When one thinks of the Alps, several things come to mind. Skiing, vin chaud, fondue, beautiful scenery… For the most part, these visions become reality, give or take a few groups of rowdy British students. However, should you ever find yourself in Courchevel 1850, the Alpine ‘norm’ and what you’re actually confronted with are worlds apart.
Most ski resorts consist of a varied selection of hotels, chalets, bars, restaurants and ski hire shops. Retail therapy is limited to new goggles or at a push a new jacket. This is what I have become accustomed to in every resort I’ve visited so far. So you can imagine my surprise upon arrival in Courchevel 1850 to find Chanel, Valentino, Cartier and Hermès boutiques in prime position on the main shopping streets. And the reason for this? Two words: rich Russians.
It appears that each year between mid-December and Russian New Year, Courchevel turns into something of a mini Moscow. Nearly everything in resort is triple-translated into French, English and Russian; there are hotels that have exclusively Russian clientele, complete with tinted-windowed taxis with fur hat-wearing drivers; there are clubs that charge €20 for a small beer… This is not the kind of Alpine life I’ve experienced before. There is even a 30-foot yacht parked outside one of the main chair lifts, presumably on the off-chance that Mr Russian Oligarch might make a spur-of-the-moment purchase for Mrs (or Mistress) Russian Oligarch. Only in Courchevel…
And yet these Russians seem to have been afflicted with Nouveau Riche Disease: so much money yet so little taste. I encountered a horror of a ski outfit last week on a chair lift: Barbie-pink onesie with suede fringing on the arms and legs, topped off with a multicoloured confection of a fur hat. And no, she couldn’t even ski that well. There’s the small army of handbag-sized dogs that wear as much bling as their owners as well as Burberry coats and tiny booties. And then there are the women themselves. If the amount of fur I’ve seen in the last month is anything to go by, there can’t be a live mammal found east of St Petersburg. I personally have nothing against fur, so long as it’s worn in moderation. No one wants to look as if they couldn’t be bothered to skin the fox before slinging it around their shoulders. But these women wear the stuff literally from head to toe. It’s like sharing a resort with a bunch of yetis. Topped off with excessive amounts of jewellery and a tad too much plastic surgery, the effect is rather grotesque. Granted, there are some girls that look amazing and make me slightly jealous of their beauty and style, but overall it’s a severe case of more is less.
Given my rather conservative outlook on tasteful fashion, I find this ostentatious display of wealth rather hard to digest. Is it a visceral need to flaunt your wealth in every way possible? Is it the men dressing their trophy wives as a way of competing with each other? Even the children get involved with their mini Dior moon boots and fur-lined Moncler jackets. I’ve always been a huge advocate of simple and elegant fashion, so from what I’ve seen here in Courchevel, I don’t think Russia is quite my scene. I am currently working as a rep for the winter season, and before I came out here several friends suggested that I find myself a Russian oligarch boyfriend who could set me up in a lovely chalet and cater to my every need. But having seen how the female half of new rich Russia is expected to dress, I don’t think I’ll be going down that route.
Having lived in France before, I know how much sartorial choices can change across different countries, and I’m all for cultures having their own style identities. It’s part of what helps define a nation. Perhaps the reason I’m so averse to all of this fur and bling is that it’s so alien to me. But it’s certainly been something of a revelation as to how the (extremely rich) other half lives.
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