Karl Lagerfeld, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Jacquemus and more have all descended on the small southern French town of Hyères for the annual festival of fashion and photography. The 32nd edition is taking place this weekend, and as usual, the main exhibitions are being held at Villa Noailles, a modern hilltop white box designed by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens in 1923.
The villa has always been celebrated for its connection to music, theatre and art, since guests of owners Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles – including Salvador Dali, Giacometti, Jean Cocteau and May Ray – all played, created and documented whilst staying there. The Hyères Festival’s presence there also encourages the connections between the house and culture.
But the Villa Noailles was also a centre of forward-thinking ideas around health, and anyone staying there was encouraged to indulge in all things wellbeing. Just as the rationalist building was about practicality and purification (an absence of decorative features, plus plenty of open terraces, light and hygiene), so was the lifestyle. The building included a pool, squash court and gymnasium, where invités could call on the expertise of the resident instructor.
As well as more standardised sports like swimming, a sense of play pervaded the activities: people swang across the pool on trapeze, team-lifted gigantic balls and rolled around the grass strapped to big wheels. As you can see from the fitness fervour in Jacques Manuel’s 1928 film, Biceps et Bijoux (‘Biceps and Jewels’) and in Man Ray’s 1929 Les mystères du château du Dé, (both of which were filmed there), any new, fun and risky activities were embraced. As well as for its connection to music, art, fashion, literature and photography, the Villa Noailles should be celebrated as a place that forged a new lifestyle that favoured body and nature.