The French Riviera this summer was the site of Chris Brown’s feverishly chronicled escalating debauchery. The rap star, who was in Cannes with Ludacris, allegedly reignited his romance with his ex-girlfriend Rihanna at a party on Russian billionaire Yuri Shefler’s $330 million yacht. As reps swatted away rumors, photos emerged of a sweat-drenched Brown at the Cannes nightclub Gotha, where he had performed earlier, grinding topless with an ever changing array of camouflage-bikini-clad ladies. Meanwhile, Rihanna was making her own headlines, parading through Saint-Tropez in various states of undress and causing a mob scene of camera-wielding vacationers.
Forty years ago, summers in the south of France were a very different affair. In the early sixties, Brigitte Bardot was the queen of the then sleepy fishing town, where a mix of celebrities and socialites would alight in the warm-weather months for lazy days by the sea. Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Jean Cocteau would gather on the beach, and Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy would take casual strolls through the streets. Young, pretty things would meet friends in the clubs, dance until 5 a.m., then gather at the harbor for fresh croissants before heading to bed.
Saint-Tropez is not the only hot spot to have fallen prey to vulgarity since its popularity at the height of jetset chic. Name any major destination—Capri, say, or Marrakech—and you will invariably hear grumbles from anyone who had the privilege of vacationing there in its heyday. A by-product of the café society of the forties and fifties, “jetset” was a term reportedly coined by the gossip columnist Igor Cassini in the The New York Times in 1962: “Jetsetters are people who fly away for weekends. They are the avant-garde, the pacesetters. The jetset is people who live fast, move fast, know the latest thing, and do the unusual and the unorthodox. The jetset has no fixed rules and standards.”
The latter was certainly true of this group’s behavior in the seventies—a hedonistic, devil-be-damned time during which fabulously wealthy travelers often opened their homes (and sometimes their bedrooms) to the inhabitants of the destinations they socially colonized. Marrakech—which Yves Saint Laurent deemed the Venice of Morocco, and where he and Pierre Bergé had a home in which they would serve lunches of chicken tagine and ice cream in the shape of a mosque for dessert—saw many an illustrious face. The Countess Boul de Breteuil’s Villa Taylor hosted the likes of Winston Churchill, Rita Hayworth, and Malcolm Forbes, with whom she would go hot-air ballooning. The North African city was also a substance-fueled nirvana where the American decorator Bill Willis would go from snorting cocaine with the Rolling Stones to dropping acid with the lingerie designer Fernando Sanchez. Talitha and Paul Getty Jr. would spend months there lounging in a hashish-filled haze. For some male visitors, Moroccan houseboys—famously available for all sorts of hosting needs—were the preferred indulgence.