SAINT-TROPEZ — Some things never change in Saint-Tropez.
At three o’clock Saturday afternoon, it’s lunchtime at the beachside restaurant, Le Club 55. Under the striped shadows of slatted sun shades, the “lucky few” settle into an easy meal of grilled fish washed down with vin rosé.
At one of the better tables — one with a view of the beach entrance — Paris-based businessman and socialite Cyril Karaoglan, who has spent most of his 30-some-odd summers in Saint-Tropez, glances up from the conversation.
“Oh, look who’s here,” he says smoothly.
Just then, the house paparazzo dashes past to snap the arrival of someone who passes for a celebrity in the off-peak month of June. Ivana Trump has just sallied in for lunch.
It’s the eternal Tropezian moment. Ever since Brigitte Bardot walked barefoot through the port — trailing paparazzi like stray dogs — the legend of “St. Trop” has rested on its potent mix of sun and celebrity. If not a star here, one is by definition a stargazer. Even Karaoglan — who is himself received as a local crown prince thanks to his lifelong visits — and his lunch group brighten at the rumor that Richard Gere and Carey Lowell will be in Saint-Tropez for the weekend.
Plus ça change….
But from another point of view, there is something new under the Mediterranean sun this summer. Christian Dior, Pucci and Boucheron all have opened boutiques on or near the principal shopping square, Place de la Garonne. New restaurants include the trendy pan-Asian Le Poete Ivre behind the port, and the expensive Bayader, poolside at the Byblos Hotel, with its fusion cuisine. And just outside of town, an exclusive new eco-luxury hotel, La Villa de Marie, offers a calm “ying” to the rah-rah “yang” of the flashier Saint-Tropez establishments. Built on six acres of piney hills overlooking the sea, the Villa murmurs “Nicole Kidman” as gently as the Byblos shouts out “P. Diddy.”
All this new investment — particularly that from luxury goods groups LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (Dior and Pucci) and Gucci Group (Boucheron) —suggests that the character of Saint-Tropez has shifted subtly but noticeably in the past few years. Much like the Hamptons, Saint-Tropez has become a virtual weekend satellite community for the well-to-do from Paris, London and Switzerland. Just look at local decorating styles, suggests Karaoglan, who works in his family’s insurance business and so casts a professional eye at the furnishings and artworks in local houses. A decade ago, most people favored a simple, summery style — so that, come September, the Villa could be shuttered and abandoned until the following summer. Now, more homeowners are installing art, collectibles and fine furniture — to say nothing of the necessary security systems and regular housekeepers — with an eye to making year-round visits.“Before, it was just the summer season here,” says Karaoglan. “Now, people come all year.”
In his opinion, this summer’s high-profile shop openings simply show that the luxury goods groups are at last catching up with the port’s new, year-round realities. “To open a boutique in Saint-Tropez wasn’t worth the trouble before,” Karaoglan continues.
Down the strand at another sandy eatery, Le Palmier, Dior chief executive Sidney Toledano expands on the same argument.
“It’s funny how these resort places are becoming more residential places,” he muses, adding, “People come here more often. People need the full selection, full service. There used to be small multibrand stores. It is our clients who have brought us here.”
Last summer, Dior opened its first resort store in Marbella, Spain. Encouraged by the “fantastic” results, says Toledano, the house has decided to expand its “resort network” with shops in Saint-Tropez, then Deauville and Courchevel in the future. Other sea-and-ski outposts have already opened in Aspen, Monte Carlo and Cannes.
The Saint-Tropez outlet, on a prominent corner of Rue Gambetta near the port, has 2,000 square feet of sales space on three floors for its ready-to-wear collection, accessories and fine jewelry. Open 11 months of the year, the store even will stock the Dior winter collection in July. To signal the boutique’s strategic importance, LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault and his wife, Helene, attended the opening earlier this month. (By contrast, Arnault let his children, Delphine and Antoine, host a party to open the Pucci boutique a week before.) And although designer John Galliano did not attend the opening, he can always check in on the shop later: Dior confirmed local rumors that the designer has rented a villa in the resort for the summer.
While the arrival of Dior, Pucci and Boucheron — joining the ranks of Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Tod’s, Malo, Cartier and Kenzo — may signal a new shopping era for some visitors, not everyone is thrilled at the prospect of more big-city brands invading the port. (Chanel and Armani also are rumored to be scouting locations.)At a dinner hosted by Dior after the store opening, Janie Samet, Le Figaro’s fashion maven, lamented the days gone by, when tout le monde ducked into one or two local shops to snap up whatever summery little things were on the racks. Each year, a local trend — turquoise tops, for example — would sweep across the beach like a refreshing breeze.
“Now there is no more local fashion,” she sighs. “It’s all international marketing; it’s the phenomenon of globalization.”
Besides, as she points out, the whole concept of dressing up for Saint-Tropez kind of misses the point.
“In Saint-Tropez, there’s not a style of dressing,” she says, like a parochial school matron teaching the maxims of right behavior. “There’s a style of undressing.”
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