Shorts stories: Vilebrequin marks its 50th anniversary
St Tropez swimwear brand Vilebrequin celebrates 50 years of bold strokes
A typical summer’s day in Saint-Tropez circa 1971 was a party fuelled by possibility. Brigitte Bardot sunbathed on the beach, Romy Schneider and Alain Delon 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 with a spiral staircase on rue Sibille.
Post-1968, the French Riviera was host to a generation hellbent 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 full employment, 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 the team looked back 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 – of rethinking. ‘The year 2021 is the start of something else, a complete change of paradigm. It is something that will change our way of consuming, the way we look at life, the way we look at our responsibilities. It is really a return to the essentials,’ Herlory says.
‘Each time we do something, we question ourselves. This approach of everybody being responsible is a virtuous circle because 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 decide to 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 neo-psychedelic ‘50’-shaped shells. It is symbolic of the brand’s partnership with Te mana o te moana – a Polynesian association that rescues marine species, providing them with care before releasing them back into the wild. ‘More and more I believe luxury business will be eco-responsible, or will not be anymore. For me, luxury is about a level of quality, which means durability, which means people consume 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 stainless steel 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. Our shorts carry memories. Good memories.’ §