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Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
July 7, 2022
The story begins at Café des Bains in Geneva, where an evening of friends and a first conversation takes place. The idea between Vilebrequin’s CEO Roland Herlory, JRP|Editions’s CEO Arnaud Hubert, and MAMCO Geneva’s Director Lionel Bovier to create a new collection of artist-designed swimwear is born.
Bringing together the luxury French swimwear brand, the edition expertise of publishing house JRP|Editions, and the curatorial mind of Bovier, it was a welcome collaboration that offered all parties a chance to dream of art-filled tropical locales at a time when travel was restricted. “These were challenging times for us, because Vilebrequin is all about travel,” Herlory told Whitewall. “We wanted to prepare for our clients an extraordinary experience for when restrictions would be finally lifted. One filled with art, poetry, and the dream of a beautiful escape.” Beginning in the early months of the pandemic in 2020, Hubert and Bovier got to work, reaching out to artists in their circle who they thought would be a good fit.
The first ask was artist John M Armelder, a longtime friend and collaborator of Bovier’s and member of JRP | Editions’s advisory board. Sylvie Fleury was the next obvious choice, known for her critical engagement with luxury consumer culture—like her Kelly bag (1998) and Chanel Yeti Boots (2019). Next, Hubert suggested Kenny Scharf, whose experience and celebration of the fashion world translated into not one but two collections with Vilebrequin: “Faces in Places” and “Tortues Multico Rainbow” comprised of swim shorts, shirts, hats, bags, a paddleball set, and more.
The swim series by Armleder, Fleury, and Scharf debuted this summer, and are now available to purchase in stores and online. A final collection by Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont of Deux Femmes Noires launches later this year in December.
Whitewall spoke with Hubert and Bovier about the process of bringing art off the walls and onto the beach.
WHITEWALL: What was the starting point for this collaboration between Vilebrequin and JRP|Editions?
ARNAUD HUBERT: I’ve run a restaurant in Geneva called Café des Bains for ten years. This is how I met Lionel and Roland. I had a few meetings with Roland talking about how we can work together, and then we organized a dinner with Lionel to discuss more concretely how we should proceed.
LIONEL BOVIER: It was 2020, and just to think about the vacations on the sea, beachwear—that was quite a nice horizon to occupy our mind from the topic at the time.
A bathing suit is a bathing suit. It’s like a canvas, in a sense. It was easy to envision something that would make sense for the artist and that would look good on a bathing suit. It started as a nice conversation with our network of artists at JRP.
WW: How did you arrive at Armleder, Scharf, Fleury, and of Deux Femmes Noires?
LB: Personally, every time I start something new, I start it with my friend John M Armleder. So, I decided that I should not change that formula and I asked him. Sylvie Fleury was a very logical choice. She has had a dialogue, and sometimes even a conflicting dialogue, with the fashion industry. It made total sense. And then because these two first artists were Swiss, we thought of addressing a different audience. Arnaud came up with Kenny Scharf, with whom he was working on other projects. And then with Deux Femmes Noires, they had the idea of a platform as something that would go beyond the art world. It felt like the right idea to ask them if they would be interested to do so.
WW: Can you tell us about that conversation with John Armleder?
LB: John has always been thinking in his work that painting is not the only way to do art. In a way, it was very simple to use some of his motifs and apply them to beachwear. It was really extremely fast and fun. He’s done a lot of, I would say, secondary products, applying some of his vocabulary to a tie or a cuff link, which he expanded over the last 30 years in various directions.
WW: And Sylvie Fleury?
LB: With Sylvie Fleury, it was a bit more complex because some of her work is dealing with the issues that the design world and the fashion world are imbued with. We worked with a flame motif that we thought would be efficient. She used it in different ways before, in terms of wall paintings and installation, and then that was applied to a limited range of products. The ones we wanted initially were the ones she wanted, also. She thought, “Oh, I could use that rash guard for myself.”
She has been contacted many times by fashion brands to do something, and she was always a bit hesitant. When she was offered to design handbags, she always refused, because she her work is sometimes appropriating the design of handbags. I think it worked out because the motif we used is a motif that comes from car culture. The motif signifies speed and change. To apply it to a trunk, there is no confusion of what it is. It’s not an artwork by Sylvie Fleury, it’s a trunk that has been designed by Sylvie Fleury. Which I think was one of the important things.
WW: What about Kenny Scharf?
LB: Kenny Scharf has a great experience with the fashion world. The possibilities are quite unlimited.
AH: It was really a conversation between his studio, Lionel, myself, and Vilebrequin and looking at the archive and picking the right motif.
WW: And the forthcoming collection with Deux Femmes Noires?
AH: And Deux Femmes Noires, they had said they always wanted to do a swimwear collaboration, so it was a no-brainer for them. They were very invested in the conversation, idea, and proposal.
WW: Do you have any personal favorites, or plans to wear the collection this summer?
LB: I will definitely do so. For me it was one of the incentives to think of something else in 2020, and to make myself a collection of trunks that I would be excited to wear to sport on the beach.
AH: We did the creating of the collection thinking about wearing it, so we will wear it, of course.