St. Bart’s: From Chris Columbus to Andy Warhol

By Bob Schulman

Private boats dot St. Bart's secluded bays. Photo courtesy of Comite de Tourisme de Saint-Barthelemy.When he first spotted this gorgeous Caribbean island in 1493, Christopher Columbus named it after his younger brother, Bartolomeo. It's now known as St. Barthelemy, or St. Bart's (or St. Barth's) for short, although historians differ on where the “St.” designation came from (Columbus' brother was no saint).

All kinds of flags poked through the island's palm trees and frangipani over the years, including those of the British, the Knights of Malta, the French and the Swedes. Also seen flying over the island from time to time were the skull and crossbones of a Who's Who of the Caribbean's most notorious pirates, from Sir Henry Morgan to the aptly named Monbars the Exterminator.

Fast-forward to 1957, when the Rockefellers and Europe's uber-rich Rothschilds start building getaways (later turned into hotel-resorts) there – and St. Bart's begins morphing from a sleepy little island to a Caribbean St. Moritz.

Retro-chic bedroom in Villa Polaroid. Photo courtesy of Hotel LeVillage Saint-Barth.After that, more and more developers showed up to turn little homes dotting the island's hillsides into posh villas and boutique hotels – well over 400 of them so far. Today they're the homes away from homes for the world's silky set, from moguls to kings and prime ministers to Oscar-winning movie stars and entertainers of the likes of Paul McCartney, Sting, Beyonce and Jon Bon Jovi.

Perhaps this blurb from the island's newspaper The Daily Mail best sums up today's scene on St. Bart's: “Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich is flying the Black Eyed Peas out to perform at a New Year's Eve party at his lavish ($90 million) estate on St. Bart's.”

The Caribbean-chic ambiance of the island's zillion-dollar villas and boutique inns is often called “barefoot luxury” – meaning the dress code is Armani-class shirts, shorts and flip-flops.

Debuting 'Retro-chic'

Hotel LeVillage is near St. Jean Beach. Photo courtesy of the hotel.Now one of St. Bart's swanky resorts has added a new twist on Caribbean chic: Retro-chic. The Hotel LeVillage Saint-Barth (, an island icon since it was built in 1969, has transformed one of its posh 28 rooms and cottages into what it calls “the Villa Polaroid” – with design cues taken from Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground.

The concept, a hotel spokeswoman says, “...conjures up the brashness and drama of Pop Art and Polaroid photography...a unique vacation environment of function and whimsey, luxury and romance.”

Says the brochure: “The color scheme (of the villa) begins with white exterior walls...then with gradations of whites leads the visitor gently towards an interior of saturated colors. Orange, yellow, green, turquoise, pink and what the designers refer to as sexy red appear, color by color, step by step like the slow appearance of the image and colors of a Polaroid photo developing before your eyes.”

Villa Polaroid tops off  a three-year program in which all of LeVillage's rooms and cottages were restyled and upgraded. The property is on 10 acres of a garden on St. Jean Hill overlooking the largest bay on the island.

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