The Cost of Lacoste

Saturday, April 23, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Across the valley from our roost on Bonnieux's hill, we can see Lacoste, another perched town a few miles away.  When we drove over for a visit, we had quite a surprise.  For such a tiny hamlet, Lacoste has some significant connections.  The one that made us do a double take when we arrived in the village was Lacoste's link to Georgia. 

After we ruled out a common hallucination when we saw the Savannah College of Art and Design sign, we parked in the tiny lot at the base of the town and began walking up the pedestrian-only cobblestone streets that look much as they did 500 years ago.  As we climbed, we came upon further evidence of the Georgia arts college's presence, finally locating a gallery and boutique where we heard an accent that was decidedly not Provençal.

SCAD's Galerie Pfriem exhibits works by renowned artists, while the boutique showcases handmade items and artwork created by students, faculty and alumni.  The Birmingham, Alabama native we found working there explained the SCAD-Lacoste connection.

Lacoste has long been favored by artists for its extraordinary light and beautiful pastoral setting.  In 1970, American art professor and artist Bernard Pfriem founded the Lacoste School of the Arts there. Pfriem was able to persuade notable artists to come to Lacoste to teach and work.  After his death in 1996, the institution foundered under a series of associations with various colleges.  SCAD took over the school in 2002 and operates it as a residential, study-abroad program for students from its Savannah and Atlanta campuses.   Each quarter about 70 students spend the term in Lacoste taking unique courses taught by SCAD professors, participating in special projects, and taking field trips to museums and historic sites in the area.

Along with the school itself, SCAD acquired all the buildings the Lacoste School had amassed, amounting to most of the upper section and almost half the village.  In addition to SCAD students and staff, a variety of artists make Lacoste their home as well as a handful of local villagers.  They have been joined by the new guy in town, none other than fashion designer Pierre Cardin.

Cardin was lured to Lacoste by his interest in the town's most infamous resident, the Marquis de Sade, who lived in the castle at the top of the town in the 18th century.  Pierre Cardin bought the remains of the legendary castle and partially restored it for cultural events, including the annual Festival of Lacoste summer event.

Cardin has also purchased the local bakery and cafe and is eagerly buying up most any Lacoste property that is offered, often for far more than its market value.  Having already opened two galleries and a boutique, he is said to be planning at least two hotels.  The fashion giant has declared his intention to turn Lacoste into a "cultural Saint Tropez."

Neutral Resident
The attentions of this suitor have not been welcomed by many locals in the village, but since he is almost 88 years old, his long-term influence on the village may be short-lived.  The art school has expressed no objection to the fashion designer's presence.  After he hosted a very successful fundraiser for SCAD at an expensive Paris restaurant last fall, the private school is finding Mr. Cardin to be just their style.  

Lacoste Stats
Population:  423 (many of whom are seasonal)
Elevation:  2,349
Oldest building:  Maison Forte (built in 800s)
Buildings owned by Pierre Cardin:  46 (so far)
Village size:  10 acres

By Our Count:
Cobblestones:  903,874
Students falling on slick cobblestone inclined streets:  2 per day
People in Lacoste speaking English:  Most
People speaking French:  Not so many
Lizards:  23
Churches:  1
Artworks on exhibit around the village:  19
Cats:  7
Cats who care about Lacoste politics:  0