At its best, fashion is magic. It manages to transforms people, giving a new shape to known proportions. It can almost transport them to a different time or place. And at its best, photography does a similar thing. It captures moments, that would otherwise be overlooked. It depicts reality, or fantasy, it does whatever the photographer wants it to do. But the daily business of these arts can be different. Fashion weeks? Art fairs? Those can be a stiff affairs!
But then, there is Hyères and its International Festival of Fashion and Photography.
In these 12hrs, we are taking you to the French Riviera for a day. Right at the coast lies Hyères, the oldest resort of the Côte d’Azur. In the summer months, families come here for the holidays, surfers are taking advantage of the Mediterranean breeze, and curious visitors explore the historic old town and the salines outside of the city, crowded with flamingos. In the off-season, Hyères is rather quiet. Except for four days in April. Then, the International Festival of Fashion and Photography takes place, now in its 30th year. During these days, designers, journalists, artists, and likeminded people ascend on the tiny town, making it the center of the fashion and art world for four days.
Although this guide spans roughly over 12hrs, we break up our usual structure. Being in Hyères is a mini-vacation, where you shouldn’t stare at your clock. And while you think you are just letting time go by, you are actually soaking up inspiration, meeting fascinating people from all over the world, and just immensely enjoy yourself.
The festival has free admission, it seems like a silent deal is made between the organizers and the attendees: If you travel so far to this remote town, you already have proven that you are interested. You are welcome!
1pm // Nice
You will probably arrive via train or plane. If you aren’t from France, chances are you are going to fly into Nice. While there is a closer airport to Hyères, Toulon, only very few flights actually land there, and they tend to be more expensive.
To get into the Riviera mood, let’s explore Nice for a little while.
From Nice, you take the train to Hyères. The tracks curl along the beautiful French coast and through tiny villages, through industrial areas and fields. Once you arrive at the tiny train station in Hyères, find your hotel. There are no luxury hotels there. The most fancy hotel in town is part of the casino complex, but even there room rates are around 100 Euro. Most people attending the festival stay in rented apartments, little B&Bs, or in one of the many chain hotels in town, where double rooms range between only 30 and 60 Euro per night.
Head over to the main square, where black shuttle buses are waiting to bring you to the festival location.
The International Festival of Art and Photography takes place at Villa Noailles. This early modernist house sits on the hills above the town, overlooking the coast. It was build by Robert Mallet-Stevens for art patrons Charles and Marie-Laure Noailles between 1923 and 1927. The architecture is stunning, and was well ahead of its time when it was build. There is a pink room, an elaborate, triangular cubist garden, and a (now empty) pool and squash court. The couple had many friends in the art world, and supported early film projects from surrealists like Salvador Dalí and Man Ray.
Today, their love for the arts is reflected in the festival. Each year, ten up and coming fashion designers from schools all over the world and ten young photographers compete for a big cash prize, support, and, above all, recognition from their peers. Previous winners of the fashion portion of the festival include Viktor & Rolf and Felipe Oliveira Baptista, who is currently designing for Lacoste and is the fashion jury president in 2013. Among the winners of the photography portion of the competition are Jessica Eaton and Charles Freger (this year’s photography jury president). The juries are made up of experts from their fields, including editors, designers, and artists.
The photographers exhibit their work in light-flooded rooms downstairs, hanging out right next to their artwork, ready to answer questions, explain their concepts, or just glad to see people’s reaction to their pictures. Meanwhile, the fashion crowd shows off their creations in a show space in the backyard, with racks full of clothes standing in the open air. You can go over, have a good look at the garments, even touch them (carefully!).
During the days, talks by members of the jury, artists and designers are taking place in a tent in the small adjacent park. On the rooftop, electro and indie bands are playing concerts. Photography exhibitions are scattered throughout the beautiful house, showcasing the work of members of the jury, and some international superstars of the arts. You’ll also discover dance performances, fashion exhibits, and sculptures. And on the first night, the director of the festival, Jean-Pierre Blanc, invites everybody to an opening cocktail. Throughout the festival, this light, friendly atmosphere remains. People lounge on the grass in the garden, take off their shoes (high heels feel weirdly out of place here), and soak up the first rays of spring sun after winter.
After a relaxed day at the villa, head back down into town and get ready for the night. Friday through Sunday, a big fashion show showcases the collections of the designers. Buses bring the visitors to the salines just out of town, where the big show takes place in a giant wooden hangar. Beware: The show doesn’t only attract fashion folk from around the world, mosquitos seem to love this place, as well. Might have something to do with the salines…
On Saturday night, the happenings on the catwalk are being broadcast to the town’s square and to neighboring Toulon, as well as to the Palais du Tokyo in Paris. Prizes include the Jury’s Grand Prix, an audience award, and a special prize from fashion house Chloé. For most of the designers here, these ten looks are their first collection, so ideas are fresh, and still unaffected from the harsh reality of running a fashion business. Expect a few crazy designs and wild ideas.
1am // The Party
Taking a big shuttle bus, there is only one more thing left to do in these 12hrs in Hyères: Party hard! Each night, there is a big bash in a beach club in the middle of nowhere. There are DJ sets by some of the bands that performed earlier in the day at the villa. Naturally, the mood is especially good on the last evening, when the winner’s of the competition have just been crowned. Free drinks don’t hurt, either. But don’t worry, there is always a shuttle to take you home.
As for leaving Hyères, that is quite a hard thing to do. The only consolation: There is always next year!
In 2014, the International Festival of Fashion & Photography takes place form April 25th to April 27th.
These were 12 hrs in Hyères! To discover more locations and stories from here, head over to the Hyères category of our blog! Just click HERE.
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