Clinique La Prairie delves into its archives to recall some of the emblematic figures of our world who have contributed to the success of a small clinic on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Text: Alexandre Lanz – Photographies: Getty Images et DR
If the walls of Clinique La Prairie could talk, there would be enough material to write several volumes of fascinating stories. Many historical figures have stayed here. However, in addition to the unique treatment on offer and the stunning setting of this institution that is so popular with leading figures of our world, one of the clinic’s main qualities is discretion. Since it was founded more than eighty-five years ago, Clinique La Prairie has made confidentiality an essential value.
Fascinated by the mystery and legend surrounding this unique clinic, a French historian, Laurent Le Pont, has collected testimonials from a number of celebrities who shared their experiences during interviews or in their memoires. The painstaking work is a veritable historical fresco incorporating not only those who have shaped the glamour of Hollywood but also some of the world’s great decision-makers looking for rest and well-being during a stay away from the spotlights.
From Niehans to Adenauer
Some 85 years ago, Professor Paul Niehans performed the first injection of fresh cells on a patient who was in agony. In doing so, he saved the patient’s life and gave birth to the history of an outstanding medical institution, the reputation of which has continued to grow ever since. This method and the miraculous results have received unprecedented coverage. In 1953, called on by the Vatican to treat Pope Pius XII, Professor Niehans gained worldwide fame. The feedback was unanimous. Patients enjoyed a feeling of renewed energy and their health improved considerably. Stars and celebrities flocked to the clinic, beginning with Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich and including such figures as the German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer.
For more than twenty years, the professor would develop his revitalisation treatment, traditionally referred to as cellular therapy. In 1971, the professor died at the age of 91, leaving behind him a considerable heritage in the field of cellular medicine.
THE DUKE AND DUCHESS OF WINDSOR
The infamous lovers were no less devotees of beauty and elegance. Growing old? Not if they could help it. Determined to fight the ageing process by any means possible, they followed the advice of their friends, Somerset Maugham and Greta Garbo, and made several trips to Switzerland at the beginning of the 1970s to benefit from Prof. Niehans’ rejuvenation programme at Clinique La Prairie.
Obsessed by fitness, the Duke was at pains to look after his waistline, spending several hours every day in the gym. His other secret? A single meal a day giving him sufficient energy to play polo and golf in the afternoon. Today, we realise just how much the couple’s lifestyle was ahead of its time. While Edward was maintaining his perfect figure, Wallis would spend most of her time in beauty salons. During her first stay in 1972, she found everything she was looking for at the Montreux clinic. After each of their stays, the couple said they were “delighted” both by the results and by the region, which they adored.
On the subject of the treatment provided by Professor Paul Niehans, the star’s secretary confided that, “She really believed, she really believed she could live forever!” Without a doubt the clinic’s most famous customer, she stayed here three times between 1960 and 1970. Exhausted by her punishing schedule shooting films and performing on Broadway, she liked to come to the Vaudois Riviera to recharge her batteries. Superstitious and well cared for, she followed the advice of her astrologer to the letter and avoided travelling by plane. She preferred the train which stopped in Lausanne. There, an impressive black Cadillac would be waiting to take her to Montreux with its lights turned off. Examined by Dr Walter Michel, the actress was injected with the precious cells less than one hour later. Living on a dry diet, Dietrich was not allowed cigarettes, alcohol or sun
for five days. In only a few weeks, she would rediscover her youthful condition and an extraordinary sense of well-being. The signed portrait given to Professor Niehans can still be seen in the clinic today: “I don’t know how to thank you for your attention!”
With a difficult temperament, La Divine, as the media referred to her, was very sensitive. Born in Sweden, the actress liked to keep her private life private. In 1953, following the Second World War, she took American citizenship and withdrew to New York, bidding farewell to Hollywood and the world of film. During her career, she was one of the first actresses to adopt the famous vegetable juice extracts developed by the German dietician, Gaylord Hauser, in 1937. A pioneer in the field, she created a following among the celebrities of the time including Wallis Simpson, Paulette Goddard, Clara Bloom and many others. It was also through the famous dietician that she met Professor Niehans and discovered his now famous cellular therapy. Legend has it that she stayed at Clinique La Prairie on several occasions, very discreetly as would be expected when your name is Greta Garbo.
“You’re old only when you forget you’re young,” Hitchcock’s favourite actor liked to say. In 1953, he decided to take a break from acting to explore the world, and in particular Europe, with his wife at that time, Betsy Drake. On the advice of his friend, Noël Coward, he visited Professor Niehans. Who better than Cary Grant to embody the myth of eternal virile beauty at that time? The professor is supposed to have said of Cary Grant: “He seemed invincible, his zest for life was stronger than ever!” Some months later, the star was once again on set under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock, filming “To Catch a Thief”.