Old picture of Helen Badrutt

The history of Helen Badrutt

The history of the Badrutt men is well known, but what about the formidable Helen Badrutt? Here, we celebrate her legacy

It has been well reported that the men of the Badrutt family were influential hoteliers. From the famous family founder Johannes and the innovative Caspar, through to Caspar’s son Hans – who trained for the job in Paris and London – and later Andreas and Hansjürg. Between the generations of the original pioneers and the younger generations, there was a woman who made a big impression on The Palace – Helen Kolb, the second wife of Hans Badrutt.

In 1907, Hans married Amalia Ganzoni from Trieste. The couple had two sons and a daughter, but Amalia sadly died young in 1912. Hans was a noble man and very charming. He quickly became the most eligible man in St. Moritz. His son, Hansjürg, remembered that when he walked through the village with his father, many women greeted the ageing hotelier with big smiles. Hans would then say to his son: “Look, that woman could have become your mother!”

However, it was a young sales assistant from St Gallen who finally won Hans’ heart. Helen Kolb had been sent to America to learn English, as was the custom in many Swiss families back then. When she returned, she worked in a women’s boutique called Knitting. A lover of fashion, she dressed well and as a young woman favoured large hats, including the much mocked ‘chamber pot’!

In the Badrutt family archives, there is a series of four small pictures of Helen back when she was still Miss Kolb. The photos were taken in 1910 and show the typical S-form of the dresses of the time. Her hat is decorated with a giant bow that only remained in place thanks to a long hat needle. Another picture shows Helen around 1912: the belt and the ruffles under the skirt, as well as the asymmetrical cut, were popular before the wars.

In the clothes shop where she worked, Hans and Helen met every day and greeted each other politely. Hansjürg remembered Helen was a very happy person – the young woman liked to laugh and her good mood made the widower Hans forget his sorrows. Hans fell in love and, in 1922, the marriage took place in Sils Maria. In October 1922, they went on their honeymoon to Locarno.

Helen was intrigued by the family business and developed into a fine hotelier. Hans was in charge of the finances while Helen took responsiblity for interior design. Due to her training, Helen was an expert when it came to fabrics and she ordered the finest materials from Lecce and silk from Como. She seldom bought her clothes off the rail; often, she designed a dress herself and then had it tailored in Zurich. Hans and Helen loved parties, so there were always events held in the hotel. Christmas with the legendary Christmas tree and New Year’s Eve became the most important evenings in St. Moritz. Helen was always dressed in the latest fashion; in winter she liked to wear fur.

Though the men of the Badrutt family gave The Palace its name, the fame and the glory, Helen undoubtedly gave Badrutt’s Palace Hotel its style.

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