Another Pillow for Your Chocolate, Sir?

Article excerpt

Byline: Tara Weingarten

Luxury companies scramble to anticipate the skyrocketing expectations of their clientele.

When it comes to hyperluxurious living, Jill and Martin Handelsman have it figured out. For the past 27 summers, the Hewlett, New York, couple has been going west to the lush grounds of the Hotel Bel-Air for four months, where they treat the swanky L.A. resort as if it were their vacation home. The hotel's bellmen, one of whom has known the Handelsmans since their first visit, cater to the couple's every whim. A fitness trainer meets them at the gym each morning. The grillmaster at the hotel pool knows exactly how they like their chicken salads tossed before they consume them at the pool's only reserved table.

Just when it seemed life couldn't get any sweeter, Hotel Bel-Air general manager Carlos Lopes made the Handelsmans a proposition: would they like to direct the redesign of their favorite summer digs, Suite 427, as part of the hotel's massive renovation? "My wife chose the colors, the draperies, the rugs, the fabrics," says Martin. "They sent all the samples to our home in New York to make it easy for her." The Courtyard Suite, now kissed with Jill's signature style, has a large living room, a bedroom and one and a half baths. It rents for $2,000 a night.

At the upper reaches of luxury, it's often the service that sets a place or a product apart. It's not enough anymore just to meet customer demands; purveyors of luxury now need to individualize how they woo and keep patrons--especially in these competitive times, when there are more billionaires than ever vying for more top-tier options, and the current economic slowdown is making even the wealthiest of the wealthy think hard about who gets their business. "At this level of affluence, the consumer's psyche is very different from the just somewhat rich," says Wes Brown of Iceology, a Los Angeles-based consumer-research firm. "Here, everyone wants to be an emperor. The sense of entitlement is beyond beyond."

Ferrari understands a titan's need to feel special. This month, the Italian exotic carmaker debuts its One-to-One Personalization Program, a dedicated atelier at its Maranello factory. After a private tour of the Ferrari assembly line, patrons meet with a designer and choose all the bespoke details that make a Ferrari a Ferrari, paging through different hides of leather, choosing their favorite seat style and ordering custom-made luggage that fits perfectly in the ever-so-handcrafted trunk. "Think of it as a fashion house where you select all the fabrics, the colors, the trims so that your car is like no one else's," says Ferrari's director of communications Davide Kluzer. "We understand that when you spend this kind of money on a sports car, the last thing you want is to park next to someone who's got the same look."

For now the program is reserved exclusively for buyers of Ferrari's $260,000 flagship 612 Scaglietti--a 5.7-liter, V-12, which sprints to 97kph in a thrilling four and a half seconds. The company hasn't suffered a whit from the world's economic jitters; there is a two-year waiting list for a car. If the One-to-One program is a hit, Ferrari will expand the personalized studio to include its other models.

Of course, some luxe service is genuinely heavenly. Singapore Airlines recently launched the new Suites class, a superluxe cocoon of rare air. Priced 25 percent higher than first-class tickets, Suites class gives 14 privileged passengers the service and feel of a private jet. "It's about plugging into what people don't expect from air travel," says Singapore Airlines spokesman James Boyd. "We give them a remarkable experience that is reminiscent of a private Pullman car on a train. …