Thursday, June 30, 2011


Chanel's brilliant Fall campaign starring Freja Beja dressed up as a cat styled by Carine Roitfeld. 

The Lace Race

LAGOS, Nigeria—From her Gorgeous Look embroidery shop, Monica Adeola has a front-row seat on a new Nigerian consumer ready to dress up.
Her customers—stay-at-home moms, young professionals and laborers with newfound spending money—barter over the latest embroidered dresses, blouses and shirts, which are known here as "lace."

Lacing Up

Jane Hahn/Getty Images for The Wall Street Journal
A model prepares to show off Nigerian lace in a fashion show.
No longer reserved for the rich, lace today is on the backs of motorcycle-taxi passengers and nightclub goers, part of Africa's growing middle class. The African Development Bank estimates that the continent has around 300 million people with incomes in excess of their basic needs, up more than 60% from a decade ago.
"We're trying to rebrand lace," says Folake Folarin-Coker, a Nigerian fashion designer who helped stage a lace-themed fashion show here last month. "There is a huge middle-income market in Nigeria."
The Nigerian lace industry also opens a window on broader change in Africa as a whole: As the consumer class expands, so, too, has the underground, informal economy.
Mrs. Adeola for years has brought her lace into Nigeria through underground channels that the government largely ignores. Her store is next to an open-air market abuzz with vendors hawking blue jeans and soap-opera DVDs from shops, makeshift stalls and rickety wood tables.
Jane Hahn/Getty Images for the Wall Street Journal
A merchant folds lace at a stall in Lagos last month. Embroidered fabric, or 'lace,' is no longer reserved just for the wealthy.
Phone maker Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea and Spain-based retail chain Mango are among the foreign companies to set up shop in Africa in hopes of feeding off the spending power of consumers who earn their living from the informal economy.
While the informal sector, from street-side welders in Kenya to sign makers in Senegal, has created jobs and lifted incomes, it also has strained urban infrastructure. As many as 90% of African city dwellers work in the informal economy, untaxed and unaccounted for, according to the Geneva-based U.N. International Labour Organization.
Economists estimate that Nigeria's informal economy is at least as big as the country's roughly $200 billion formal one. But the country suffers from poor roads, chronic power outages and dirty drinking water. Enforcement efforts that would bolster government revenue have been erratic. Tax enforcement only recently began in Lagos but is essentially nonexistent elsewhere in the country.
An Austrian trade commissioner in Nigeria is credited with kick-starting the lace trade between the countries in the 1960s, after he noticed that Nigerians are particularly fond of dressing up on special occasions. The countries now conduct an estimated €26 million ($37 million) a year in lace trade, according to the Austrian Embassy in Nigeria.
[LACE]Nancy Saunders
Mrs. Adeola began selling lace in 1970 when she was on vacation in Europe and saw an in-flight magazine's ad for a Swiss lace maker. Describing herself as a restless housewife looking to make some money, she changed her travel plans to find lace to sell at home. Swiss lace was too expensive but before long, she was able to purchase lace in bulk from small family-owned businesses in Austria.
"I got some start-up money from my husband, who imported European beer…, and started selling wholesale from my house," Mrs. Adeola says. "Some women who bought lace from me bragged about how much they were making selling at shops, so I started looking for a shop." She now has two.
Until late last year, she smuggled in most of her lace to circumvent a Nigerian government ban on imported textiles. Mrs. Adeola says she does $200,000-$300,000 in sales annually and used to travel to Austria with stacks of U.S. dollars wrapped in her clothing. To get around the import ban, Mrs. Adeola says, she and other lace-seller traders paid bribes to Nigerian customs agents and other officials to get the product into Nigeria.
"We had to be careful," Mr. Adeola says. "The government said they were going to raid our shops and threatened us too much."
The government lifted the ban last November. But high tariffs mean importers bring lace to the continent through third countries and then smuggle it into Nigeria, usually by bribing customs agents.
"If you're now paying 5% of your costs to your guy at customs or at the port to get a shipment cleared, why would you want to pay 20% to the government?" says Rudi Boesch, an Austrian who operates one of two lace factories in Nigeria. He says that even with the import ban lifted, textiles will still cross the border illegally.
Nigerian customs say they are cracking down on graft and seizing more illegally imported goods. "We're not saying that corruption has been totally stamped out, but we're confronting the problem and we're getting there," says Wale Adeniyi, a spokesman at the Nigerian Customs Service. "It's a gradual process."
Beyond the occasional threat of a government crackdown, Mrs. Adeola also has to contend with the same pressures as any established business in a competitive market. As demand from the growing consumer class has increased, so has the interest of foreign manufacturers in tapping that market.
Relatively inexpensive Chinese fabrics have come to dominate the markets in Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa. Lace exports from China to Nigeria reached $115 million in 2006 from less than $100,000 in 2000, according to the General Administration of Customs of China. The figure subsequently dipped but rebounded to $63 million last year and is expected to rise this year. China exported over $200 million in lace last year to Nigeria and its smaller neighbors Benin and Togo, with most of the product ending up in Nigeria, lace sellers say.
Chinese lace sells at about $45 for 15 yards, while Austrian lace costs between $250 and $1,000 per fifteen yards, though the Chinese fabric isn't as good, Nigerian traders say.
Austrian manufacturers say they are working hard to ensure that their slice of the Nigerian market isn't eroded by less-expensive goods from China, South Korea and Thailand. The Austrian manufacturers' association and the Austrian Embassy last month sponsored a fashion show here to court younger customers and are sponsoring a museum exhibit this month, on the history of the business.
As new rivals began selling less-expensive lace from Asia, Mrs. Adeola considered doing so as well but instead chose to establish her niche in the higher-end Austrian products. Her concern about government raids and lower-priced competition has given way to cautious optimism about a new crop of Nigerians eager to be seen wearing lace.
"Lace can never go out of fashion in Nigeria," she says.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend

Came across Michelle Hinebrook's stunning paintings of diamonds and gems galore - couldn't turn away from the meticulous, mind bending art . Check out more work from her here. Does this remind anyone of kaleidoscope toys from their childhoods besides myself?

Michelle Hinebrook received her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in painting and her BFA, with honors, from the College for Creative Studies. She has an established studio practice, active exhibition record and engagement within the art community. In addition to her studio practice, she frequently lectures and teaches studio courses at numerous institutions. Her work has been internationally exhibited, commissioned, collected, published and reviewed. She's exhibited works with 101 Exhibit Gallery, Florida; David Klein Gallery, Michigan; Islip Art Museum, New York; Helene Nyborg Contemporary, Denmark; Foley Gallery, New York; Marlborough Gallery, New York; and Cranbrook Museum of Art, Michigan.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Charlotte Gainsbourg x Balenciaga L'Essence Advertisement

Check out the behind-the-scenes video of musian, model and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg shooting the advertisement of Balenciaga's L'Essence.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Going Out In Slippers

Slippers are stepping out.
Male celebrities and a few fashion industry insiders are sporting an odd look for summer: Velvet slippers. Ray Smith tell us what inspired the trend.
Velvet evening slippers à la Hugh Hefner have caught on with some young celebrities, fashion editors, publicists and other early adopters of men's high fashion. But no one's saving them for intimate evenings at home by the fire. Instead, men are hitting the streets in hard-soled, heeled slippers, using them to add an insouciant flavor to shorts, cropped pants, jeans and full suits.
Evening slippers have been a dressy staple for years, sold by brands such as Stubbs & Wootton and Del Toro, as well as designer labels from Tom Ford to Ralph Lauren. Designer Christian Louboutin makes and wears studded velvet versions (yes, with red soles). But only in the past year have the companies seen a noticeable uptick in sales.
Stubbs & Wootton says sales of its velvet slippers have risen about 40% in the past year, in part due to demand from younger men. Del Toro says sales have doubled during that period. Glen Hoffs, director of men's fashion design at Brooks Brothers, says the retailer's velvet slippers, including a style with a "BB" monogram in gold bullion thread, have "been selling well" recently.
F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal
Stubbs & Wootton has updated the velvet evening slipper with details like a skulland-sabers crest.
F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal
A more traditional-looking version from Brooks Brothers features a monogram
Kanye West has been spotted wearing slippers with jeans at occasions such as the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards ceremony in New York earlier this month. The entertainer first slipped into them after noticing a young man shopping at Barneys New York in a pair last year. That young man, Cassius Marcellus Cornelius Clay, recommended that Mr. West go to Stubbs & Wootton—and eventually ended up working with Mr. West on his overall wardrobe, according to Mr. Clay and Stubbs & Wootton. "By the time I started working with him in September, he had a closet full" of slippers, says the 20-year-old Mr. Clay, a student at Yale University.
Mr. West, who raps about wearing slippers in the hit hip-hop song, "Start It Up," didn't respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Clay, who says he has lost count of how many pairs he owns, is attracted to the slippers' comfort. Besides, "shoes for men are all pretty similar, so the velvet slipper is nice for variety."
Slippers aren't a big leap from laceless slip-on shoes like espadrilles, a current trend for summer. At the spring 2012 men's fashion shows in Europe this week, many of the models and attendees have been walking around sockless, with pants hemmed or rolled up to show their ankles. The look calls for a slip-on shoe.
Evening slippers have left footprints in fashion before. Even before the era of Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, men wore evening slippers indoors when dressing for dinner or relaxing or wore the look outside with formal clothing. Some prosperous men in resort areas such as Palm Beach wore slippers during the summer with chinos or shorts. Recently, the idea of giving upper-crust preppy items, such as bow ties, a modern spin has been a motif in men's fashion.
[SLIPPERS]Getty Images
Velvet slippers can add an insouciant flavor to jeans (on Kanye West), suits and shorts.
Stubbs & Wootton tried to make slippers more youthful and subversive by adding design details like skull-and-sabers crests—its top seller, says founder Percy Steinhart. The brand encourages men to wear slippers with casual clothes as well as formalwear. "We're informalizing them," he says.
But to some men, going outside in slippers means stepping on a slippery slope toward disarray. "You can wear them outdoors under certain circumstances, like going to a garden party, but just walking around outside in velvet slippers in the day is strange. It's inappropriate," says custom designer Alan Flusser, author of "Dressing the Man."
Don't tell that to Brendan Ordonez, a 27-year-old fashion publicist in New York who often wears his during the day with cutoff shorts and ripped concert T-shirts. "They are all I wear save for Vans or snow boots," he says. Their one downside: In a recent rainstorm, he says, "my favorite pair got completely destroyed."
Andrew Saffir, the founder of Cinema Society, which holds celebrity-studded movie screenings, has long worn velvet slippers with suits, jeans or white trousers and a sport coat. The 44-year-old is pleased that younger men are embracing slippers. "I love that they're not considered old WASP-y and stodgy," he says. - WSJ
Written by: Ray A. Smith

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Prada Is Making Fashion In China

Prada SpA is busy in China these days. It's not just listing its shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange Friday and opening stores across the mainland. It is also increasingly manufacturing its high-end fashion there.
About 20% of Prada's collections—which range from bags and shoes to clothes for men and women—are made in China. The Milan-based company manufactures outside Italy in other cheaper countries such as Vietnam, Turkey and Romania, according to the IPO prospectus. In addition to the main Prada label, the company also owns Miu Miu, Church's and Car Shoe.
European Pressphoto Agency
About 20% of Prada's collections are made in China. Above, a Prada shop in Hong Kong last month.
"Sooner or later, it will happen to everyone because [Chinese manufacturing] is so good," Prada designer Miuccia Prada said in an interview. She added that the Chinese are particularly good with shoes.
European luxury fashion labels such as Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton have built their reputations on goods crafted at home in France and Italy. Manufacturing skills there in part justify the high prices.
The temptation to move some production abroad is growing, however. The financial crisis put pressure on the industry's operating margins. British label Burberry PLC, for instance, came under fire for closing a factory at home and moving production to Asia.
And production capacity in Europe is limited. Hermès is constantly recruiting new workers in France who undergo a two-year training program. Vuitton is opening its 12th production site in France this month, but it had to close some stores early in the day last year because it was running low on stock.
But there's more than just the bottom line at stake. In Prada's home country, "Made in Italy" has become a political issue. Santo Versace, an owner of the Versace fashion house and an Italian senator, last year lobbied for a "Made in Italy" law that called for an elaborate labeling system to make a clothing item's origin more transparent. The law is awaiting approval from the European Commission.
To be labeled "Made in Italy," only a majority of the cost of an item's production must take place within the country's borders. Manufacturing in China could also backfire with the customers that brands like Prada are trying to appeal to in Asia. "Chinese consumers are ready to pay higher prices for luxury brands, but they want products not to be manufactured in China," says luxury-goods consultant Armando Branchini.
Prada's "Made in China" items aren't priced any differently than products made in Italy. A pair of woven wedge shoes were recently available for $455, the same price as Italian-made sandals.
Last year, Prada provoked debate about manufacturing abroad by announcing it would make small collections in India, Peru, Japan and Scotland. Woven ballet flats from India, Scottish tartans and alpaca sweaters sought to challenge the idea that the best products came from Italy.
Yet it was an anecdotal experiment compared with the rest of Prada's manufacturing outside Italy. Prada owns 10 factories in Italy and one in the UK, primarily for Church's shoes. Yet 80% of its goods are made by a network of 480 external manufacturers, according to documents issued for Prada's stock market debut. About 20% of the external manufacturers are located abroad.
Prada sneakers are made in Vietnam, which has developed specialized know-how in athletic shoes. Many Miu Miu bags bear a "Made in Turkey" label. Clothing such as shirts and dresses often comes from nearby countries like Romania.
Prada, which raised 16.7 billion Hong Kong dollars (US$2.15 billion) from its initial public offering last Friday, fell 2.9% in "gray-market" trading Thursday amid general market weakness.
Hong Kong-based trading firm PhillipMart's gray-market session, open to both retail and institutional investors, runs from 4:30 to 6 p.m. local time the day before a company's shares start trading on the stock exchange. Prada closed at HK$38.35 (US$4.92), below its IPO price of HK$39.50, according to PhillipMart, which said HK$9.7 million in shares changed hands. - WSJ
Written by: Christina Passariello

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Catching Up With Pierre Cardin

To find Pierre Cardin, I had to visit a construction site in the tiny village of Lacoste in Provence. The legendary fashion designer has purchased a vast array of buildings there over the past decade, and, the locals advised me, he was taking a hands-on approach to their reconstruction. His acquisitions now number more than 40, the most famous being the château of the notorious 18th-century libertine the Marquis de Sade.
So one sunny morning the summer before last, I strolled down a cobbled laneway, the Rue Basse, peering into doorways and windows, observing that the charming stone facades of the village now concealed spartan modern interiors.
Sure enough, inside one crumbling edifice supported by metal poles and billowing with dust, I found Monsieur Cardin at work. In that setting, there was no mistaking the shock of Warhol-esque white hair and signature black designer frames. Although in his late 80s, he looked youthful in a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and he was helping two workmen move a scarlet sofa, a Cardin original, shaped like a giant potato chip.
To my surprise, when I introduced myself as a writer interested in the Marquis de Sade, Cardin shook my hand and offered to show me around the building, which he was decorating himself as a guesthouse. "Upstairs is finished!" he enthused. Once again defying his years, he hoisted himself across a gap, hovering for a second, long enough that I felt compelled to put my arms underneath him in case he fell, then treated me to the grand tour.

At first blush, renovating a village might seem an ambitious late-life project even for a legend of Parisian haute couture, whose career highlights include helping design the costumes for Jean Cocteau's 1946 "Beauty and the Beast," introducing the "bubble dress" in 1954, bringing prêt-à-porter into Parisian department stores in 1959 and inventing Space Age fashions worn by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the 1960s. As early as 1974 a Time magazine cover story in Europe lauded his ability to leap from the world of fashion to design entire physical "environments," describing him as a "shrewd fantasist who has tacked his name onto just about anything that can be nailed, glued, baked, molded, bolted, braced, bottled, opened, shut, pushed or pulled. . . ." He was the first fashion designer to license his name and it has appeared on everything from watches to cars, airplanes, toilet accessories, perfumes and cigarettes.
Each room had a different color theme—vibrantly bright orange, purple, green—and was filled with his own furniture in bold, lacquered shapes. The windows of the former mansion looked over the verdant Lubéron valley, across to the hilltop village of Bonnieux made famous by Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence." "But of course, Lacoste is the most beautiful village in France," Cardin said. It was hard to disagree.

Since his arrival in Lacoste in 2001, Pierre Cardin has done his best to convert this outpost 25 miles east of Avignon into a "Saint-Tropez of culture," opening gallery spaces, a cafe-restaurant, a grocery store and an array of renovated guesthouses and apartments that will begin taking guests this summer. The cornerstone of his vision is the annual Lacoste Festival, held every July in memory of the Marquis de Sade, who was himself a maverick of the arts. Best known today for his rabidly violent sexual tomes like "Justine" and "The 120 Days of Sodom," Sade was also a passionate theater lover, and in the early 1770s would produce plays in the medieval château that crowns the village, with a troupe of thespians from Paris.Cardin has often boasted that he could live his life coming into contact with only Cardin products. (There are more than 800 licenses in more than 140 countries.) In that sense, re-crafting a Provençal village is hardly a stretch. "I have created a world," he told me. "Whether you like it or not, that's another matter!"
Attending one of the performances of Cardin's festival is a vivid theatrical experience. As the stars come out, so do the fashionistas from Paris and the Riviera, who stroll up the cobblestone roads and past the floodlit château. Sade's old quarry has been converted into a spectacular amphitheater. Giant blocks of hewn stone flank the entrance like an Egyptian temple; inside, models in sheath dresses serve Maxim's champagne, Cardin's own label.
[mag711card3]Photograph by Adrian Gaut
A renovated mansion opening as a guesthouse, has been furnished in the designer's distinctive modern style.
The festival repertoire is unpredictable. This year, from July 15, productions will include Carmina Burana, performed by the National Opera of Ukraine-Lviv, a modern French musical about Voltaire, an homage to the singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, and a concert by Chico and the Gypsies, the group of Gipsy Kings co-founder Chico Bouchikhi. And Cardin himself is ubiquitous throughout the festival, attending rehearsals and entertaining VIPs on the sun-dappled terrace of his village boîte, the Café de Sade.
Not everyone in Lacoste has been thrilled by Cardin's new vision. His accelerating real-estate grab raised the ire of the left-leaning villagers, who had a Communist mayor for five decades after World War II. They vocally objected that his many acquisitions—Cardin often bought houses at up to triple market rate, even when they were in decay or ruins—were depopulating the village and stripping its rustic Provençal character. Accusing him of behaving like an arrogant feudal seigneur along the lines of Sade himself, many locals boycotted his cafe, boulangerie and souvenir store, all to the delight of visiting French newspaper and television reporters.
By 2009, it seemed as if a glum resignation had finally set in amongst the old Socialists. Then, at the end of that year, Cardin announced that he was creating a "sculptural golf course" in the valley below Bonnieux on over 100 acres of fallow fields, and the outrage flared anew. Le golf was to be organically maintained and dotted with monumental modern sculptures, to attract year-round tourist traffic. But farmers accused Cardin of robbing the Lubéron of agricultural lands. Environmentalists charged him with wasting Provence's precious water resources.
Aesthetes thought the whole concept ghastly. ("Look at the Lubéron!" says Martha Shearer, a sculptor living in Lacoste. "It's so beautiful as it is! We don't need a golf course.") Opposition came to a head last July 14—Bastille Day—when as many as 60 farmers on tractors, some bearing pitchforks, converged on Lacoste on the festival's opening night. In a PR gesture worthy of José Bové, the farmer who famously dismantled a McDonald's restaurant in southern France in 1999, the protesters blockaded the quarry-theater just as the well-heeled audience was arriving for the premiere of a new musical Cardin had commissioned, "Casanova." Cardin sallied forth to meet the protesters, and vowed to hear their objections the next day if the show was allowed to proceed. He then agreed to cancel le golf.
[mag711card4]Photograph by Adrian Gaut
The lobby of Cardin's Demeure de Sade
Today, the ongoing struggle between feisty villagers and a multimillionaire is fascinating to behold. "Lacoste is the last extant gentrification process in Provence," says Bradbury Kuett, an American writer who has lived in Provence for 15 years. "The rest of Provence was already gentrified in the 1990s. It's now little more than a bourgeois theme park. But it's all still in process in Lacoste. There's a tension and an energy there that you just don't get in more famous places like Gordes."
Most Americans might assume that Cardin, who turns 89 on July 2, has been resting on his fashion laurels and the huge income from his licenses, but in France, he maintains a high profile as a patron of the arts, at least amongst an older generation of connoisseurs. The major remodel of Lacoste is one small part of his busy program. In Paris, he produces shows at the Espace Pierre Cardin, a theater complex near the Champs-Elysées. Cabaret is performed at Maxim's de Paris, the venerable belle époque restaurant Cardin purchased in 1981, with a new Art Nouveau Museum upstairs. In Venice, where Cardin was born, he owns Ca'Brigadin, a sumptuous palazzo for performance auditions that was, coincidentally, the home of another infamous 18th-century literary celebrity, Giacomo Casanova. Cardin has begun his own literary prize, the Casanova Award. The old iconoclast has never accepted boundaries. "People criticize me because I do everything," he says. "I don't understand why I should limit myself to design. It's ridiculous!"
I have created a world. Whether you like it or not, that's another matter
To learn the latest twists in the saga of Lacoste, I met Cardin again—this time in Paris. Since the 1960s, his main office has overlooked the Elysée Palace, the president's residence, on the swank Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. In this inner sanctum, Cardin is at the center of a whirlwind of activity. A Russian TV crew is packing up; Greek TV is about to arrive. Our meeting is interrupted when he has to pop out for 10 minutes to deal with "the Brazilians." He is about to head to São Paulo for a week, he explains, to show off his new line and an array of vintage outfits. Visits to Azerbaijan and China are in the works. Cardin clearly relishes the attention. The conversation leaps from one continent to the next. Then we settle down to discuss the village. "Lacoste is an authentic place, because it hasn't been transformed by modern times," he says. "Now I have hotels there, I have apartments, I have four châteaux. In 10 years, I've transformed the village!"
When I bring up his setback with the "sculptural golf course," he swats the memory away. "I was disgusted," he says. "So I said, fine, if you don't want it, I'll go somewhere else! I have other projects!" To illustrate, he hands me a lavish prospectus for an almost 1,000-foot-high edifice called the Palais Lumière, the Light Palace, which he plans to build outside Venice. It appears more in the style of Dubai than Italy: Triple glass towers are linked by six giant discs and contain 1,200 apartments, restaurants, boutiques, swimming pools and a helicopter landing pad. It is surrounded by rotund maisons champignons, "mushroom houses," of Cardin's design, and fitted, of course, with sleek Cardin furniture (which he prefers to call "utilitarian sculptures"). Even the people in the drawings are wearing futuristic Cardin clothes.
Photograph by Adrian Gaut
The Lacoste hillside
Downstairs, I realize that Cardin owns much of the real estate around the palace and has turned it into his stores. Most prominent is the Pierre Cardin fashion boutique on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Cardin has never stopped designing clothes for private clients, and last fall, he showed his first line in a decade at Fashion Week in Paris and New York. The boutique is almost empty, but an attendant named Jean confides that Prince recently bought up a lot and Lady Gaga wore Cardin in a 2010 video shoot.
The next afternoon, I'm back in Lacoste, in the same renovated mansion on the Rue Basse where I first met Cardin two years ago. But this time, the guesthouse is ready for occupancy—it's called La Demeure de Sade, the Sade Residence. I'm installed in a room of rich olive-green stucco, with a V-shape, lime-green armoire and a glossy black desk. I throw open the shuttered windows and gaze across the tiled rooftops toward Mont Ventoux. It's like a fantasy of Provence, the vineyards and rugged hills bathed in warm spring sunshine.
The first tourists of the season are wandering its three cobbled lanes in a daze, delighted to have found such a postcard-perfect village. I follow the winding route up past the residences of the Savannah College of Art and Design, which maintains a study-abroad center here (and which guarantees that the streets ring with American-accented English for much of the year) to the Château Sade, which still stands in half-ruined splendor. The castle was sacked by revolutionaries in 1792. Cardin was permitted by French law to renovate only the interior, leaving it with a haunted aspect. In homage to the infamous former resident, Cardin erected a bronze statue of Sade, using the only known authentic portrait. It depicts the Marquis's head inside a cage, to evoke his fate as a martyr to the freedom of expression. After several narrow escapes from police raids, Sade was finally arrested inside the château in 1777 and taken away in chains. He spent most of his remaining life imprisoned in the Bastille and Charenton mental asylum for his violent sexual outpourings, which later led a psychiatrist to coin the term "sadism."
[mag711card6]Photograph by Adrian Gaut
The statue of Sade erected by Cardin
Today, the private château is squarely on the French literary map, although many of the visitors who arrive have only a hazy idea of Sade's bizarre life story. After Cardin erected the statue, locals were worried Lacoste would become some sort of Sade mecca. "At first, we thought it would bring in the bondage crowd," laughs one artist who has lived here since the 1990s. "What if the village became a pilgrimage spot for weirdos? Luckily that hasn't happened."
The next morning, I was given a grand tour by Fabienne Fillioux, the elegant Provençal director of Cardin's festival office. Carrying a purse full of keys, she opens up a seemingly endless number of gallery spaces and accommodations, including two more guesthouses, the Résidence Donatien, named after Sade (Donatien was his given name), and La Demeure de L'Étang, and what seemed like two dozen two-bedroom apartments, including the Maisons Justine and Juliette, named after the most notorious of Sade's pornographic classics. "These were all ruins when Monsieur Cardin bought them," she says, adding that there is now space to accommodate 200 people. "He has redone everything, everything!" Each chamber is decorated with the same fluorescent palette—"Monsieur Cardin's colors," Fillioux says. (Some villagers showed their disdain for the interior-design choices. "Lacoste is Europe's biggest furniture warehouse," says one. "He's just dumping what he can't sell!" The word bricolage often crops up, evoking a makeshift, frivolous job.)
Photograph by Adrian Gaut
Château Sade was the beloved refuge of the Marquis de Sade in his feral youth.
Most villagers expressed doubt that many of the residences will ever see guests, but Fillioux is adamant. "Everything will be ready for summer. Everything!"
Outside of festival time, Lacoste can seem dreamily quiet. Although 420 citizens are listed on the voting records of the commune, many of them live in the nearby countryside. The year-round number of residents is closer to 40. But it's surprising how vocal 40 people can be. On the Rue Basse, I immediately run into Jacques Truphemus, a retired mason who has lived in Lacoste all his life and is amongst the most implacable of Cardin opponents. "Just look at this village, it's like an opera set now!" he complains, waving his hand with a theatrical flourish.
His silver-haired wife, Colette, removes from the cupboard newspaper clippings about last year's revolt against the golf course ("Our opposition to Cardin has gotten stronger!" she chortles), then totters off to regale some passing French tourists about the designer's evils. Madame is a feisty lady. Last February she apparently interrupted a French TV interview with Cardin to deliver a sexual insult (villagers say she called him "un pédé," a queer). Elsewhere, even buying a bottle of wine leads inevitably to politics. I dropped by the vineyard of Yves Ronchi, a gnomelike figure whose silver whiskers and moustache make him look like a Provençal vigneron from Central Casting, and who is head of the Association for the Harmonious Development of Lacoste. "The whole village is turning into a Cardin Museum," he sighs. "There are no families, no children. The man is killing Lacoste!"
Cardin invested 30 million euros in the village and they want to kill the golden goose
But Cardin's supporters argue that it is the villagers who are actually doing the killing, by stymieing the fashion king's plans. "It's a narrow-minded peasant mentality," says one, who like all pro-Cardin residents spoke only on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from his neighbors. "A 'Jean de Florette' situation. Here's a Parisian who comes down to Provence to do something grand and they screw him over. This village wasn't working as it was! Cardin has invested 30 million euros in the place. And they're trying to kill the golden goose!"
"It's the ultimate Luddite situation," agrees another. "The Socialist villagers are doing everything they can to thwart Cardin's plans. But there's no industry here, the fields are empty. How can you be against tourism, which is the only possible way this region can survive?"
[CARDIN]Photograph by Adrian Gaut
A room at La Demeure de l'Étang, a grand bourgeois mansion converted into a 10-room guesthouse
Lacoste remains fascinating because the battle lines are so clearly drawn. "For Cardin, life is all about money," Jacques Truphemus counters. "Many of the villagers couldn't resist his offers—especially the young people. So no more children will grow up here. But quality of life is more important than money. I grew up here. I'm happy here!"
While the saga of Lacoste has elements of a French farce, on a broader level, it's part of a classic 21st-century story. All over Provence, the flood of wealthy outsiders from Europe's chilly northern climes has pushed real-estate prices so high that many locals have had to move out. Renovated barnyards can sell for millions; the likes of John Malkovich and Ridley Scott can be spotted in and around Bonnieux. Absentee owners ensure that villages are crowded in summer and deserted in late fall through spring. And the social rift between the hard-bitten locals and the well-to-do arrivistes has echoes across the globe, from the Greek islands to Sydney's beach suburbs and the East Village of Manhattan, where long-standing communities try to retain their identities in the face of change.
But reports of Lacoste's demise may be premature. My last night in the village was a Saturday, so I visited a number of the art studios that have been carved from medieval cellars by local artists, many of them foreign-born. At a group reception, the village hall was elbow-to-elbow with guests from around Provence, and the air rang with French, German, English, Spanish and Swedish, all blurring into a modern Esperanto. Meanwhile, on the other side of the village, the boycott of Cardin's Café de Sade has ended and villagers were rubbing shoulders with stray tourists, the revelry continuing until 2 a.m.
As the doors finally closed, one 20-something son of a farmer gazed tipsily at the moonlit village square. "Sure, things are changing here," he mused philosophically, before staggering into the night. "But maybe a little change is not so bad." - WSJ

Written by: Tony Perrottet