- Words by Mr Ben Machell
In 1956 French director Mr Roger Vadim unveiled And God Created Woman. The film featured his young wife, Ms Brigitte Bardot, as a sexually precocious teenager running wild around the bars and beaches of St Tropez, then a sleepy port town on the Côte d'Azur. Upon its release, three things immediately happened: firstly, the Catholic League of Decency condemned the international blockbuster. Secondly, Brigitte Bardot became, well, Brigitte Bardot. And thirdly, St Tropez became forever associated in the public consciousness with sex and celebrity, with sunshine and glamour, with lazy champagne giggles carried on a mistral breeze.
Can St Tropez be ever-so-slightly too much? Will wealthy Arab exhibitionists occasionally demand 50 bottles of Cristal be decanted into their bath? The answer is, emphatically, yes
And, in no time, the association became self-fulfilling. Within a few years, St Tropez had established itself as a Riviera destination entirely distinct from the old-money formality of nearby Monaco or Cannes. It helped that there were vast stretches of white sand, such as the Pampelonne Beach, but the true draw of St Tropez was not so much the places as the people, the revolving cast of stars that would gravitate towards the town over the next 50 years. At first, like Ms Bardot, they were principally French. So when you bring to mind the seductive cool of the country's 1960s New Wave cinema or the wink-wink sexuality of the era's Yé-Yé pop, remember that St Tropez was the main movers' playground. There you could find actors including Mr Jean-Paul Belmondo, musicians including Mr Serge Gainsbourg, and racing driver Mr Porfirio Rubirosa ? a playboy so well endowed he had a giant pepper mill named after his legendary appendage. They were all, no doubt, comfortably at home on the "clothing optional" Tahiti Beach. It is surely not a coincidence that when Mr Pablo Picasso visited St Tropez, he was moved to draw nudes.
Mr Gunter Sachs in St Tropez, 1978 Photo © Elliott Erwitt/ Magnum Photos
By the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the pull of St Tropez had become global. The super-rich began to flock there along with international rock stars. Mr Aristotle Onassis cruised the Riviera in his super-yacht Christina O, and his wife Jacqueline's signature can be found in the guestbook of the luxury Hôtel Byblos, along with Sir Mick Jagger's, who celebrated his 1971 wedding to Ms Bianca Pérez-Mora Macias there. When German author, photographer and industrialist Mr Gunter Sachs was pursuing Ms Bardot following her second divorce, he commandeered a helicopter to drop hundreds of roses over her Riviera villa. (It worked.)
Such decadent extravagance has become synonymous with St Tropez over the years as new generations of the rich and famous have come to play. This is why on any given August night in Les Caves du Roy, St Tropez's most famous night spot, you might find royalty rubbing sunburned shoulders with the likes of Ms Donatella Versace and Mr and Mrs Carter, aka Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Holidaymakers on the deck of a yacht, St Tropez, 1971 Photo Slim Aarons/ Getty Images
Indeed, can St Tropez be, at times, ever-so-slightly too much? Will wealthy Arab exhibitionists occasionally demand 50 bottles of Cristal be decanted into their bath? The answer is, emphatically, yes. But then this is a town founded on money and show, and to be too squeamish about it is to miss the whole point. Ask any of the latter-day high-rolling enthusiasts ? anyone from Messrs Leonardo DiCaprio to Giorgio Armani to David Beckham ? and they will explain it is a town for them, by them. Even Le Club 55, the exclusive beachfront restaurant and celebrity hangout, began life as a humble bistro that was first stumbled upon back in 1955 by Mr Vadim and Ms Bardot during the filming of And God Created Woman. The couple made it their own and the restaurant, like St Tropez itself, has never really looked back. Champagne, sex and sunshine. There are worse things in the world.