There are no rules in the world of luxury except that everything goes. The people who work with this clientele don’t sell a mere product, but provide an experience and a certain identity
by Dardis McNamee & Janima Nam
Director, Spanish Riding School
If Elisabeth Gürtler ever had to draw up a CV, it would read like a Viennese dream: former manager of the Sacher Hotel, organizer of the State Opera Ball, Vice President of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, Director of the Spanish Riding School. As you would expect from her peerless employment history, the 66-year-old is refined, well-spoken, yet no-nonsense.
In dealing with a very wide clientele, she recognizes that, in Austria at least, luxury is not so much defined by affluence as it is by education and culture. “In Austria, we have what I would call an intellectual elite: professors, scientists, inventors. A country really needs this kind of elite in order to bring it forward and continue being successful.”
After several decades of hosting and attending high society events, she is better qualified than most to pinpoint what has changed in the upper echelons. In the case of the legendary State Opera Ball, what was once a setting for postwar celebration and imperial splendor is now sometimes little more than a PR opportunity for some of the guests. Richard Lugner, the Austrian entrepreneur who “invites” (pays) a hand-picked celebrity date to accompany him each year, is among those who seem to exploit the event to boost their profile.
This kind of showmanship is, of course, not limited to Vienna’s society gatherings. As Gürtler points out, a certain fellow international hotelier has used similar tactics to propel him into the White House. “The fact that Donald Trump managed to win demonstrates his ability to work the media. However, I’m not quite sure if he will actually like the position, having to move into a house that is not as glittering and shiny as his own and fly in a plane quite low-key compared to his private jet. Now he has to face the goal he wanted to reach and actually do it!”
A person with class is defined by intellectuality, cultural knowledge, being aware of what happened in the past and what forms our life. It also means that you need to know how to behave, not to show off – that’s class.