Roped into Casual Elegance

Espadrilles continues to navigate the many positive steps of the most diverse cultures. Occasionally, a brand incites fresh emotion with this epochal design, and at Alexander Kraft Monte Carlo, you'll certainly feel it.

Freddie Anderson

“Sell in May, go away, and come back on St. Leger’s Day” is a well-known financial-world adage. At the inception of the Jazz Age there was an imbalance between the US dollar and the French franc; in 1922 one hundred dollars was worth 1,219 French francs, making it the most advantageous year for American expatriates, who were usually free-spirited and artistically inclined. The Eighteenth Amendment (1919) to the United States Constitution imposed the federal prohibition of alcohol, which in turn incited an apocalyptic surge in the illicit liquor trade that transcended this perceived widespread moral decay. Across the Atlantic, Paris, nicknamed the “City of Light,” was in the throes of becoming a booming artistic scene, which was in part fostered by cheap and abundant alcohol, a rather enticing melody for Ernest Hemingway to bring whatever American dollars he had.

It was in 1922, a year before Igor Stravinsky’s grand fête commemorating his ballet “Les Noces”, for which Gerald and Sara Murphy, a well-to-do artistic American husband and wife, produced the party on a river barge on the Siene, that the Murphys spent two weeks at Antibes with the Cole Porters, who had rented the Château de la Garoupe, next to the Hôtel du Cap, with Eden Roc at the tip of Cap d’Antibes. Those who frequent the French Riviera today are unlikely to be aware that, until the late ’20s, it was a winter getaway for the beau monde society of Northern Europe. The Italian proprietor of Hôtel du Cap, Antione Sella, had always closed the place from May to September, but after meeting the Murphys, the well-connected American couple persuaded him to open a few rooms beyond April, where ordinarily the Murphys would acquire one room and Pablo Picasso, who had befriended them in Paris, another.

The unspoiled and tranquil beaches of the Cote d’Azur served as a spring of inspiration. It didn’t take long for a hedonistic coterie to emerge, who would spend long summers writing, painting and, most avant-gardedly, worshipping the sun, often dressed in the best forms of dégagé elegance. The Murphys exemplified this freedom of existence with their choice of attire, notably when Gerald and Sara were arm in arm walking from their wooden beach chairs nestled underneath the hooping parasols to the sea on Cap d’Antibes. Gerald donned a long-sleeved Breton-striped shirt, medium-high-waisted white shorts, a head scarf, a walking stick and a pair of espadrilles, the latter of which looked undeniably comfortable and natural on the Riviera sand.

In 1925, the Murphys aptly named their new Riviera property Villa America. The chalet, complete with quirky renovations, enticed and welcomed renowned personalities of the “Lost Generation.” If there was a member who left a potent legacy from that time it would be F. Scott Fitzgerald; he and his erratic wife Zelda were persistent but valued hangers-on, whether it be at the Hôtel du Cap, Villa America, or on La Garoupe. His novel Tender is the Night (1934) depicted life on the Riviera, featuring the Murphys as key protagonists, albeit under aliases. Sara in particular was appalled but, after a near-seven-year sojourn in Europe for the Fitzgeralds, the book brilliantly recounts the lives of the nonconformist expats in France in the ‘20s.

Returning to Picasso, his initial fascination with the Murphys, particularly Sara, gave way to a slight aversion to their entertainment. However, the primary reason for his growing disengagement from their antics was his decision to retreat to a variety of studios on the Riviera, specifically, during the summer of 1924, at La Vigie on the Cap d’Antibes peninsula, at the invitation of its owner, American businessman Frank Gould and his French socialite wife Florence Lacaze. Picasso’s dress would always emit a degree of nonchalance –  he would famously wear a thick terry cloth shirt or a Breton-striped shirt and, in the typical homespun style of Spanish origin, he lived predominantly in espadrilles.

Rex Harrison and his wife Kay Kendall, walking along the coastal street of the sea resort Santa Margherita Ligure on the Italian Riviera, 1958. (AP Photo/Gino Calza via Alamy)

The French term Espadrilles derives from the Catalan word ‘espardenyas’, which refers to the esparto grass plant, an indigenous botanical species that thrives in the sterile and rugged terrains of Murcia and Valencia in the south of Spain – the soles of these shoes were traditionally made from this plant fibre. The counterpart is the Castilian Spanish word Alpargatas, and along with Catalonia, the humble roots of the shoe are attributed to the Basque Country, where it is thought it was worn by 14thcentury peasants in the Spanish Pyrenees. However, there’s evidence that its provenance stretches back much earlier. At the Archaeological Museum of Granada, they own and exhibit the earliest pair dating back to approximately 2000 BC, and it must be mentioned from rather mortal beginnings, where they were found on human remains inside the “cueva de los murielago.”

It’s hard to identify a shoe in the dictionary that has transcended and occupied a position that spans such a diverse range of historical cultures. Fishermen in the 14th century needed inexpensive, durable footwear, and they found the solution with Espadrilles. Shortly after, the King of Aragon equipped his infantry with Espadrilles. Since then, these shoes have been used by mine workers, priests, dancers and, in contemporary times, a variety of stylish statemen such as JFK, actors like Humphry Bogart, actresses like Lauren Bacall, designers like Yves Saint Laurent and, fittingly, the Catalonian artist, Salvador Dali.

As already discussed, the bon ton bohemian set of the 1920s on the French Riviera wore espadrilles in a fashion that was more aligned with its rustic origins. But skip to the ‘40s – a decade after Coco Chanel had enriched Riviera chic with naval-inspired espadrilles, they were gracing the covers of Vogue, a phenomenon that tied in seamlessly with the Cote d’Azur, which hosted the most debonair and glamorous stars on the silver screen; the leading men embraced the comfortable shoe as the epitome of casual elegance.

At the Cannes Film Festival in April 1955, Prince Rainier of Monaco met the stunningly beautiful Hollywood actress Grace Kelly. Eight months later the prince proposed, and their second ceremony of marriage – a swashbuckling affair attended by luminaries such as Cary Grant, Ava Gardner and Aristotle Onassis – was the catalyst for Monaco to become the most modish playground in Europe. There can’t be many residents of Monaco who participated and shared such chic moments with the glitterati, but if you’d like a snapshot of this time, take To Catch a Thief (1955), filmed a year before Kelly and Rainier were formally introduced. The iconic picture of Grant and Kelly sitting together on a railing, with the harbour as the backdrop, is an illustration of the stylistic grandness of Monte Carlo.

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in To Catch A Thief, 1955. (Pictorial Press Ltd via Alamy)

They are both sporting hybrids of espadrilles and, focusing on Grant, his navy with thin white stripes crew neck cotton long-sleeve jersey is paired with grey flannel double-breasted pleated trousers with slanted side pockets, jetted pockets, and turn-up cuffs, accessorised with a red, white polka dot cotton neckerchief. Admittedly, there is a division between sartorial commentators deeming Grant’s footwear to be Venetian loafers or simply hybrid espadrilles, but at that time, you would also witness characters such as Rex Harrison strolling in their casually elegant attire around both Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, while you would see David Niven in the vicinity of his famous house named La Fleur du Cap Saint Jean Cap Ferrat.

Nowadays, in the small stratum of salubrious summer resorts in Europe, the sight of casual elegance is not as prevalent. However, there’s one long-term resident of Monaco whose tastemaking contribution, with his own style and eponymous brand Alexander Kraft Monte Carlo, is set to enhance his footprint, with a soon-to-be launched flagship store in the Principality. And right on cue, the flagship store will stock the enviable Espadrilles, which arrive in an ecru colour and blue version of the luxurious cotton designs. As with many other epochal designs, Alexander Kraft has demonstrated that he has masterfully refined the Espadrille shoe with sensibility. The rope soles are imported from Southern Spain and are reinforced with a slim, natural rubber outer sole. With the protective layer, it enhances the terrain it can flourish in, whether it be a pristine, rocky beach or the cobbles of the ancient towns you find yourself in. The Espadrille benefits from one of the most storied legacies and, with the occasional launch of a version encompassing high-end designs, its story will continue with emotion.

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