Conventional prose is ill-suited for describing a day spent with Anthony and Elaine Lassman. A checklist with boxes for items such as insider tips, code words, backstairs, anecdotes and member cards would have been helpful in our attempt to jot down everything the unconventional couple unceasingly shares with us in hushed asides while showing us around London's Mayfair. Yet the amount of information is simply too much to take in all at once. Fortunately, the Lassmans are not only extremely communicative they are also very understanding. And so, upon returning to our hotel after a marathon day, we receive an email summarizing the day’s entire program, embellished with the appropriate links.
The day starts in a luxurious suite at the Connaught hotel. A hotel with two bars which are almost better known than the hotel itself. Possibly because ordinary mortals are more likely to be able to afford a drink in the Connaught Bar or the Coburg Bar than to spend a night at the hotel with room prices at four figures. After shooting the first pictures, it's time for the first cup of coffee. Yet neither now nor later can Nota Bene’s proprietary couple find a moment to answer our questions. Instead they are permanently pointing out to each other fresh discoveries and commenting on them in delighted whispers. Were it not for their refined British manners, they would probably bundle us outside right there and then to show us their latest trouvailles. "This may sound a bit ridiculous, but no matter how much you have lived, what you have visited, there is always more. There is still the next experience that may be even better," Elaine Lassman says in attempt to explain the motivational drive that inspires her work, possibly even her entire persona.
That’s what drives us. Everything else is finite, but the quest for beauty never ends.
After being introduced to Elaine, it comes as no surprise to hear that she once dreamed of an acting career in Hollywood. The oversized sunglasses masking her fine features, her teenager-thin legs in Anne Demeulemeester boots beneath a Junya Watanabe coat, complemented by a hairdo that is impossible to achieve on your own ("Snowden Hill Hair" was mentioned in the subsequent email) are reminiscent of Holly Golightly with a touch of Victoria Beckham on a friendly day.
Elaine and Anthony live their dream. For many years they have been globetrotting, diligently tracking down the world's treasures, and taking copious notes to present to their select clientele; in print form until 2007, and digital ever since. This they do so successfully that today they employ a team of some twenty-odd people to run the business.
Besides providing an ultra-exclusive travel guide, Nota Bene also offers custom-made travel arrangements to a number of its clients. This service, entitled "Bespoke", costs significantly more than an ordinary membership, which merely grants access to the member's section of the website.
Traveling is always expensive. People pay us mainly to save time, and to some, time is more valuable than money.
Anthony goes on to explain, "We only recommend those things that are really worth doing, just as if your most trusted friends were to go out and reconnoiter a trip for you."
An apparently simple concept that meets with a lot of interest. For in this age of "Augmented Reality," shelve-loads of travel guides, and overabundance on the Internet, the question is not where to inform yourself; rather, the trick is to know how to filter out the information relevant to your personal needs. And frankly, wouldn't it be much easier if somebody else were to take care of that? For the financially well off, Nota Bene is the right address. Clients can expect a service that surpasses ordinary travel arrangements by far. A holiday in Capri even comes with advice on the right stones to sunbathe on. "We will secure a certain slab of seafront concrete (it is all rock bathing here) and ensure clients are positioned on certain rocks; to those in the know this denotes status," can be found in an article on their website. That their prices make their services available to but a select few doesn't bother either of them. The membership fees finance their work – and their independence. They travel unannounced, do not do press junkets, neither can their independent opinion be bought by advertising or sponsorship. Whether in the stern judgment of the Nota Bene team a 5 star hotel deserves its five stars, is solely at their discretion.
I have always been fascinated by what makes places magical.
Anthony Lassman smiles genially as he tells their story, mentioning at one point that his wife was actually the catalyst for the initial project. Here she takes over the part of the narrator. "We were on a flight to New York again, and Anthony was grumbling to himself because he was reading something in a magazine about a hotel we had visited previously. ‘Just read this!’ he said. ‘You know this place, they are not reporting it truthfully! Why does nobody ever write how it really is?' I was reading something and, because it wasn't the first time I heard him grumble about this, I said:
‘You know what? If you can't find what you are looking for, for goodness sake, why don't you do something yourself?'
Just six months later, Anthony Lassman presented his wife with a big portfolio containing prototypes of the design for the first travel guide.
In the meantime, we're several stops farther. First we ate in the George Club, a private restaurant on Mount Street, then we continued on to a small boutique in Davies Street where Elaine put a number of extraordinary jewelry creations on her delicate wrists and in passing quietly philosophized about a Brigitte Bardot portrait exhibited in the Gagosian Gallery. In-between we mustered tailor-made suits, inspected subterranean wardrobes, met uber stylish sales staff and were introduced to a man named Peter who has been running his flower stall and supplying flowers to the Mayfair boutiques for 33 years. Elaine and Anthony guide us through the entire program with obvious enjoyment. "Yes, I think it's wonderful to share the same passion. Equally, if you have an eye that is seeking beauty, it can be quite a challenge," says Anthony.
Sometimes you wish you wouldn't pay attention to those things so much, but you know instinctively if it's not right, you can't live with it. You have to move it, change it or put it the other way round.
The two of them exchange a knowing smile, and Elaine continues, "So in that way we are not good for each other. If the one is finally satisfied, you can be sure, the other is already not anymore."
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