Saint Barthelemy. St Barts to friends. An island in the French West Indies in the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Just over 10,000 inhabitants, almost no drinking water. The last time we heard about it was for the funeral of French rock star Johnny Hallyday, who was buried there in 2017. St Barts was “discovered” in 1493 by Christopher Columbus who named it after his brother, Bartolomeo. David Rockefeller was one of the first celebrities to set up his villa there in 1957. He was followed by Greta Garbo in the 1960s, and they have since been imitated by an influx of stars and billionaires.

With its idyllic landscapes and coral reefs, St Barts, while often visited by devastating hurricanes, has become a privileged refuge during the pandemic, long spared from health constraints. Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab has announced the opening of a pop-up there. An investment largely justified by the location and the quality of the clientele, but also by the fantasy and the lifestyle attached to the island.

Vuitton in the steppes

If fashion is the first industry to rush into the metaverse, it is just as much a pioneer in the real world. Each season, it drops its magic in unusual places from which it borrows an evocative sense of power, but to which it offers in return its own power to create trends. Thus, it does what only fashion knows how to do: it fashions everything it touches.

In 2009, during a Louis Vuitton event organized in London, I listened to Yves Carcelle, then president of the House, recount with stars in his eyes the opening of the brand’s 440th store in Mongolia, in Oulan Bator: Vast steppes, the starry night, nomadic music, and that moment suspended in time when Louis Vuitton seemed to be taking its first steps onto the moon. It was not so much a matter of selling luxury items to yak herders, or even to the few super rich who had emerged in the country, as of marking a territory that promised spectacular economic growth.

Chanel in Dubai

How can we forget the first Chanel show in Dubai, for its Cruise 2014-2015 collection designed by Karl Lagerfeld? Onto an artificial island, the designer delivered the first humans, dropped by abras, traditional boats covered with red tents, which left from a shore lined with vertiginous buildings of glass and steel. “The next step, the new reality”, enthused the creator, dazzled by the dizzying growth that the emirate had experienced in but a handful of years. This did not prevent him from offering an Orientalist collection, at the crossroads of East and West, of Arab tradition and European modernity, with some cultural appropriations such as keffiyeh fabric, and caricatures including those bags in the shape of jerry cans, which at the time made people smile rather than cry foul.

“It’s my idea of a romantic and modern Orient, a new telling of the Thousand and One Nights,” he had soberly commented, and no one had found fault with it. In 2016, Chanel also invested in Cuba, which had just welcomed Barak Obama, the first American president to pay an official visit to the country since 1928. The memorable fashion show in Havana opened up a new era of tourism for an island long marginalized by the Cold War.

D&G, like an army of angels

Closer to home, there was Dolce & Gabbana parading at the end of January 2022 in AlUla, a dead city in full resurrection in the middle of the Saudi desert. Another almost virgin destination, an oasis shaded by large sculptural rocks from which the duo of Italian designers borrowed a film set, placing a monumental circle in the background imitating a setting sun. Beautiful riders in ceremonial dress moved slowly on their white mares between the mannequins. A stream of gold, sequins, precious lace, floral embroidery and extravagant adornments, brocades, crowns, theatrical volumes, the masculine and the feminine intersected and mingled.

One had the impression of witnessing the first morning of the world, or the landing of an army of angels dressed in light, coming out of some flying saucer landed on a nearby dune.

The mystery of location and beauty combine to offer the imagination the possibility of a perfect world. There will always be time to cross over to the other side of the screen. The Earth still has great promises to keep.