Let's say you're in the French Riviera, sitting on your 100-foot yacht, and planning a cocktail party for 60 of your closest movie-star friends. Now let's say you decide that your party absolutely, positively requires a bushel of Patagonian blueberries, a case of 1990 Dom Perignon, some bongo drums, and a pair of llamas. Who do you call?
If you've got cash to spare, you might try Ben Elliot, co-founder of Quintessentially, a London-based concierge business dedicated to satisfying even the most fanciful whim of its well-heeled clientele. Quintessentially, Elliot boasts, can get almost anything, anywhere. The company was once asked, for instance, to procure a dozen albino peacocks for Jennifer Lopez's birthday. When Madonna ran out of her favorite teabags in London, Quintessentially flew some in from Los Angeles. They've arranged luxury expeditions to the North Pole and to the Amazon jungle. When a client managed to get lost while trekking in the latter, Quintessentially arranged a helicopter rescue. On one occasion, the company even rented out the pyramids for a private party. Yes, those pyramids. "We can't do anything that's illegal or immoral, obviously," Elliot says. "But anything else, we'll try to do. If we can't get it, we'll suggest an alternative."
Service like that used to be the purview of upscale hotels, private bankers and credit-card companies. But concierge firms catering to what Elliot calls the "cash-rich, time-poor" are now springing up all over. Katharine Giovanni, chairwoman of the U.S.-based International Concierge and Errand Association, says membership in her organization has doubled in the last two years, to around 650 companies. And Giovanni says those firms are no longer catering exclusively to the leisure class. Many concierge clients these days are harried two-career families who simply need an extra hand planning a child's birthday party or picking up the dry-cleaning. "A concierge is a time broker," Giovanni says. "We're here to give you your life back so that you can spend more time with your kids or spend more time at the office."
Quintessentially's Elliot certainly doesn't cut the figure of a modern-day Jeeves. For one thing, he was born into the manor rather than the servant's quarters: his aunt is the Duchess of Cornwall, wife of the presumptive future King of England. (Though he wears his privilege lightly, Elliot, 32, is something of a British tabloid fixture himself, having dated a procession of beautiful celebrities). For another thing, Elliot is running an international business, not mixing martinis for the master. He won't say how profitable Quintessentially is. But since he started the company in 2000 with two friends, it has grown to around 1,000 employees, with 45 offices around the worldincluding jet-set pit stops like Milan, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Quintessentially is also expanding into new territory, with a sommelier service and a luxury real-estate locator. "I spoke with a member the other day who just used us to sell his house," Elliot says.
For Elliot's concierges, no request is beyond the pale. Well, almost no request: the company ran into trouble last year when an employee in France reportedly told a journalist posing as a client that he could procure prostitutes and cocaine. For the most part, though, Quintessentially's clientsor members, as the company calls themsimply want to know where to go, and how to get past the velvet rope when they get there. "If you think about the early 21st century, there's more very, very rich people on the planet than ever before who all want that access and that level of service," Elliot says. "For most very rich people, they are that because they've been successful or smart in some shape or form. You find that everybody has something they really love, be it a sport or artist or piece of music or theater. Our service helps them get the best out of that."
Of course, such access doesn't come cheap. A general membership can cost $1500 per year. An elite membership, which comes with a personal concierge available 24 hours a day, costswell, if you have to ask, you probably can't afford it. "We're not saying Quintessentially is for everyone," Elliot admits. Those of us who can't afford an invite to the party will just have to find our Patagonian blueberries and albino peacocks elsewhere.