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The secrets of stealth-wealth style in Switzerland


Ostentation is out, discreet luxury is in: Elle Blakeman looks at how Switzerland’s super-rich have embraced stealth-wealth style

Elle Blakeman portrait
Elle Blakeman ,

And the bride wore Armani: last summer, the world’s attention was briefly focused on the coming together of the great and the good from the worlds of finance, media and music for musician Tina Turner’s wedding at her idyllic lakeside estate near Zürich. Part of the water was cordoned off, while a red canvas screen ensured privacy for the guests – just 120 of them, including David Bowie, Oprah Winfrey and Sade. It was a perfect example of the discreet spending that characterises the way the jetset behave in Switzerland.

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Switzerland is a land of pleasing contradictions: with its favourable tax and privacy laws, it attracts many of the world’s super-rich, yet nothing is valued more than discretion. It produces some of the world’s finest watches, jewellery and artisan food, but consumption here is a quiet affair. The Swiss rank the highest in average wealth in the world (a record-breaking $513,000 per adult), and the country’s billionaires are notoriously discreet, making it hard for outsiders to know where, when and for what they open their designer wallets.

Zoom in on Zürich
For the Swiss high-spending elite, the traffic-free promenade of Bahnhofstrasse in central Zürich (one of the most expensive streets in Europe for retail property) holds myriad delights. While this exclusive street is home to several international brands (Louis Vuitton, Longchamp and Cartier, for instance), there are also some fantastic local gems to take advantage of. Bernie’s is a beautiful department store, carrying a mixture of big brands and fast fashion, alongside a selection of less obvious names: hats by Catarzi 1910 or classic cuts from Italian brands such as Peuterey and Messagerie.

Couture culture
Those hunting for something more showstopping will be drawn to Gross Couture, also in Bahnhofstrasse, which stocks designs by the likes of Elie Saab, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and Carlos Miele that are perfect for that lavish gala night at the opera. Meanwhile, the ultra-exclusive Trois Pommes boutiques in Storchengasse are also a haven for the area’s super-rich, offering customers a carefully edited selection of stunning pieces over two floors. Lovers of minimalism flock to the rails of Jil Sander, Céline and the hard-to-find Thom Browne, while those looking for something bolder can find the latest looks from Giambattista Valli, Mary Katrantzou and Tom Ford.

Fabric of a nation
One name gathering some traction among locals looking for something a little different is Sheryne, one of just a handful of independent designers in Switzerland. Her stunning eveningwear pieces are all handmade using the finest fabrics, including traditional African ones. A playful approach to fashion is characteristic in Sônia Bogner’s designs, with gowns given a contemporary twist with details such as panelling and zips.

Ski glamour
St Moritz might be heralded as a winter retreat, but the summers here are just as beautiful and the resort has some of the best shopping in the country. Via Serlas offers everything you need to stay stylish in the spring weather; Polo Ralph Lauren, Roberto Cavalli and Louis Vuitton are just some of the labels that have boutiques here. While in the area, it’s also worth paying a visit to Giorgio Misani to stock up on rare fine wines and Hanselmann for its legendary Engadiner Nusstorte (nut tart).

Geneva genius
Meanwhile, Geneva has seen incredible growth as the super-rich continue to flock to the city. As the beating heart of the luxury watch industry (Switzerland has a 54% market share in terms of value, despite accounting for just 2.5% of output), it is unsurprising that many of the leading watch brands have a big presence in Geneva. Not long ago, Omega paid millions for the former boutique of Louis Vuitton, while Audemars Piguet doubled its space on place de la Fusterie.

Time for style
Locals are guided by the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), and those in the know invest mainly in Swiss names. Alongside the global brands such as Omega and Rolex, there are also several very impressive boutique labels catering to the stealth-wealth set. Both Vacheron Constantin and A Lange & Söhne create beautifully crafted pieces with a classic, timeless aesthetic, while the technically stupefying Richard Mille or masters of material Hublot will appeal to those looking to make a serious style statement.

Sweet tooth
And then, of course, there is food. The country is world-renowned for implausibly good chocolate, so the Swiss themselves are understandably hard to please. Confiserie Sprüngli is the name to know here, offering everything from bags of sugar-dusted almonds to huge chests of handmade chocolates. Meanwhile, since 2005, Oona has been producing caviar from Siberian sturgeon raised in pure Swiss mountain water. Just don’t serve it too lavishly – this is Switzerland, after all …

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