When is there more to a runway show than the show itself? When it is the anticipated unveiling of the cruise collections by the likes of Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Dior. As captivating showcases of irreproachable style and effortless grace, these shows also immerse the audience in the beauty of the exotic venues that speak of the inspiration behind the collections. From the romantic Mediterranean coast to the dynamic streets of New York, fashion houses are highlighting travel destinations with an inimitable vibe. So don’t just strut the look. Wear it in a city where the spirit resonates with the style.
It is the “perfect symbol of the American Dream and the energy of the American west coast”, in the words of Michael Burke, chairman and chief executive of Louis Vuitton. He is referring to Palm Springs, the location of the Louis Vuitton 2016 cruise-collection show.
And indeed, this desert resort city just two hours east of Los Angeles, known for its scenic golf courses, idyllic hot springs and designer hotels, embodies the reassuring elegance of a destination that has charmed the rich and famous since the 1900s. Shaded by Mount San Jacinto to the west and sheltered from the cold winds from the San Gorgonio pass by the mountains, its agreeable climate first attracted health tourists. Then came politicians and movie stars alike seeking respite, albeit in glamorous style. They would soon build homes and estates – creating a landscape dotted by fine examples of mid-century modern architecture, such as the estate at which Louis Vuitton unveiled its cruise collection.
“The Bob and Dolores Hope estate in Palm Springs, which was designed by John Lautner in 1973, is a symbolic landmark that has inspired me ever since I saw it,” remarks Nicolas Ghersquiere, director of the women’s collections at Louis Vuitton. Burke adds: “We were immediately taken with this construction. This estate demonstrates an approach that mirrors our own; it is creative above all. It symbolises just as perfectly the harmonious union between the vision of Nicolas Ghersquiere and the iconic spirit of Maison Louis Vuitton.”
Architecture enthusiasts and local historians have also started a movement to preserve the mid-century modern structures, but there is a lot more to this resort city than designer buildings.
The favourite haunt of the who’s who in show business during the ’60s and ’70s (Elvis and the Rat Pack were regulars), Riviera Palm Springs (www.psriviera.com) is the playground of business groups and hip young weekend crowds from Los Angeles. The 400-room property is centred around a giant swimming pool – the place to sip cocktails and see and be seen. More fun and games can be had at the plush, red-banquetted Circa 59, where you can play a round of billiards at a crystal-embossed table set beneath a giant portrait of Frank Sinatra.
Situated in the historic Tennis Club District, the Avalon Hotel Palm Springs (www.avalonpalmsprings.com) – previously the Viceroy Palm Springs – is where the likes of Cameron Diaz and Kanye West go to unwind. The intimate Spanish-style bungalows boast Los Angeles designer Kelly Wearstler’s iconic Hollywood Regency interiors. Outdoors, three verdant courtyards lush with citrus trees that perfume the air are perfect places in which to enjoy the fine weather – and a tall drink.
As the area’s oldest Mexican restaurant, Las Casuelas Terraza (www.lascasuelas.com) – opened in 1958 – serves up a slice of Palm Springs’ culinary history. At this lively restaurant run by the Delgado family from Mazatlan, Mexico, authentic and traditional bites such as the Two Chili Rellenos and menudo (a traditional spicy tripe soup) are the order of the day.
You might only be able to imagine what it was like at Frank Sinatra’s soirees (he was a Palm Springs resident), but at Johnny Costa’s Ristorante (www.johnnycostaspalmsprings.com), you can literally get a taste of it. Helming this nondescript Italian restaurant on the main strip is Frank Sinatra’s personal chef, and the dishes include Sinatra’s favourites, such as linguine with clams and Steak Sinatra (a New York strip with garlic and mushrooms in wine sauce).
For a casual yet glamorous affair in true Palm Springs style, head to Norma’s at the iconic Parker Hotel (www.theparkerpalmsprings.com). The whitewashed brick walls and hardwood ceilings and floors of the space are luxed up by leather chairs and booths, making it one of the classiest breakfast joints in town. The dishes are just as exquisite, ranging from well-executed classics such as blueberry pancakes with Devonshire cream to extravagances such as a lobster frittata served with 280g of Sevruga caviar – and a $1,000 price tag.
It might be a man-made resort city, but there is much nature to discover at Palm Springs. Offering magnificent views of the Chino Canyon on a 4km ride is Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (www.pstramway.com), which also boasts the world’s largest rotating cable cars. The 10-minute ride is a breathtaking one. Or allow yourself to get lost in The Living Desert (www.livingdesert.org) in nearby Palm Desert – a 485ha ground with trails, gardens, an aviary and a showcase of 600 animals from 145 species.
The playground of the style set, Palm Springs is also a place of creative inspiration. Come February, design enthusiasts flock to town for Modernism Week (www.modernismweek.com) – an annual celebration of mid-century modern design, architecture, art, fashion and culture, featuring more than 100 events including home tours, films, lectures, walking and bike tours, and even vintage fashion and live music gigs. Can’t get enough of mid-century modern chic? Head to The Uptown Design District: The streets are lined with art galleries, furniture stores and boutiques selling pieces of contemporary and mid-century design.
A FRENCH SUMMER
There was perhaps no better place than the surreal Palais Bulle (Palace of Bubbles) – couturier Pierre Cardin’s summer home in Cannes – to launch Dior’s Cruise 2016 collection. The product of a collaboration between visionary architect Antti Lovag and industrialist Pierre Bernard in 1989, and further worked on by Cardin and Lovag, the 1,200 sq m structure is a piece of art in its own right. The domes are formed out of baked clay, and the walls and interiors formed with a mixture of plastic, foam and polyester. Extravagant in a whimsical fashion, it resonates with the brand’s designs, and is a reminder of Cannes’ inimitable style as a destination for luxury holidays.
Indeed its reputation has been sealed since Lord Brougham, Lord Chancellor of England, discovered the fishing village by accident, en route to Nice in 1834. Its Mediterranean climate made it a haven for aristocrats
fleeing the bitter cold of winter in London and Moscow. By the 1920s, the privileged decided that they liked the destination so much, they would come during summer, too.
Indeed, the streets of Cannes today are lined with supercars of the latest make, and the waters docked with yachts of behemoth proportions, but beneath the showy glamour is a heritage of luxurious style, inherited from centuries past.
The Palais Bulle can be your base for some 12,000 euros (S$17,800) per night, but if you don’t really need a 500 sq m reception room, a 500-seat amphitheatre or 10 suites, there are options offering luxurious comfort in slightly more conventional formats. The Intercontinental Carlton Cannes (www.intercontinental-carlton-cannes.com), a palatial, twin-domed structure built for Belle Epoque vacationers, remains the premier destination. Situated in the heart of La Croisette, the property’s most famous clients include the glamorous set the likes of Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren – alongside powerful heads of state such as US President Barak Obama, while attending the G-20 summit in 2011. With some of the suites dedicated to their most glamorous guests, it is truly where – as the hotel describes – “yesterday’s charm and spirit mix with today’s expectations”.
Prince Aly Khan and Rita Hayworth met there. Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward found solace on its idyllic grounds. Today, it is where Jude Law and Natalie Portman shot promotional films for Dior, and also Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s favourite hideout during the film festival. This is the storied Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc (www.hotel-du-cap-eden-roc.com), which started out as a writers’ retreat in 1870 by the founder of Le Figaro. Sitting on the lush peninsula of Cap d’Antibes, it might be just a few kilometres away from Cannes, but is a few notches up in terms of exclusivity.
There are times when you want to see and be seen – and for other times, there is L’Affable (www.restaurant-laffable.fr). At this windowless dining room, privacy is the order of the day. You might find yourself supping among camera-shy celebrities, but the real stars here are the well-executed Mediterranean dishes and French classics.
If you seek something fancier, head to two-Michelin-star restaurant La Villa Archange (www.bruno-oger.com) situated 10 from the La Croisette in Cannes. It may be housed within a classically French 18th-century building, complete with a private courtyard where century-old trees stand, but from chef Bruno Oger comes contemporary dishes – such as the signature of Lobster Vernal, and Cream of Pea Soup of Sweet Almond. His restaurant serves up modern interpretations of southern French cuisine.
There is no better way to know the food culture of a place than through a tour of its markets. At Marche Forville (www.marcheforville.com), you will find a cornucopia of Mediterranean produce and gourmet products, from fresh pasta and sausages to jams and regional desserts. On Mondays, the farmers and artisanal food producers take a break, while the covered market spanning three blocks transforms into a flea market.
Situated in the bay of Cannes, just 20 minutes away from La Croisette by boat, are the Lerins Islands (Iles de Lerins). A two-hour walk around Iles St Honorat (www.cannes-ilesdelerins.com) will take you on a journey of discovery: The location is dotted with rocky coves, ruins of centuries-old stone chapels and even vineyards where monks cultivate grapes for the wines they produce. On Ile Sainte-Marguerite, 152ha of forest invites you to go on a rejuvenating nature trail. For history buffs, the island’s most famous monument – the Fort Royal – is believed to be where the legendary Man in the Iron Mask was confined during the 17th century.
(BIG) APPLE OF YOUR EYE
It is the centre of just about everything in vogue – from food and fashion to design and fine arts. Yet, New York is not just about the new and shiny, it is also gritty and historical. This is perhaps what made it the perfect place for Gucci to unveil its 2016 cruise collection. The grey industrial warehouse on 22nd Street provided the perfect background for juxtaposing Alessandro Michele’s colourful collection. Indeed, the brand might be all about uber Italian-style glamour, but the collection that is a blend of vintage-inspired-meets-pop-art-chic mirrors the city’s eclecticism and its inimitable ability to assimilate the old with the new – to create something that is distinctly New York.
As a 57-storey limestone tower sitting in Midtown Manhattan, between Bryant Park and the Empire State, Langham Place (www.langhamhotels.com) puts you in the centre of it all. Giving you a sense of place in more ways than one, the hotel is also installing a $2 million Alex Katz art collection, which will be unveiled in September 2015. At the announcement of the installation, chairman of Langham Hospitality Group K.S. Lo said that he chose the New York artist’s work “because it best embodies the liveliness of New York City… His work exudes sophistication and prominently features the kind of personalities that are acutely representative of our guests”. But, if you really need to be somewhere else, limousine service is offered in the form of a chauffeured Maserati Quattroporte.
Opened in May 2015, The New York Edition (www.editionhotels.com/new-york/) – housed within the historic 1909 Clocktower Building in Madison Avenue – is the latest address for the well-heeled. The 41-storey hotel located in the heart of Flatiron District and steps from Madison Square Park looks out to breathtaking 360-degree views of Manhattan. Guests will be equally charmed by what they see inside: The hotel is outfitted like an upscale New York apartment building in the 1920s, and, like the city itself, is a fusion of the old and the modern.
Yet another opening – or re-opening, rather – that is making old new again is The Knickerbocker (www.theknickerbocker.com). The Beaux-Arts-style hotel on Times Square, built by John Jacob Astor IV in 1906, is the birthplace of plenty of legends – and the martini, some say. While the grandeur of the exterior has been carefully preserved, the interiors now take on a modern minimalist look for the traveller seeking zen-like calm, in the city that never sleep
Most people wouldn’t think of going to a restaurant on campus grounds for dinner, but the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park is no ordinary school, and the Bocuse Restaurant (www.bocuserestaurant.com) is no ordinary diner. Named after French chef Paul Bocuse, the restaurant executes classic French cuisine through modern cooking techniques, and is also a food laboratory, show-kitchen and training ground for future stars of the culinary world.
New on the World’s Best Restaurants 2015 list is Estela (www.estelanyc.com), entering at 90th spot. And what sets it apart from the other NYC restaurants on the list – the likes of Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernardin and Per Se – is its decidedly casual vibe. Headed by chef Ignacio Mattos who previously trained under Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, and Thomas Carter, the former beverage director of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, this cosy restaurant has been charming the locals since opening in 2013. Come for Mattos’ simple but inspired sharing plates, a smart list of wines and some deliciously well-crafted cocktails.
Everybody knows about Moma, but not everybody knows about Moma PS1 (www.momaps1.org). An exhibition space dedicated to showcasing the most experimental art in the world, it is the stage for “emerging artists, new genres, and adventurous new work by recognised artists”. This means an intriguing mix of visual art exhibitions, film screenings and performances that will open your eyes – and mind – to a whole new universe of contemporary art.
A sprawling 6.5ha mixed-use space with five office towers, a 3ha Memorial Plaza and its own Transportation Hub, the new World Trade Centre (www.wtc.com) is effectively rejuvenating Downtown Manhattan. It is a veritable hub for dining, shopping, recreational activities and art appreciation. Go on a walking tour of the cluster – bounded by Vesey Street to the north, the West Side Highway to the west, Liberty Street to the south, and Church street to the east – and you will discover a wealth of public art, ranging from sculptural work Balloon Flower Red by Jeff Koons to a sunken garden by Isamu Noguchi and architectural artwork The Upper Room by New Smyth.