we have spent a week in the Old Down Manor in Somerset, a property surrounded by beauty, alpacas and well fed little goats, where food tastes as you wish - and you would not expect in England. If you are italian and have never been up here you can think about a Tyrolean version of Tuscany - which is a fabulous contamination, trust me.
We have walked in the immense estate and enjoyed far too much food, visited a family shed with a Juke Box - yes, we did have a dance surrounded by barrels - and taken the time to finally speak to each other of subjects that do not involve routines to be performed. Television is not part of the deal here, and I find that fair: one rents the manor with a grand piano but no multi licensed Sky. I do hate television. Television becomes pivotal when your brain wants to take off, and that shall not happen more than few days a month.
We - I - have gorged ourselves on the cider and cheese and need to be on tuna and tomatoes for the next two weeks. Dust, would be better.
Every night my little girl has been given a poem to read in bed by our exquisite butler Maite, every morning she has also been served pancakes in bed as a real princess, like daddy calls her, and an inspiringly forceful estate manager, Carly, even managed to provide an emergency dental surgery in a local clinic for my significant half - this only happens to people who work in the travel business when they travel for leisure, please do not panic as it doesn’t happen to ‘normal’ people. I - we - know what it takes to make a customer feel like home: dedication, intelligence, grace, and we got plenty of all these.
Most of all I - we - have stood on the other side, the one of the happy client who gets a blast and comes back home with a new, unexpected slice of soul-cake. This experience expresses exactly what luxury stands for: great things with a human touch, and will be an inspiration for my - our - coming season.
I have copied all the poems, by the way, I hope they won’t mind.