Job-seeking Italians don white gloves as butlers back in vogue

Sat May 17, 2014 3:42am EDT
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By Naomi O’Leary

VERONA Italy (Reuters) - Balancing a silver tray with a champagne bottle on the palm of his hand, butler Maurizio Tagliavia waited amid the vineyards for the helicopter that brings guests to the boutique hotel in the 15th century Villa Del Quar.

The 56-year-old engineer and one-time Italian army parachutist had been unemployed since 2012, when he lost his job as sales director for a renewable energy firm. His break came in February, when he was selected for an intensive course to become a modern-day butler.

"Let’s see if there's anything in this," Tagliavia recalls thinking. "I went online to see what a butler does and doesn't do."

Today, Tagliavia, a wiry man with receding hair and ready smile, is employed by Villa De Quar's owner as butler for the high-end guests who rent the master suite at the estate-turned-hotel on the outskirts of Verona.

Butlers, the discreet mainstays of high society in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are enjoying a renaissance. Steven Ferry, founder and chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers, estimates there could be nearly 40,000 people in butler roles in hotels and private estates around the world.

Ferry, a former butler and author of a manual on butlers and households managers, says the profession suffered after World War Two, because aristocratic families could no longer afford to keep large staffs. Their employees were pushed out into a world where they found more opportunities and better treatment.

But butlering began to re-emerge in the 1990s thanks in part to a rise in the number of people who became wealthy during the dot-com bubble in the United States, says Ferry. The last decade has seen growing demand from Russia, the Middle East and China, which is now the fastest-growing market.

While middle classes in the U.S. and Europe have suffered during the five years of economic crisis, the ultra-rich have fared far better during and since the recession.   Continued...

Maurizio Tagliavia walks with a drink at the Villa Del Quar, near Verona April 15, 2014. REUTERS/Max Rossi