It’s the ultimate in holiday glamour and luxuriously stylish dressing. Stephanie Smith celebrates Riviera style.
SOPHISTICATED, glamorous, classic, elegant, yet also sometimes bordering on the brash – there’s something singular and rather special about fashion Riviera-style.
It’s a look that epitomises the ultimate aspirational way of life, hatched from the desire for freedom, ease, comfort and leisure, but always aware that you are on show and that your standards of dress simply cannot drop. In fact, they must be elevated.
The French Riviera, or Cote d’Azur, is the Mediterranean coastline of the south-eastern corner of France, extending from Saint-Tropez in the west to Monaco and the Italian border in the east, flowing neatly into the Italian Riviera, basically all the coast of Liguria, up to Capo Corvo, close to the border with Tuscany. Hotspots include Nice, Marseilles and Cannes on the French Riviera, and Portofino and San Remo on the Italian side.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the Riviera, especially the French side, became a winter getaway for the British upper classes. The arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century cemented its role as a playground for the rich, especially for British and Russian aristocrats, and it was the summer home of the Rothschild family (the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, near Beaulieu, is a jewel of the Cote d’Azur). In the 20th century, it became the beautiful sunny haunt of artists and designers including Picasso, Matisse and Coco Chanel (and check out the chapel in Villefranche decorated by Jean Cocteau). From the Sixties onwards, the Cote d’Azur has taken on a rock’n’roll edge too, with the Rolling Stones living and recording between Beaulieu and Villefranche, and now it’s the holiday home of Elton John and members of U2, among many others.
All of which goes some way to explain Riviera style – glamorous, luxurious, lightweight but sleek, sophisticated, monied, and often eye-popping. Its colour palette mirrors that of the Riviera itself, blinding whites, then off-whites and rocky neutral sand and stone tones, teamed with azure blue, rich palmy green and bursts of colour including floral brights, sunshine yellow and gleaming red, through to ice cream pastels – a magical, myriad palette.
And you don’t have to be holidaying on the Riviera to work its magic, because this is classic holiday dressing that works surprisingly well from spring onwards in a variety of locations and climes. It adapts and evolves with the decades, but the core spirit of Riviera style is elegance with simplicity and function with panache.
The Riviera fashion foundation for men and women is lightweight linens and cottons in neutral shades with maritime-influenced pieces such as the Breton shirt. Think Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow in the film of The Talented Mr Ripley, set on the Italian Riviera in the 1960s.
But then, there’s a strong graphic and arty streak, with monochrome stark wide stripes and Mondrian-style primary colour lines, reflecting the artistic bent of Riviera style.
There’s the swimwear element too, of course, which means sleek white and bright suits and bikinis and embellished, jewel-toned kaftans and sandals. White lace and cutwork is perfect Riviera style.
This is the fashion of paradise – and you don’t actually have to be on the Riviera to wear it and enjoy it.
The Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street, London, is staging an exhibition of Riviera style from May 22 to August 29, exploring a century of fashionable bathing. See www.ftmlondon.org for more details.