Travel & Leisure
updated 9/7/2011 7:49:46 PM ET 2011-09-07T23:49:46

Until you’ve slept in Anna Wintour’s bed you can’t imagine how good she is at slipping into your dreams; the Vogue editor has that sort of weird power. It has certainly surprised me how often over the years people—pros traveling a fashion circuit I sometimes follow from New York to London, Milan, and Paris—have confided that they dream of this influential woman.

I’d always assumed the dreams were of the anxiety-provoking sort, given the fearsome reputation attached to the figure that inspired The Devil Wears Prada. But, no, the dreams tend to be domestic, almost never erotic; and the odd fact is that when Anna Wintour came to me in my sleep it was as a selfish bedmate yanking the covers over to her side.

The image startled and woke me. Suddenly I realized that I’d kicked off the cotton bedcover and was freezing. Cold rain beating down on the roof of the room where I slept sounded like the contents of a tack barrel being emptied onto a tin roof. Fine mist sprayed through the jalousie windows I’d left open by mistake.

This was in Nevis. This was in an immense mahogany four-poster the size of a trampoline, a bed that took up much of the loft in a duplex hotel suite built into an ancient sugar mill. This was in a bed where Anna Wintour slept last Christmas, as a hotelier informed me in the reverent, whispered tone generally employed by docents to point out where George Washington once rested his head.

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Accompanied by her gentleman friend, the financier Shelby Bryan, and their respective children, Ms. Wintour had taken over part of the small Golden Rock Inn, six pastel cottages containing 11 rooms tucked into the sides of a lush green hill, for the holidays. They stayed through New Year’s. Around the island, as I was informed by locals, Ms. Wintour’s visit commanded as much attention as any since that of Diana, Princess of Wales. Yet if the ill-starred princess had once chosen Nevis as a hideout following her divorce from Prince Charles, Ms. Wintour came with a different agenda: to plant a flag.

She was part of a loosely confederated group of the occupationally chic, the exceptionally wealthy, and the uncommonly well-connected, all gazing on Nevis as a potential escape from their traditional escapes. As the island retreats of yesteryear become spoiled by being too fashionable, new frontiers must be forged.

Forty years ago, islands like St. Bart’s were probably a lot like Nevis: drowsy; clean; basic, in terms of amenities; and unhurried in pace. Nowadays St. Bart’s feels less like a low-key getaway than a Caribbean theme park devoted to Unbridled Excess. A retreat for the quietly well-to-do has devolved into a billionaire ghetto, with oligarchs waddling around wearing wristwatches that look like gold manacles; tycoons moaning about the cost of real estate (a house there recently sold to the real estate developer Aby Rosen for a reported $36 million); trophy wives ostentatiously tossing Birkin bags onto their Hermès towels at Flamands beach; and paparazzi lurking around in the sea grape.

It was time to move on. And so, over the past several years, Nevis has experienced a new wave of quiet colonization. Among the swell types to have made landfall are the millionaire philanthropist Anne Bass and her partner, the painter Julian Lethbridge; the artist Jennifer Bartlett; the model Lauren Hutton; and, most notably, Helen and Brice Marden, painters and unlikely hoteliers.

It was while looking for a new island to replace St. Bart’s, where her family had spent holidays for two decades, that Helen Marden landed in Nevis seven years ago. Tobago, Tortola, Carriacou: none quite passed muster. None, Ms. Marden said, “felt quite right.”

Arriving in Nevis, the Mardens quickly took the measure of the place and were smitten. Soon enough, they fetched up at a timeworn hotel with faded canvas chairs and conch-shell ashtrays and plastic flowers in the window boxes, a vaguely spooky place constructed within the ruins of an old sugar plantation.

Copyright © 2012 Amex


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