The following are roughly translated excerpts from “What a Christmas!“ written by Iciar Ochoa de Olano and published in the Spanish newspaper El Correo on December 31, 2015.
Gstaad, the famous winter retreat in Switzerland, attracts a larger number of multimillionaires per square meter than anywhere else at Christmas time! The population of the idyllic ski resort town increases to 30,000 over the winter season, with the tourism industry providing 17,000 part-time jobs in order to pamper and indulge about 6,000 visitors. Among the visitors are royalty and aristocrats, movie and sports stars, entertainers, and business and financial gurus. To name a few: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Brigitte Bardot, Julie Andrews, Elton John. Sofia Loren, Roger Moore, Prince Rainer and Grace Kelly, and the King and Queen of Spain – Juan Carlos and Sofia.
The popularity of Gstaad is due to many features, including: the beauty of the Alps, 250 km. of ski slopes, the extraordinarily high quality of stores, restaurants, hotels, chalets, mansions and health services. All are the best of the best! Saint Moritz, Aspen and Chamonix could never compete. Already popular by the 1970’s with the jet set, Gstaad is still on the short list of exclusive hot spots around the world. “Some people even go there to ski,” jokes Claude Bigler.
Claude, a Swiss-born hairstylist, recalls that as an employee of Coiffure Ferdinand, he had many celebrities come under his hands and he also mingled with some of them socially outside the salon. He had the pleasure of having clients such as the Dutch Queen Juliana, David Niven, and Roman Polanski. Another Gstaad client, Julie Christie, changed the course of Claude’s career by paving the way for his job interview with Vidal Sassoon. The interview led to his apprenticeship and training in the Sassoon method, which radically altered and elevated his cutting skills.
Claude has many stories of his time there, but keeps most of them confidential. In Gstaad, it’s “a law”. One story he can share is a memory of how he happened to stay overnight at Elizabeth Taylor’s chalet. One night he drove his Austin Mini to a nightclub in a nearby village, where he met two girls and lots of drinking and dancing followed. After the party, one of the girls offered to drive his car back to Gstaad, where he was welcome to spend the night with them. The following morning, he had decided to prepare breakfast when a man in a wheelchair appeared and asked what he was cooking. When he said eggs and bacon, the man said he’d have the same. The man turned out to be the brother of Richard Burton and the two girls were his caregivers! That’s how he ended up at Elizabeth Taylor’s place.
Another story with no names attached was when he got a tip of 100 Swiss francs for a service costing 30 Swiss francs. The tip was left for him by “the daughter of a coffee baron from Columbia”, who was actually the girlfriend of a drug lord!
In Claude’s opinion, Gstaad has lost the charm he experienced. But his treasured memories – especially the ones that are sealed in secrecy – will be with him forever. Occasionally, a lucky client may be entertained with a Gstaad anecdote! Still exercising the skills he learned years ago with Sassoon, Claude now lives on Vancouver Island, on Canada’s West Coast.