Another Pillow For Your Chocolate, Sir?

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."

Built into each of Singapore's A380 Airbus jets, Suites class offers private cabins; Givenchy sheets, duvet covers, sleep suits and puffy slippers; amenity packs from Ferragamo, and fresh flowers throughout. Entertainment is accessed through a private 58cm screen, which offers more than 1,000 on-demand choices, including 100 movies and 700 music CDs. Two of the 12 private cabins are outfitted with a full double bed and come with two of the 58cm screens. Even the Suites-class bathrooms are double the size of a standard aircraft lavatory.

More than ever, luxury service is tailored to a customer's tastes. The two-starred Michelin restaurant Le Cinq, at the Four Seasons Hotel Georges V in Paris, has a perfectly trained wait staff that dotes on diners—many of whom pay about $500 per person—with a warmth not often found in the upper reaches of Parisian dining. The hotel's Caroline Mennetrier says diners often fall in love with a wine over dinner. "If they're so inclined, it is the sommelier's pleasure to make a few calls and get our guests access to private tours at first-growth wineries in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne," she says. Recently, a visiting American couple boarded their private jet with Le Cinq's director Eric Beaumard for private tastings that included Château Margaux and Château Cheval Blanc in St-Emilion. "That was an exception to have Mr. Beaumard accompany them," says Mennetrier. "But we are always happy to provide access to great wineries for our guests."

The Rocco Forte Collection of hotels is nipping at the Four Seasons' Christian Louboutins when it comes to pampering its guests. This growing luxe hotel group, with properties in 11 European cities—including Brown's in London and the Balmoral in Edinburgh—has baseline service that would make even a jaded sheik happy. Guests staying in any suite automatically receive special services at no extra cost, including unpacking and pressing garments upon arrival, and then gently repacking, complete with tissue paper—"just like they used to do in stately English houses," says the group's managing director, Richard Power.

"People at this level don't want to be nickel-and-dimed. There's nothing worse than paying $5,000 for a suite and then haggling over whether or not you used the Internet or ate a Mars bar. That's a bad way to end a luxury experience."

When it comes to shopping, that luxury experience always means personalized attention. Harry Winston, for one, will even take the store to the customer. "People who are used to having things brought to them don't like to go into stores," says Harry Winston's Nancy Murray. "We work at the high end of the consumer pyramid, so it is a part of our DNA to cater to people who are used to being catered to." On an average day, Harry Winston associates in each of the company's 18 salons will deliver jewelry to customers who want to road-test the products. "We'll do it for one carat and we'll do it for 100 carats," says Murray. "Someone who wants to wear a piece for the day just to see how it catches the light, we'll do that." Winston's pieces start at $20,000 and top out above $10 million.

As demanding as today's customers are, Iceology's Brown wonders if things aren't about to get worse. "Though we have many more people today with considerable wealth, we are more insecure than ever and require reinforcement by way of buying the right brands and requiring an insane level of service and extravagance," he says. Generation Y is even more demanding than the boomers, he says, with a much greater need for instant gratification. For them, choosing the décor of a favorite hotel suite may only be the start of the kind of luxury service they expect.

Another Pillow For Your Chocolate, Sir? | World