The keyholders of luxury
The word slips silkily off the tongue: concierge. A smooth sound, little more than a whisper, a sliver of unblemished French sporting a noble pedigree from 17th-century France; one favoured theory of the word?s etymology is comte des cierges ? keeper of the keys.
Today?s concierge remains a keeper of the keys, only these are not over-sized and heavily wrought shanks held tight to a blackened ring. The 21st-century concierge?s keys lean smoothly into a lock and open wide the doors of luxury for hotel guests and ? increasingly ? for the super-wealthy. The fact that so many new businesses have been springing up over the past few years, offering personal concierge services to individuals who can afford them ,tells us how much in demand these skills have become.
But what, precisely, are these skills? A list would fill a book, volumes of books, and still be incomplete; the concierge is in the business of wish-fulfillment and, since the wishes of the luxury consumer are boundless, the job is an extended, career-long exercise study in the art of the possible. Tickets for a sold-out performance or sporting event. A table for two at a top restaurant reliably reported to be booked up for the next two years. Or how about a forgotten teddy bear stranded at a distant airport? Short of a trip to the moon, the concierge finds a way. A premium skill is the ability not only to imagine the unimaginable, but also to make it happen. This is not a role for the easily defeated.
At the very pinnacle of the luxury pyramid, where the very wealthiest inhabit a world that is entirely other, a day in the life of a concierge may well be a day of magical conjurings of whims, fancies and indulgences that can only be realised in that thin stratosphere. Often hired in an individual and personal capacity, a career personal concierge draws on a tightly woven network of contacts.
Their fellow adepts employed in the luxury hospitality sector are also likely to have the benefit of a carefully cultivated network. A near-invisible network of professional associations brings the uniformed and non-uniformed concierges together with the aim of professionalising the service and opening a window on to a privileged and rarely glimpsed world. In France, the Clefs d?Or (golden keys) was established over sixty years ago, and there are equivalents in the UK, the US and further afield. Access and membership are, of course, tightly controlled.
It?s arguable that a skilled concierge is not born but made, though a few attributes are likely to be essential: a genuine warmth towards people, an excellent memory, the ability to make connections and think laterally, and a sincere desire to please are personal qualities shared by professionals in the sector. How much can be learned? Communication skills and mastery of etiquette are good places to start.
Since so much of a luxury hotel?s reputation rests in the hands of the concierge and his staff, the post carries weighty responsibilities. There is a reason why so many top hotels place the concierge desk at the beating heart of the hotel, visible, accessible, and in many cases permanently manned.
Diplomacy, discretion and adaptability are at a premium in such a vital public-facing role. Many requests may seem a simple matter of everyday administration. Some can reasonably be anticipated; of the many guests checking in to a London hotel during Wimbledon fortnight, at least one will be ticketless and very desirous of a seat on Centre Court. And some would stretch the powers of a seer. Part of the concierge?s skills is to relish the challenge of meeting each and every one, and finding alternatives only when every possibility has been exhausted.
The career climb to the concierge?s desk is the pursuit of excellence. Once attained, the role is generally reckoned to be endlessly rewarding and immensely challenging. Those who join the ranks of luxury hotel comte de cierges are the keyholders of luxury, discreetly opening its many doors.