Editor’s Note: The Hungarian Countess Louise J. Esterhazy was a revered — and feared — chronicler of the highs — and generally lows — of fashion, society, culture and more. Over the course of several decades (although she never really counted and firmly avoided any reference to her age), the Countess penned her missives from her pied-à-terres in Manhattan, Nantucket, Paris, London and Gstaad, as well as wherever her travels took her, from California to Morocco.
And it seems the Esterhazy clan by nature is filled with strong opinions, because WWD Weekend has now been contacted by the Countess’ long-lost nephew, the Baron Louis J. Esterhazy, who has written from Europe to express his abhorrence about numerous modern fashion and cultural developments. The Baron’s pen is as sharp as his late aunt’s and, so, here is his column filled with advice on how a guest should behave on a private yacht — provided, of course, one is fortunate enough to receive an invitation to board.
As summer winds languidly down to the end of August, one’s thoughts turn to that last possible summer vacation.
In times past the Esterhazy clan descended in fleets of gilded horse-drawn carriages to our lakeside palace of Szigliget. Puzzlingly, modern life doesn’t allow such privileges now…but being an Esterhazy still has its little perks, as over the summer months my email in-box fills with tempting invitations to join various modern-day commercial princelings on an array of magnificent yachts, all gliding around the Mediterranean Sea.
Ever since American robber barons and the English aristocracy discovered the joys of yachting (now so blatantly adopted by fashion designers, Hollywood celebrities and luxury titans), “the Med” has been the place to be in July and August.…from Salvador Dali’s Cadaqués in northeast Spain, across Coco Chanel’s French Riviera, Columbus’ Ligurian and Hemingway’s Amalfi coasts, disco throbbing Ibiza, the more poetic Mallorca, the Aga Khan’s Sardinia, Bonaparte’s Corsica, the Odyssean Ionian and Icarian Aegean seas, all the way to ancient Antalya, in southern Turkey. There are thousands of miles of idyllic European coastline and one hundred times as many Instagramable bays and inlets where one can drop anchor, launch the sea-toys and behave like a spoiled tycoon.
And, believe me, these days for every bay, there are a dozen white, blue and gray-hulled throbbing monster machines providing entertainment and luxury beyond one’s wildest dreams to those aboard (and paparazzi-filled motorboats chasing the celebrity-filled ones). By the way, proper sailing yachts are few and far between, as real sailing is too much like a sport, involves a modicum of skill, some real passion and even potential discomfort.
In addition to all this at sea, if one’s host is really aiming to impress and “go large,” your invitation may well include a private jet trip out to join the gin-palace at anchor. It all sounds so “Life Styles of the Rich & Famous” and jealous-making, doesn’t it?
But before you scream in envy, here is the Baron Louis J. Esterhazy’s Modern Day Guide to being a summer yachting guest:
1) Large yachts are not a home. No homeowner gets upset at being in residence alone — with hallways of empty guest rooms upstairs. No, big fancy yachts are solely designed to impress, entertain and to be filled. A yacht owner “on board alone” is a deeply sad character. So, they need to fill the multiple guest cabins — for the entire summer season. The challenge is, all their rich friends also have their own mega-yachts and gorgeous summer retreats and they, too, need guests.
So, when you get the tempting yachting invitation, beware that accompanying noise, which is the unmistakable sound of the bottom of a large barrel being scraped in search of warm bodies to fill empty cabins. The point is, you could well be trapped on a boat, with up to a dozen other utterly random people, all quietly wondering to themselves why they were asked and when the holiday will end.
I once met a charming couple who were about to spend 10 days on the enormous yacht of a well-known European tech tycoon. The invitation had come after meeting him only once at a London charity soirée. I casually told them that, of course, every cabin was wired with listening devices and every mirror was two-way with cameras behind, as the owner relished sitting in his cabin late at night eavesdropping and watching his guests. They were horrified.
I saw them six months later. “How was the cruise in the Med?” I asked. “Terrible! We undressed in the
closet, never had any physical interaction and only spoke when we had swum 200 yards from the boat. It was ghastly.” “Why?” I innocently asked. “Because of what you told us about all the bugging.” “God Lord, that was a joke!”
I have not seen them since.
2) The very wealthy are, by definition, total control freaks — often that is how they became so rich in the first place. They love their jets and their yachts precisely because they can be utterly in control of everything, all the time. They go where they want to go, when they want to go there and brook no opposition. They determine if and when you can get off, who sits at their table, at what time you eat and drink and how the entertainment will be served up. Think of it as being a very luxurious jail. Oh, and you need to sing for your supper, sometimes literally. On no account do you sneak off to your cabin until your host is ready to retire and the signal is given.
3) To support and enable this near psychotic level of control-freakery, your host is ably and ruthlessly supported by the crew of whatever mode of transport you are enjoying. Private jet and big yacht crews are singularly the most disciplined, attentive, willing and fastidious domestic staff in existence. They make Downton Abbey’s Carson look like a trainee on amateur night. If the owner wants his guests to water ski at 2 a.m. or be served iced tequila shots while attempting stand-up paddle, it’s done. No request or need is too much for these people. The corollary pleasure of all this pampering, as a guest, is when you finally leave, the expected tip for the crew is enough to pay a full term at Yale Law School. Bring enough cash to fill a private banker’s till.
4) And talking of leaving, again like jail, the process of release is always in someone else’s hands. You may have boarded in Nice and reasonably have bought yourself a return flight home from the same airport. Big mistake. One week later, you could be approaching any number of unexpected ports with a range of challenging travel connections back to Paris, London, Geneva or New York. But all this is simply not a concern or something even understood by your host. When one has a private jet on call, why would you bother to understand the concerns of mortals around budget airlines, seat availability and flight schedules? Suddenly, you are dumped out on a Greek rock and soon find yourself ferrying it back to Athens with countless unwashed back- packers. And then you feel how the real world returns, alarmingly fast.
5) And if you do get the ride on the PJ…remember the absolute golden rule: Never, ever go to the bathroom on some else’s plane. No one tells you this…until it’s too late and you exit the loo having done the business and undertake the silent walk of shame back to your oversize leather seat. My German wife (aka the Generalquartiermeister) and I were once given a lift on a billionaire’s jet, all the way from India to the U.K. following a lavish Rajasthan wedding. In order to ensure “Delhi belly” was avoided during the four-day celebrations, she took prophylactic measures and self-medicated to “stuff herself up,” so to speak. The effects wore off about six hours into the PJ flight with seismic and volcanic results. Her additional challenge was that the billionaire in question had banned his crew from taking on “dirty” Indian water when in the sub-continent, so the toilet pump system was dry. Had she been availed a parachute, I think it would have been willingly deployed.
So, caveat emptor when it comes accepting that “all aboard” luxury jet/yacht invitation in these final days of summer.