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Friday, November 18, 2016

Sun, Glamour, and Luxury: The History of The French Riviera

Nice, France

Living in Miami I’m completely spoiled by having the luxury of going to the beach year-round, but I spent my childhood up north in Washington, D.C. and lived in New York for three years so I know the feeling of liberation that comes with the Spring/Summer season. The weather is warmer, clothes get lighter, and the burdens of life seemingly fade away. For me the beach is the ultimate place to be during the summer. I had the best times growing up spending family vacations in Virginia Beach and Myrtle Beach and in my twenties living in NYC taking beach vacations to Miami with friends. But now I dream of more exotic locales…

Nice, France

Number one on my bucket list is definitely the South of France. Nothing screams luxury, relaxation, and glamour than soaking up the sun in Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez, or Monaco. Fashion icons such as Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, and Jane Birkin have resided or made the region their premier vacation destinations. But what is all the fuss, why has the South of France been able to capture the interest of the wealthy for so long?

French Riviera

The region, officially named Cote d’Azur or the French Riviera became an attractive vacation destination for British Aristocrats in the late 18th century primarily because of the sun. England has a very rainy climate with limited sun and the French Riviera in contrast is sunny approximately 300 days out of the year. The early aristocratic visitors felt the sea breeze and constant sunshine was good for their health and began frequenting the region to seek refuge and reprieve from the harsh climate in England. In the 19th century a railroad was built that made it easier to access the region bringing more wealthy individuals and royal families and establishing the area as a luxury destination for centuries to come. In the early 1900’s many painters and writers came to take in the light and picturesque view of the Mediterranean from the shores of Nice, Cannes, Saint Tropez, and Monaco using the landscape as inspiration for their work. Notable artists such as Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Edith Wharton were all known to spend time there.

Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier of Monaco

The 1950’s and 1960’s ushered in a new era for the Cote d’Azur as Hollywood began to settle in the region both by filming movies there and vacationing there more frequently. In 1956 Brigitte Bardot starred in “And God Created Woman”, now a classic film, about a young woman who’s an orphan but manages to seduce her way into the hearts and beds of three wealthy men on the French Riviera. A tale that inspired Hollywood starlets to visit the locale off-screen and immerse themselves in the beauty and glamour that was captured on film. Another event that dramatically enhanced the way the world viewed the area was actress Grace Kelly’s marriage to Prince Ranier of Monaco, which brought in European royalty and Hollywood celebrities alike to the Riviera for the event of the century, broadcasted to 30 million people around the world. This event opened up the region to “new wealth” and with that came a new taste for in-your-face luxury transitioning the locale to what it is today; an area populated by luxury shops, expensive cars, and mega yachts.

Dior Resort 2016 at Pierre Cardin's Palace of Bubbles

In fashion, there have been many events that have brought celebrities and the fashion elite to the Cote d’Azur. The Cannes Film Festival became a noteworthy occasion in the mid-1950’s when the Palme D’or award was given to the director of the best film shown at the festival. Also, when Elizabeth Taylor hit the red carpet in 1957 with a crown on her head it elevated the glamour on the Cannes red carpet and today is one of the premier red carpet events for fashion designers and the celebrities they dress. AmfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) has hosted a gala every year since 1993, during the Cannes film festival. The event is attended by the fashion and film elite, includes a fashion show as well as an auction that raises millions of dollars for the organization. In 2010 Karl Lagerfeld staged the Chanel 2011 Resort fashion show in St. Tropez showing a collection that was as cool and rich as the setting it took place in and for the past 5 years the company has set up a summer pop up shop in the town. For the Dior Resort 2016 show, designer Raf Simons staged the show on the French Riviera at Pierre Cardin’s “Palace of Bubbles”. The show brought Raf Simons into his own aesthetic at Dior and ushered the brand into a new era with the famed Cote d’Azur as the setting for its origin.

This region is a fantasyland of luxury and glamour that has appealed to the tastes of the wealthy for many centuries. I look forward to fulfilling my dream of visiting the beautiful French Riviera, but until then I’ll live vicariously through all the beautiful people that keep the Cote d’Azur lively and relevant. What’s your dream beach vacation?! Share in the comments!

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