I call myself Breton, but I’m a mixed race – my father is Italian. I grew up in Le Pouldu, a small fishing port that is a thriving holiday area. It’s still untouched and beautiful. As a child, I enjoyed the sea – you learned swimming, water skiing, surfing and sailing very early on.
I loved it as a teenager, but of course I wanted to go. There was a gang of us surf guys hanging out at parties in the woods listening to new techno music. We went for cult t-shirts from Oxbow or Kanabeach, fake Yamamoto knits, and army surpluses like the shoots in I would and The face, Magazines that I ordered from the village kiosks. The encounter with foreign holidaymakers aroused the longing to be elsewhere.
Art was an influence – Gauguin was living in Le Pouldu in the late 1880s when artists from Paris joined a colony nearby in Pont-Aven. Gauguin joined them but found it too hectic and moved here, to the Buvette de la Plage, run by Marie Henry, an independent single mother – rare in Catholic Brittany. Here he developed his ideas of perspective and primitivism: Bretons were mostly farmers and fishermen, very different from Parisians. He had no money and paid his living by painting. Henry argued with him before going to Tahiti. When he returned, he sued her over the paintings, but lost. A replica of the house is now a small museum, the Maison Marie Henry, and there is a lovely walkway through the area showing where Gauguin painted the locals while they were farming, fishing, or dancing.
I studied curator but missed drawing and went to the fashion school in Brussels. In my senior year I won an award – two paid collections – and then I did an internship at Balenciaga with Nicolas GhesquiÃ¨re who is a great inspiration. I left when he did and ended up with Paco Rabanne.
I love coming home to be free. I spend part of the summer here, usually in June when it’s light until 11pm, and I also come back after the shows in early October.
My favorite beach is Le KÃ©rou – it’s spacious and white with good surfing opportunities, and two friends run its excellent surf school. Next door is Au Grand Bleu, one of my favorite restaurants; relaxed and very good for dinner or just for a drink. There are no superyachts in fancy marinas here, only small sailing boats in sheltered estuaries. But it is also home to great circumnavigators and there are reputable sailing schools nearby. I was sent to the Ecole de Voile in La Cale with my younger sister – she hated it, jumped overboard and started swimming on shore which ruined my class!
Sailing is the way to explore the coast and islands. One hour from Le Pouldu is the island of Groix, where there are hardly any cars, mostly bicycles, wonderful beaches and clear water. Ti Beudeff is the bar the sailors go to, reserved with wooden benches and festive until late into the night with Celtic live music. It also makes the freshest of lobsters. Then head back to the Ty Mad, a cool mid-century style hotel. And it’s worth checking out L’Ecume, a characterful bookstore with live events and a great little cafÃ©.
There is a high-speed ferry to Groix from Lomener, but the Iles GlÃ©nans are more secluded, although you can take day trips from Concarneau in the summer. They are an archipelago with nothing but white sand, Caribbean blue water and sea birds and an elite sailing school. Sleeping on the boat, camping on the beach and getting lost on the island is exciting – we take our own food, although there are restaurants.
My grandparents, who spoke Breton, ran one of the largest hotels in Le Pouldu, the Hotel du Pouldu, where I grew up. It has great views of Groix, a large garden, and direct access to the beach, but it’s austere, with a touch of Jacques Tati’s film Mr. Hulot’s vacation about that. However, it is great to visit as a seafood lunch spot – with leisurely service so be ready to relax. For something fancy to stay at, try Maison Castel Braz in Pont-Aven, which looks like a tall, slender castle, has a clever mix of vintage and mid-century furnishings and is very friendly, or Le Vintage in QuimperlÃ© with works by local artists in every room. Sofitel Thalassa in Quiberon is a more modern resort in the dunes with a spa.
Good food is everywhere. Go to a small port like DoÃ«lan and in the afternoon you can buy sea bass fresh off the boat. Or go to RiÃ©c-sur-Belon, famous for its flat oysters, which are very expensive in Paris. The mixture of fresh and salt water makes them taste like chestnuts. In Chez Jacky, a simple stone building on the river, choose oysters from the pool or enjoy steamed crabs with good bread, local butter and a glass of Muscadet – fantastic. It’s easy to walk as the GR34 long distance hiking trail, which runs around the Brittany coast, runs along the bay. The same path leads around the larger bay of Pont-Aven with its wooded hills and 14 water mills along the river. No wonder the artists liked it: In the Beaux Arts Museum there, you will find paintings by Gauguin and others from the Pont-Aven school. There is an easy circular route to the artists ‘favorite painters’ spots and the antique shops are well worth a look – one is said to have once found a Gauguin sketch that was recovered from an old farmhouse. Buy some buttery galettes from my favorite Traou Mad biscuit shop; and you will find a wide range of traditional Breton ceramics – the best is from Henriot, which has been handcrafted in Quimper for more than 300 years, where you can tour the workshop.
I love exploring the LaÃ¯ta River, which forms the mouth of Le Pouldu. A few kilometers upriver are the peaceful medieval ruins of the Saint-Maurice Abbey, tucked away in the forest and surrounded by beautiful, slightly wild gardens. I like going there, especially since the brilliant CrÃªperie de Saint Maurice is nearby. Crepes are the local dish so you can find them everywhere, but these are the best.
One of the cultural centers of Brittany is Lorient. In 2003 the futuristic Grand ThÃ©Ã¢tre opened as a national drama center and now has its own company that puts on adventurous productions and brings good tours in drama, ballet and opera. Even the cafe is trÃ¨s sympa. You have a creative partnership with the visionary Parisian design studio M / M for advertising graphics. The huge graffiti-style posters initially caused a sensation and are now being studied in art courses. My favorite building is the Lorient submarine base, now a museum. It was taken over by the Nazis during World War II, who built a huge, brutalist building to house and protect submarines.
In early August, the worldwide Celtic community comes to a festival – music, dance and bagpipes, with a band in each cafÃ©. I’m not a militant Breton, but I love the ambience and the language, which almost died out after the introduction of French in the late 19th century. Many cities hold a pardon in summer with religious processions in which people in local costume appear like figures from a Gauguin painting. The lace and embroidered black velvet influenced me at Rabanne, adding a contemporary romantic element to a brand known for 1960s futurism. But the best time to visit home is in winter when everything is closed, the weather is wild and I know most of the people I meet. Family feeling, oysters and Gauguin – what could be nicer?