Cannes presents herself as the coy poster girl for the Riviera good life - sophisticated and seductive but available at the right price. As Champagne-quaffing Cannes is big on luxury, the spring shopping festival is the perfect prelude to the summer season.
Cannes Shopping Festival is also the warm-up to the legendary Film Festival. Even in April, La Croisette is a late-afternoon suntrap, lined by beach bars sleepily opening for the season. The Easter shopping extravaganza dips into the Riviera dolce vita, with fashion parades shifting between the beach and the Palais des Festivals.
La Croisette itself is a roll call of illustrious designers - from Chanel to Cartier, Gucci to Gaultier, Armani to Burberry, Hermès to Vuitton. The designer district between La Croisette and rue d’Antibes is dubbed `Le Carre d’Or’ (the golden square) and doesn’t disappoint. As for the set-piece catwalk shows, the fashion feast embraces couture and pret-a-porter, including daring beachwear, designer glamour, naughty French and Italian lingerie, chic cruisewear, as well as quirky vintage, luxury accessories, designer jewellery and even Riviera-made perfume. Chanel Number 5, the world’s most famous perfume, was inspired by Cannes.
By day, Camp catwalk shows decamp to the beaches, proving that fashion can be fun and frivolous. Drag Queen impersonators of Madonna and Lady Gaga lip-sync in lycra and writhe to retro Pop hits. It should be vulgar but is playful, proof that Cannes can escape from its cool celebrity bubble.
Come nightfall, it’s back to cool Cannes. Evening means catwalk fashion shows at the Palais des Festivals, followed by intimate dinners and informal fashion parades at chic restaurants on La Croisette. At the `diners-defilés’, the private-dining experiences, emerging fashion designers mingle with guests, watching the shows while tucking into Mediterranean tapas. The people-watching (and pet-watching) can trump the fashion parades. Pampered pooches with blonde highlights peer out of designer handbags and spot their matching mistresses.
Later, night-owls can don Grace Kelly cat-eyed shades before joining the models, movie stars and magnates in Le Baoli, a Balinese-themed club-restaurant with candlelit corners and a palm-fringed veranda. Fashionistas such as Dolce and Gabbana have been spotted there, so retire to the VIP room if you have the right contacts or red carpet allure.
If designer shopping and partying pall, amble up Suquet hill to the picturesque Forville market and breathe in the scents of Provence, from pesto (pistou) to roses. Come back on Monday to pick up a painting or some silver candlesticks at the antique market. Beneath its shiny veneer, Cannes carries the imprint of a Provencal fishing village - until the next red carpet event reminds us that it’s not.