What to make of fashion on the French Riviera? Suffice to say one feels rather inadequate without boobs like zeppelins straining to be released from a tropical print Roberto Cavali silk blouse and Swarovski crystal sandals emitting shards of light that could perform keyhole surgery. And that’s just the men…
Those of us who look at the international runway shows and question ‘who would wear a bubblegum pink chiffon batwing gladiator’s tunic belted with lamé leather?’ can look no further than Cannes. You will not see a handbag or a heel on the Croisette that doesn’t look as though a drag queen has been playing merry Hamlet with a bag of rhinestones and a hot glue gun.
There is an undeniable fabulousness about resort fashion worn by ladies who are unafraid to wear two million Euros-worth of Bulgari jewellery just to tear a lunchtime lobster on the Croisette. You see the odd artfully ripped jean but the price tag is probably four figures and the label Philippe Plein. The patron saint of the Riviera is no longer Sophia Loren, Joan Collins or Gina Lollobrigida. It is Patsy Stone.
H and I were on the Croisette within an hour of landing in Nice paying a pilgrimage to the Carlton Hotel where Hitchcock filmed To Catch a Thief in 1954. Thief is such a magical film not least because it co-starred Cary Grant and Grace Kelly who would, within years, occupy the Pink Palace in Monte Carlo as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco.
The Carlton Hotel is one of the stars of To Catch a Thief. Grace Kelly is filmed floating around its marble halls in an Edith Head-designed ombre blue chiffon evening gown and a collar of Winston diamonds. She’s even more sublime at the Carlton beach club and is filmed racing down the coast road to Monaco on the precise corner where her car crashed in 1982.
However chippy you might be about the super yachts that line the Côte d’Azur in their hundreds, the glamour of these sea palaces is breathtaking. Granted, super yachts probably aren’t acquired without the morals of a dope peddler in the Grand Bazar in Tangier hence the number of brawny gents in dark suits with earpieces and semi-automatics strapped to their pectorals.
On a jaunt to Monte Carlo, we saw Dilbar which is allegedly the largest private yacht in the world. Dilbar? I ask you. It’s like calling a pet black panther Enid. We were lunching on a terrace overlooking the marina in the company of a united nations of twenty-something glamour pusses whose faces were not first edition. These brittle blondes with eyes like knives perched their statement handbags on wrought iron pedestals next to sky-high heels that probably cost more than their full sets of porcelain veneers.
The men lunching on fruits-de-mer platters the size of a cymbal were clearly up to no good. A cabal including shaven-headed Lebanese wearing Ray Bans and a Swede with a sexy top knot basked like salamanders toasting world domination. These are the people who by fair means or foul have won at life. I felt like I was in an episode of The Night Manager.
Earlier in the week I had watched a skilled Riviera lounge lizard with a Groucho Marx cigar and skin like a Gucci handbag halt a racing cougar on the terrace at the Carlton just by complimenting her acid yellow nail polish. The women on the Croisette all look like Old Masters that have been cleaned and re-varnished. There is the glow that only great wealth, January to December sun and a bucket of Creme de la Mer can achieve.
Rather than envying the have-yachts, I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed watching them in their natural habitats. Though the high rise apartments in Monte Carlo are starting to resemble the Park Hill flats in Sheffield, it was heartening to learn that the historic royal and aristocratic villas on the Côte d’Azur have survived. King Leopold II of the Belgians’ Villa les Cedrès in Cap Ferrat is officially the most expensive house in the world. It sold for one billion Euros.
I had no idea that the Romanovs had colonised the Riviera as early as the 1850s or that Queen Victoria paid nine visits in the last two decades of her life going so far as to say on her deathbed that if she’d been in Nice she would have recovered. She wasn’t and she didn’t. Royal princes of Russia and England died on the Riviera. Grand Dukes married Imperial ballerinas in its Russian Orthodox churches. Courtesans had rendez-vouz with kings.
One of my favourite Riviera royal stories concerned King Edward VII when Prince of Wales persuading Lady Randolph Churchill to take a hotel suite in Cannes so he could enjoy a clandestine meeting en route from the Yacht Club. So scandalous was the Riviera’s reputation at the twilight of the 19th century that Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo were known as ‘The World, The Flesh & The Devil’.
Because I find it faintly immoral to visit a casino before nightfall, H and I decided to tour Monte Carlo’s Pink Palace instead. I had no idea the palace contained staterooms decorated in the 18th century style and it was a joy to see the marble staircase in the courtyard where Princess Grace posed in her wedding dress.
There was a rather underwhelming exhibition of uniforms worn by the palace guards plonked on wax dummies who bore an uncanny resemblance to Dickie Davis. I tell you, if they displayed Princess Grace’s film costumes and her couture the queues would reach Menton. My fingers are positively itching to curate another costume exhibition. Until next time…