Waldorf Astoria’s global brand head meets with the director of special projects of jeweler Fabergé, to talk about modern luxury and how companies have to adapt to the demands of the new elite
Since its founding in 1842, Fabergé, a jewelry house that became famous for its egg-shaped treasures, has been a favorite among the elite. After passing through several hands, the firm restored ties with Peter Carl Fabergé’s greatgrandaughter Sarah Fabergé in 2007, who became Director of Special Projects. For Sarah, getting the balance right between tradition and innovation is key to steering the brand into a more dynamic future, as is a firm understanding of how the luxury landscape is evolving. In the first of a new thought leadership series, Dino Michael, Global Brand Head of Waldorf Astoria, meets with Sarah at Fabergé’s London shop to discuss the ways Waldorf Astoria and Fabergé are engaging with modern luxury.
Dino: Sarah, what does luxury mean to you?
Sarah: The writer Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So luxury depends on whether you have a factual or spiritual approach to living—it’s feeling as though you’re welcomed, looked after and that you matter.
Dino: That warm welcome is everything…
Sarah: We’ve all experienced being put through a scanner and analyzed by the quality of our clothes when we enter a shop and that’s absolutely not what we do at Fabergé. We’re not standoffish—we’re known as the friendliest shop in Mayfair. And that’s the new luxury. We know what customers really want rather than just trying to sell them something.
Dino: From experience, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at. You want to feel special. I agree with you, Sarah—luxury isn’t about accumulating possessions but about collecting experiences and memories. And we’re also helping guests do that. I used to joke that if our house was burning down, I’d save my photos—after the kids of course!—so I’d always have those memories to share.
Sarah: We both deal with people who are used to having anything they want so we have to find something different to entertain them with.
Dino: Our brand philosophy is “Live Unforgettable”. People today are working harder, for longer and they never switch off so how do they make time with their family precious? Our hotels are not necessarily providing anything they can’t get at home, but we offer a level of service and attention they really appreciate. For our guests, luxury is quality—not the gold leaf on the ceiling, but perhaps the exquisite stitching on a back of a chair or the weight of a door handle.
Sarah: Luxury is “feeling looked after”, as you say. It’s attention to detail and being treated in a friendly manner but not an over-familiar way.
Dino: How is Fabergé innovating?
Sarah: We innovate and connect with customers through events. For example, we recently teamed up with Grace Belgravia and the Red Cross. We have a history with the Red Cross as Fabergé created a Red Cross egg for the Romanov family to commemorate the work carried out by the Tsarina and her daughters during the First World War.
Dino: So bringing the past and present together?
Sarah: Yes, our heritage is vital and we are nothing without it. I feel that the Fabergé name is a bit like The Terminator. It has experienced ups and downs, but it trundles on regardless!
Dino: People tend to confuse innovation with technology and fads. It used to be standard to put TVs into bathroom mirrors at hotels. Now vacations are often about switching off, so innovation can mean removing rather than adding gadgets—no-one wants to spend half an hour working out how to turn the bedroom lights off. We want to make things simple and intuitive, so innovation for us is asking “What’s a really good night’s sleep?” and providing the best linen and a freshly made bed. You can’t beat it.
Sarah: It’s so important not to be stuck in the past under a dusty glass dome, but we also have to be careful about being too avant-garde because people will always expect eggs from us. You can’t say Fabergé without eggs and vice versa, so we’ve innovated by having different styles of egg and other jewelry, objects and watches. For young people, I think the eggs are cool. We shot a campaign with Mario Testino and my son is wearing one of the little diamond eggs with his suit to show they’re funky and can be worn casually with jeans for fun. They’re not just big Imperial bejeweled objects.
Dino: I like that campaign, “Eggs are cool.” Simple! What does the brand have in store for the future?
Sarah: We’re having an egg bar fitted here so you can look at all the different eggs, like ordering a cocktail. We did a really successful Harrods Easter takeover a few years back. We have an amazing team champing at the bit to move forward, but it’s about holding change at the right pace, keeping tradition and treading a fine line.
Dino: We also strive to get the balance right. Until a decade ago we had one hotel in New York but now we have 28 across the world and 18 in the pipeline. But the local experience is everything. So your arrival in Bangkok needs to be very different to your sailboat arrival in the Maldives or at the quintessentially British Admiralty Arch in London. How do you inject the essential Waldorf Astoria DNA into a hotel without diluting local culture? We have to get that balance right. The word luxury has become overused but ultimately it boils down to service. You can build the greatest hotel in the world in the greatest location but if you don’t feel special and “Live Unforgettable” there, we’ve failed. I’m always grateful when I see a guest hugging a housekeeper with a big smile or the doorman who remembers every guest’s name because they’re the ones that keep the entire thing running like clockwork.
Sarah: As my great-grandfather said, “We’re shopkeepers so it doesn’t matter whether you’re selling apples, potatoes, or jewels, that’s what we do.” To stand out, we must always engage.
Explore the world of Fabergé and discover fine jewelry creations and collections at faberge.com