Vilebrequin swimwear makes a splash to celebrate its half-century
A typical summer’s day in Saint-tropez circa 1971 was a party fuelled by possibility. Brigitte Bardot sunbathed on the beach, Alain Delon and Romy Schneider jangled ice cubes. Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin dragged on Gitanes. It was in this Eden of glamour and good times that Fred and Yvette Prysquel founded the luxury swimwear brand Vilebrequin, opening a store on rue Sibille.
Post-1968, the French Riviera was host to a generation hell-bent on inventing a freer world. Vilebrequin’s CEO Roland Herlory remembers holidaying there as a child. ‘It was about savouring life. It was colourful. There was no fear about your future. Freedom of expression, of your body – can you imagine?’ In preparation for the brand’s 50th anniversary this year, Herlory and his team looked at photographs from the period, ‘and you could just feel the joy’, he says.
The resulting collection of limited-edition shorts is a testimony to swim fashion’s panache. ‘We are one of the oldest swimwear brands in the world and so we reissued one print from each year. If you look at the whole collection you can see the history of our society.’
Op Art-inspired fish nod to the 1970s’ penchant for Pucci prints. A graphic swirl repeat pattern from the 1980s draws inspiration from the Memphis Group and a hand-drawn Hawaiian leaf in indigo has all the groove of 1990s California. This bonhomie is a welcome tonic after a year of uncertainty. ‘The pandemic is the start of something else, a complete change of paradigm. It will change the way we look at life, the way we look at our responsibilities, our way of consuming,’ Herlory says. ‘Each time we do something, we question ourselves. It’s a virtuous circle; politics will never change the world, but citizens can.’
The company is committed to furthering research into more sustainable and responsible practices that better respect the planet. Today, 62 per cent of the anniversary collection uses recycled fabrics and 50 per cent of the brand’s total collections use materials made from garbage and nets collected in the oceans by fishermen. Herlory’s aim is to get this to 80 per cent by 2024. ‘We didn’t move into this direction because of Covid, it is a project we started four years ago. The reality is that we do not have the resources to continue as we are doing now, so we all need to find new solutions. It is our duty.’
The iconic Vilebrequin sea turtle logo has been given festive neopsychedelic ‘50’-shaped shells. It is symbolic of the brand’s partnership with Te mana o te moana, a Polynesian association which rescues marine species, providing them with care before releasing them back into the wild. ‘More and more I believe luxury business will be ecoresponsible, or will not be anymore. For me, luxury is about a level of quality, which means durability, which means consuming differently. If you buy something of good quality, you keep it,’ Herlory says.
Through the brand’s mending service, a second, third or fourth life is given to decades-old swim shorts, as inner briefs, lost drawstrings and zamac tips are replaced by the ateliers. The special-edition pieces each come with a one-time complimentary repair should they start to show any signs of ageing after years of sun, sea and frolic.
‘We resonate as a brand of pleasure and good times, family time, the best time of the year. My secret wish is that you glance at a pair of ten-year-old shorts in your drawer and you remember your holidays,’ concludes Herlory. ‘Our shorts carry memories. Good memories.’ ✱