Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Riviera Style

Many thanks to LBT for the idea to address Riviera Style. A reader lives in Menton and may be able to give you a more recent and thorough examination of the local scene. Unless I get an offer to write the “Riviera Style” book. Here’s what I remember and how I did it anyway.

(Sara and Gerald Murphy in Antibes, 1926)

Things have changed a bit since the illustration and the photos above. These days Riviera style may be a bit more “global”. I imagine it is like Long Beach in California. Beach people are beach people. Yes, you sill still find a few striped sweaters (chic for women still), white shorts (cut along tennis short length), (Peter) Polo shirts, sweaters thrown around a man’s neck and a few espadrilles, but these are fashions favoured by the older population.

And me.

(Late last summer.)

(Reading the paper at the villa Lou Paradou.)

(Antibes, late 90’s?)

These days, however, you will see a lot more jeans, white (I bet) or blue, worn with dark or wildly coloured short-sleeved shirts and boat shoes. Those down from Paris for their annual holiday will be more fashionable, which isn’t always a good thing. I remember a lot of capri length trousers on men when Beckham was wearing them. Ugh.

You’ve heard that wearing shorts in Europe marks you as an American. Not anymore. Especially at the beach. Shorts (tailored, few cargos), t-shirts and trainers are all standard daywear. Women will break out sundresses for day, especially for work, but fresh jeans are just as likely. It depends on the temperature. Life at the beach is universally laid back. Dry cleaning is expensive.

I remember seeing one woman leave a bank in Nice, walk across the street to the beach, take off her sundress to reveal most of a bikini, lie down on the dress and sunbathe for her lunch break. Nice is a fine place to land. St Tropez, that famous playground of the rich, is really a fishing village with a nine month season. It’s pretty deserted during the winter holidays. At least it was when we visited during Christmas or after American Thanksgiving. It became famous, infamous perhaps, because it was anti-establishment, a place that catered to the party crowd where rock stars rubbed … elbows… with the yachties and groupies. Cannes has been glamorous since the 1960’s when the bikini clad starlets waiting to be discovered discovered the paparazzi. Riviera Cocktail, chronicles the transformation pretty well. Here’s a bit of street style from May.

F. Scott and Zelda tramped around our beach a bit. It was in St. Raphaël (or Fréjus) that she met her aviator. These days the twin towns are the destination vacations for Germans, a few English (there is an enclave somewhere; we met two at the Church library), and a lot of French. There were a lot of Africans, Algerians and other former colonials who sold trinkets to the tourists; I’m sure some of their kit was fashionable with the boho set. Hip hop had made in-roads and there were a lot of ball caps worn askew, gold chains, wallet chains, basketball sneakers and baggy shorts to be seen on the youth. Ludicrous. Of course, I can’t speak for the clientele at l’Hôtel du Cap.

The couple of times that we ventured out and visited nearby casinos, I was the only one in a sportcoat and tie, as I’d already surmised that a suit, much less a dinner jacket, would be out-of-place.

Off season everyone wore blue jeans, grey worsted or black trousers with loafers and open-necked dress shirts. The women were better dressed and always in heels. The older population, looking like extras from Central Casting, lounged around the pétanque courts, or shopped at the market on Saturday. Fishing boats still worked the water.

With the resurgence of classical menwear, I’d be curious to see if white linen suits, Bermuda shorts, loafers and buttondown shirts are de rigueur. Lily Pulitzer’s splashy motifs wouldn’t be out-of-place in the Mediterranean sunshine. There’s a local version for swimwear.

The Vilebrequin swim trunk was invented in St. Trop in 1971. The first pair was made from spinnaker canvas, which weathered well and dried fairly quickly. I’ve also heard that that first pair was made from a red and white checked tablecloth. At USD$165+, Vilebrequin is still the choice of the well-heeled crowd. These days they’re touting the father-son connection. The same designs come in jr. and sr. versions. At the same prices.

I may have mentioned it before, but it was during our last trip and we were in Antibes (former playground of the Murphy’s), eating at a marvelous restaurant called “Les Vieux Murs“. The place had recently been redone, but the view out that marvelous window was still there and so were some of the regulars. In through the doors that night walked a sliver maned millionaire. He must have been. Deeply tanned, longish silver hair, open necked blue and white butcher’s stripe shirt, cream trousers with side tabs and a pair of velvet embroidered slippers. He had slipped in on the tender to pick up a cold bottle of pop and a light supper. Whilst he didn’t leave with a laden hamper, neither did he take himself back to the boat. A crew member did. He could’ve taken the helicopter, I suppose, but where would he have set down?

When I think of Riviera style, he pops into my head. He was probably English.

Off to Beantown.

10 thoughts on “Riviera Style

  1. Excellent photograph choices and moments of reminiscence. I like your black shirted ensemble; a well done rarity, I believe


  2. Well, that was oodles of fun – I’ve never been to the Riviera – and your stories plopped me right in the middle of all the fun. Thank you so much!

  3. Awesome! I love this. Thanks, Chris, I appreciate it. You’re a true gent. There’s already a book titled ‘Riviera Style,’ much to my disappointment, but I’m wondering how your vision could be turned into a photo-book project Slim Aarons-style. Perfection.

  4. The Mickey Mouse t-shirt in the last photo is an authentic and wonderfully American contrast to the chic of Riviera style, as is the little one wearing it.

  5. Elegance for sure… and a bit of mystery. 30s elegance – clean and handsome. Great photos – your gear is immaculate for the story.

  6. Thank you all! Beach towns are always a bit strange. Loads of fun, but a bit strange.

    LBT, my pleasure. I’ve already pitched one coffee table book and not heard word one (from Assouline). I’d love to make it a package deal with this title (and the E&EL book) too.

    Barima, I’m never without one black shirt — shortsleeved silk, linen or piqué. But I only wear them with white trousers or Bermudas. Especially with the spectators.

  7. Nice post, and thanks for the analysis. Alas, you’re right. I just spent the week at small town in Sorrento. While it hasn’t ever really touched the level of elegance of the French Riviera (at least not since the unification of Italy), it had the charm of the borbonic decay. An impoverished aristrocacy gave way to the vulgarity of too much money too fast. The elegant charm gave way to mass tourism except for the surrounding town.

    I was completely out of place in my suit for dinner, and created far too much envy in the older crowd with all my linen… But the decay is still romantically alluring, and I had to be in a place where my Basque made espadrilles had a practical use.

  8. Well done initials CG! It does the heart good to know there are still some who will hold up the side. And you…. a tourist! (“…the charm of bourbonic decay.” I wish I’d written that.)

    Off to dinner tonight at the Colington Café. I’m sure I’ll be overdressed in my white linen suit. Ah well!

  9. I m the guy who live in Menton, and i can tell you that infortunally we dont see a lot people dress like the models shown on the pictures, nowadays on the french riviera. Except me ,of course, (i’m very found of two tones spectators). Good news, the panama hat is back, but no beret around…

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