During the holidays on Saint Barths, the harbor heaves with massive yachts and Birkin bags fly off the shelves at Hermès (last year's best seller was the $9,500 fuchsia ostrich). While the vogue of other islands—Anguilla, Antigua—may come and go, Saint Barthélemy's status as the mother of all Caribbean glamour is secure. And the proof isn't just at the tiny Vuitton and Bulgari outposts in Gustavia that carry the hot-ticket jewelry and accessories you'll otherwise see only in Paris and Monte Carlo (and not, alas, in New York). The French island's narrow lanes are lined with independent boutiques popping with bright, breezy fashions for men, women, and kids. And these shops are what give Saint Barths its casual—but très chic—style. "We think of the island as the anti-Saint-Tropez," says Thierry Lhomme, who manages the stores Café Coton and Cachemire Crème. "There are celebrities here, but no paparazzi." Lhomme likes to tell people the story of Jennifer Lopez, who, on the first day of her most recent honeymoon, went shopping in Gustavia with her bodyguards. She wouldn't enter stores if other customers were present. "By the second week," Lhomme recalls, "she was wandering around town by herself."
Luxe bohemian is the look Saint Barths does best, and this shop is the place to find it: floaty silk and chiffon clothing for women, in batik prints and saturated shades of fuchsia, tangerine, and turquoise, all designed by the eponymous owner (Poupette is her nickname). Skirts cost around $300, palazzo pants are $240, and fitted tops, smocked at the waist or laced in front, run between $40 and $100. The store also sells a line of accessories, among them braided leather belts that double as necklaces ($100), beaded cuff bracelets, and shocking-pink sequined sandals ($55). In addition to her regular kaleidoscopic collection, Poupette always stocks a few pristine white pieces: Last year Uma Thurman caused a stampede at the shop after being photographed in a white peasant-style tunic and embroidered skirt ($550) she got there. At Rue de la République, Gustavia; 590-590/27-94-49.
Of the few men's clothing shops on Saint Barths, Café Coton is certainly the smartest. The long-sleeved linen shirts ($135) are offered in a dozen colors and two weights: a handkerchief-light blend for the tropics and a more substantial, shaped-up city weave. In addition there are solid, checked, and striped Egyptian-cotton shirts with French cuffs (made in Turkey) for $75 to $110. Along more whimsical lines are the patterned boxer shorts that come packaged in little cotton drawstring bags ($18). At Rue du Bord de Mer, Gustavia; 590-590/52-48-42.
This handsome wood-paneled shop adjoining Café Coton stocks divine cashmere clothing every season. Aside from the usual sweaters, the big sellers at the boutique are what manager Thierry Lhomme refers to as the nonclassical styles—for example, last year's military-inspired jacket with pewter buttons in navy, fatigue green, or chocolate brown ($510) and the crewneck with a red star on the sleeve ($450). Cachemire Crème is perhaps best known for offering truly special children's clothes in its namesake wool: pants, sweaters, jackets, and tiny boleros in pale pink and blue ($80-$205). "In France," Lhomme says, "nothing is too good for our babies." At Rue du Bord de Mer, Gustavia; 590-590/52-48-42.
Decidedly not boho chic, the clothes by Toulouse, France- based Popovitch are unlike most any you will find on the island. Elegant, monochromatic creations with an urban edge, they are adorned with grommets and other bits of hardware that call to mind the best of Claude Montana. Two recent favorites are a white ruched cotton skirt with white lace peeking out at the hem ($560) and a short black silk skirt with pleats suspended by silk cord and silver pulleys ($512). At the corner of Rue du Centenaire and Rue du Bord de Mer, Gustavia; 590-590/52-92-57.
This sliver of a shop, which takes its name from a common Gabonese greeting, was opened by Christian Mercier, the former sommelier of the popular island dining room Le Sapotillier. M'Bolo is the place where Mercier sells his homemade version of the well-loved local rum punch—the nine varieties are concocted using such natural ingredients as lemongrass (from his own garden), ginger, vanilla, coconut, and the odd but delightful bois bande (tree bark). The brews come in charming apothecary- style bottles ($13-$32), which Mercier and his partner, Sabine, will be happy to ship directly to your home. At Rue du Général de Gaulle, Gustavia; 590-590/27-90-54.
Eric Strock and Anna Chriki's string of four stores in Gustavia, all called by the same name, are within a block of one another: There's a women's boutique that carries a line of fanciful Beverly Feldman shoes, a shop that presents handbags and driving moccasins in a full run of colors, and a men's place packed with linen shirts and lizard belts. But the fourth Laurent Effel—a chic emporium of rare animal skins turned into everything from briefcases ($2,375) to backgammon sets ($3,900)—is the one not to miss. Each piece is handstitched at the owners' Milan factory from one type of skin. The most popular designs are the structured handbags in lemon-yellow and salmon-colored ostrich, lizard, and gator ($960-$3,050). Both the crocodile humidor ($2,740) and the $67,000 traveling desk in perfectly symmetrical croc are truly exceptional. At Rue du Roi Oscar II, Gustavia; 590-590/87-43-20.
The French fabric-design house has only one boutique in the world and this is it. The selection of tropical prints, seashell motifs, and bright citrus colors—splashed onto all manner of beach gear, including bikinis, totes, sarongs, and thong sandals—is exhaustive. Canovas even creates bedding and bath accessories in the same sunny prints. A line of candles in eight recherché scents, such as Bois de Lune and Fleur de Coton, accompanies it all. At Rue du Bord de Mer, Gustavia; 590-590/27-53-14.
LIGNE ST BARTH
This local cosmetics company has been concocting all-natural suntan oil, lotion, and candles for 22 years. At this shop just above Manuel Canovas, sun worshippers snap up the classic Roucou oil with SPF 4 (dermatologists be damned) along with the soothing après-sun aloe vera gel with mint and the papaya exfoliating shower cream. Every one of Ligne's products is developed in its Lorient laboratory, on the other side of the island. And the company is constantly tinkering: New for- mulas include a banana hand cream and tropical-scented candles made with coconut oil. Plus, there's a small spa, which can dispatch massage therapists to your hotel or yacht. At Rue du Bord de Mer, Gustavia; 590-590/52-48-29.
ISLE DE FRANCE HOTEL BOUTIQUE
Just to make sure you don't overlook the staggering collection of swimwear packed into this closet-size hotel shop, the La Case de L'Isle restaurant in the Isle de France Hotel puts on a fashion show on Tuesday evening. By the gorgeous Baie des Flamands, hotel employees—chic French men and women glowing from their winters in the sun—show off weightless silk caftans with beads and embroidery from Lotus ($350-$450), sheer sarongs from Roshanara in France ($120), and lilac canvas-and-organdy sun hats ($135). A handsome bartender comes around half a dozen times to model tropical linen shirts ($150) and swimming trunks ($125) created by local designers. When we visited the boutique, a clutch of stylish women were buying up slinky bikinis from Brazil ($120-$200) and belted Bond-girl suits by American label TNA ($180). At Baie des Flamands; 590-590/27-61-81.
TERRA ST. BARTHS
A native of Newport, Rhode Island, Annelisa Gee moved to Saint Barths in 1992; three years later she opened her women's clothing boutique next to Nikki Beach on Pélican Plage in Saint Jean. Her taste is exquisite—we wanted everything in the shop. But if we must pick, we'll take the Eric Javits beach hats ($165- $295), shell-encrusted Moyna handbags ($125-$195), and any of the Graham Kandiah paisley-print pareos with beaded trim ($45-$65). Actually, what Terra can't seem to keep in the shop are the featherweight corduroy jeans by Dead Sexy ($158) and lingerie by Fleur T ($28-$68). Though Gee also owns a store in her hometown, called Mandarine, she says she sends her sexiest pieces to Terra because "it's easier to encourage women in Saint Barths to explore their flamboyant side." At Le Pélican Pl., St. Jean; 590-590/27-57-50.
Just a few doors down from Terra, Virginie Marquant spares no frill or flounce in assembling her store's collection of ultrafemme clothing and accessories. "'Lili' refers to any kind of woman," says Marquant, explaining how she chose the name for the shop. "She comes here and we make her a belle!" The mostly urban styles feature girly dresses and avant-garde printed tops by Spanish label Hoss ($90- $430), as well as our favorite, a lime-green pleated skirt in brushed gabardine by Belgium-based label Essenciel ($165). On the racks this winter, Marquant says, will be velvet jackets, embroidered long skirts, and lots of crochet. At Le Pélican Page, St. Jean; 590-590/87-46-14.
Arriving in Style
In November, Wimco, the villa rental company with the best selection of Saint Barths properties, will begin private air-charter services for villa customers, flying to the island from San Juan and Saint Croix on Cessna Caravan or Pilatus planes. $2,400 or $2,700 per plane each way; 800-932-3222.
Rooms with a View
The main reason to stay at Gustavia's Carl Gustaf Hotel ($755-$1,890; 590-590/29-77-00) is to take in the sunset over the harbor from your very own villa. Each suite is in a separate cottage. And the best place to watch the moon rise is at the restaurant Do Brazil (590-590/29-06-66), on Shell Beach.
K'Fé Massai (590-590/29-76-78), in Lorient, is the new hot spot for traditional French cuisine with an island twist, such as lobster ravioli with a wakame (seaweed) sauce. On Thursday everyone—and we mean everyone—heads to La Marine in Gustavia (590-590/27-68-91) for perfect moules frites.