When the photographer Slim Aarons was once asked by a journalist how he described his practice, he replied: “Photographing attractive people who were doing attractive things in attractive places.” It was a simple description of a career that came to encapsulate the definition of luxury living in the age of global tourism, but it failed to credit the enduring element that had led to Aarons’ international success – nature and the landscape. From his iconic photograph of a Los Angeles swimming pool in blazing heat with a tinsel strewn Christmas tree jutting against the California Hills in Christmas Swim, to the coast of Capri in his image of actress Domiziana Giordano and writer Francesca Sanvitale, landscape is the thread that allowed Aarons to shape the visual culture of 20th century luxury travel.
His 1973 image of a woman yachting in a red bikini pops up on Instagram feeds and Pinterest every summer. In it, a woman stands manning a luxury boat in a red two-piece bikini looking off into the island’s verdant horizon as she plans to anchor the boat. “I love St Barth’’ says Lola Rykiel, the creative director and founder of 1990s dance-inspired fashion brand Pompom, who has been traveling to St. Barth for over ten years. Located in the remote and newly renovated five star Le Guanahani Hotel in the northern Mont Jean part of the island, Rykiel’s recently launched Pompom boutique is part of the new charge to re-introduce creativity to the north of St. Barth. For Rykiel, enjoying the island is all about location, which is why she chose her newest outpost, set against a backdrop of untouched landscapes. “The Guanahani has an appeal because it could be much more obvious but it is really laid back and family oriented,’’ she says, “it resonates with Pompom because it can be glamourous or chill or both, there is no pressure to look a certain way.”
This elegance is newfound. “People have the idea that Saint Barth is really outrageous and over the top” Rykiel says of the island, which is accessible by a ten minute chartered plane ride from the coast of Saint Maarten island — “but I think the Guanahani shows that there are a lot of different options on the island and people that are chill, discreet, laid back but still chic.” Now, with the arrival of Le Guanahani championing the subtle glamor of the north of St Barths, Rykiel’s innovative fashion outpost Pompom and a low-key creative crowd, St. Barts is once again becoming a destination for the judicious luxury travellers Aarons once captured. With none of the loud tourist traps that surround the capital Gustavia, such as the noisy Nikki Beach club and Eden Rock, the landscape is free to take centre stage, with nothing but pretty houses and endless stretches of beach to break the skyline.
The reopening of Le Guanahani follows a four-year renovation and has created quite a buzz. Nestled in the low hills surrounding Gran Cul de Sac and Marigot St Barthelemy beaches, this home from home is where those who want none of the fanfare of a touristy St. Barths resort. Le Guanahani was founded in the early 1980s and is flanked by two beaches with sand so good that even reading the all day food menu feels as special as diving into a much-anticipated beach read. Because of this, Rykiel wouldn’t consider another part of the island than Mont Jean for her outpost. The daughter of fashion stallwart Sonia Rykiel, who opened her first boutique in the then avant-garde Paris Left Bank in 1968, location is key to Rykiel Junior’s brand — “I love that Pompom is here’’ she says.
She’s not alone. In October, Airbnb researched their top 27 luxury locations and found that St. Barth was the most popular of them all worldwide. Fans of this remote chunk of the island come not just for the glamor and relaxation, but for its biodiversity. Following a 2017 report by the Wildlife Conservation Society, researchers found that due to urbanization and overfishing, that wildlife as well as flora and fauna were quickly deteriorating around the island. In the wake of this crisis, the conservation group Make St Barth Green again is aiming to “reforest” the island by planting trees that were decimated during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Their aim is to ultimately improve the local economy through tourism, and in their reforestation mission aim to draw in a new wave of eco luxury tourists through a greener St. Barth.
With no more than half a dozen private homes overlooking it, this rugged northern tip of St. Barths has a privacy that’s unparalleled across the island. It also offers intimacy, on a walk down the Grand Cul de Sac beach, art students working in bars for the summer mingle with retired couples. In the evenings at Bar Melange, guests sip dirty martinis next to the sea and greet a mix of travelers for just the perfect amount of small talk suited to a crowd that has purposely sought out a place for privacy.
This northern enclave of St. Barths has a different, more eclectic, type of fashion set and Rykiel has seen her ‘Miss St. Barth’ T-shirt and Princess Diana inspired shorts ‘Diana’ — pink and black Lycra emblazoned with diamanté — sell well. “It is the perfect mix of casual and unexpected’’ she says of the item, “it is off in a way that makes it appealing and cool’’. Rykiel often spends nights at the Rosewood hotel, which with its rooms fitted with a mix of antiques and watercolors by local artists, feels like home, and far from the corporate identity many of the neighboring destinations have. And of course, the seaside adjacent spa Sense is a firm favorite, offering up to two-hour long massages — “the spa was incredible, I had a massage with CBD oil that really lifted my spirit and stayed with me the whole week.”
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