Arles' Hometown Boy

Christian Lacroix, the city's most famous son, returns.

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Christian Lacroix in Arles.

Photo By Dominique Maitre

Crack open the lunch menu at the Grand Hôtel Nord-Pinus in Arles and it’s lined with the florid handwriting of Christian Lacroix, who penned his reminiscences of the famous inn. Poke through the costume section of the romantic Museon Arlaten and one realizes the couturier’s taste for colorful prints and ribbons runs deep—back to the 17th century at least, when powerful Arlesian dress traditions were set.

This charming southern French town, on the western edge of Provence, is chockablock with reminders of one of its most famous sons, perhaps never more so than this summer, when the Musée Réattu hosts a sprawling and autobiographical Lacroix exhibition May 17 to October 31.

What’s more, the famous international photography festival, Les Rencontres d’Arles, July 8 to September 14, will be curated this year by Lacroix, who believes that behind every good dress lies a powerful image or two. “I really feel like I belong to the town again,” the designer muses. “The city has changed a lot. It has great energy.”

Lacroix has been shuttling between Paris and Arles on the high-speed train a lot these days (although he did not design the interiors for this particular route) to oversee the mounting of both exhibits. In any case, he and his wife, Françoise, devote as much time as possible each summer to Arles, attending bullfights and working on their new residence on the Rue Diderot. Lacroix is frank about the fact that his beloved hometown has weathered some rough patches, with the disappearance of the railway industry, which itself obliterated the river trade, a particular blow. “When I was a child, 50 percent of the people in Arles were working for the railways,” he recalls.

Today, those abandoned ateliers are now vast exhibition spaces used for the photography festival. Lacroix is excited about the prospect of a new Frank Gehry complex being commissioned, partly for Maja Hoffmann’s private art foundation, which will add to the town’s cultural riches.

Growing up in Arles, Lacroix was a fixture at the local museums, particularly the Réattu, where he discovered the photographer Lucien Clergue and the celebrated 18th-century painter Antoine Raspal, whose works set him dreaming. “It was so moving and inspirational to have all these pictures,” he says. “I love those canvases.”
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