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WHITEWALL PRESENTS WITH Vilebrequin and The Art of Swim

Roland Herlory on Five Decades of Vilebrequin


Roland Herlory on Five Decades of Vilebrequin

51 years ago, Vilebrequin was founded by Fred Prysquel, an automobile journalist who was vacationing in St. Tropez. Unsatisfied with his beach attire, he imagined a swimsuit that was well-constructed, design-savvy, and flattering. After designing his own, many beachgoers took notice and requested similar pieces. Right there on the beach, a brand was born.

Over the past five decades, Vilebrequin has grown to include new categories and collaborations. In 2012, when Roland Herlory joined as CEO, he brought a zest for innovation and expansion, complementing swimwear with other items fit for the beach—including accessories like totes and hats. In 2015 he launched a new collectible series of bathing suits designed by contemporary artists, starting with Italian photographer Massimo Vitali. Later collaborations have included garments and accessories adorned with art by Derrick Adams, Hunt Slonem, Alex Israel, Karl Lagerfeld, Donald Sultan, and more.

“The way we interpret the present moment, our time, is through artists,” said Herlory of Vilebrequin’s Artists’ Editions. “We find new solutions and reproduce the artist’s world as closely as possible. It’s a way of innovating and growing, while still remaining loyal to who we are.”       

Courtesy of Vilebrequin.


Most recently, Vilebrequin teamed up with JRP|Editions to curate an edit of new prints designed by Kenny Scharf, Sylvie Fleury, John M Armleder, and Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont of “Deux Femmes Noires.” Each collection is true to the creator’s voice and vision, executed with the brand’s know-how of applying art to eye-catching clothing. Swimwear, ready-to-wear garments, accessories, and more are seen through each artist’s lens for exciting prints based on new ideas, existing artworks, today’s culture, and more.

Whitewall spoke with Herlory to learn more about the process of collaborating with artists, how the pandemic impacted his view of vacation, and why Vilebrequin will always be rooted in quality, elegance, and the art of living at the beach.   

Vilebrequin Vilebrequin x Sylvie Fleury, courtesy of Vilebrequin.

WHITEWALL: Vilebrequin celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. How would you describe the brand’s evolution?

ROLAND HERLORY: Remaining true to the DNA of the brand is a way of growing and evolving. We remain loyal and faithful to who we are. For me, that’s the only way I know to move forward.

Staying loyal means focusing on quality, on the swimsuits, and on building an art of living at the beach. Meanwhile, we’re working to slowly expand our territory, venturing into new innovations and projects, starting with fabric and prints. We just launched, for instance, a collaboration with Woolmark, featuring the first swimsuits made from 100% Merino wool. I wanted to invest in natural fibers, but it took us three years of research to make wool water-friendly.

The way of spinning the yarn before it’s woven makes it water-repellent. So, you have a bathing suit which is 100 percent wool—as light as a beautiful Hermès suit. It’s naturally thermo-regulating, so it’s cool when it’s warm out and vice versa. Merino wool is very comfortable, and the drape is particularly elegant!

The way we interpret the present moment, our time, is through artists. We’re trying to find the meeting point between two worlds for, as we say in French, arts appliqués—applied arts. Then, we take our know-how outside our comfort zones, seeking out new solutions to interpret the original as faithfully as possible. That’s another form of innovation that reflects our brand DNA.

Vilebrequin Vilebrequin x Alex Israel, courtesy of Vilebrequin.

WW: The brand has been closely linked to the art world for some time now. Where did your interest in art begin?

RH: I’m an art collector and have been collecting for decades. What I love about contemporary art is that it’s an expression of our times. It’s interesting because what we are doing now with JRP|Editions is personal. Because I’m an art lover, I always feel very reluctant about mixing fashion and art because they are two very different worlds. Fashion speaks to products with a function; art speaks to a spirit, an expression, which questions your mind. It has no function, it’s purely intellectual and emotional. Mixing them is quite challenging if we want to be respectful to art, but there are crossovers to be found.

I was discussing this at length with Lionel Bovier—the director of MAMCO, The Museum of Modern Art in Geneva—and telling him how cautious I was about doing it because I didn’t want to downgrade the art. He told me, “Before I was Director of the museum, more than 20 years ago, I created a publishing house specialized in art books. And I can tell you, in some cases, for artists, printing their work on paper or on fabric is very respectful because it’s part of their process—the way they think of their art. It can be very legitimate.”

So, I said, “Great. Be my curator. Choose the artists you believe are strong and those whose works we can be respectful to on swimsuits, and we’ll do it together.” That’s how it started. He said he could connect us, and ensure that doing swimwear would be respectful of the thought process behind their work.

What I want with this collaboration is to do an exhibition. I hope that our curated line will be so strong that we can exhibit it as an expression of art. I don’t consider swimsuits works of art, but they can say something about what artists are doing. And it’s meaningful.

Vilebrequin x Derrick Adams, courtesy of Vilebrequin.


WW: What is it like collaborating with a contemporary artist to turn their work on a canvas into fabric?

RH: It’s a long process. We have to push the technical boundaries to innovate, and for the artist to surrender a certain amount of control can be stressful. So, it’s dialogue, dialogue, dialogue to understand each other, our limits, and the spirit of the artist. It pushes us to strive for excellence to be at the level of the artist.

With JRP|Editions, we have the Museum Director, Lionel Bovier, and the CEO, Arnaud Hubert. Arnaud is the intermediary between us and the artists, and thanks to him and his sense of dialogue and exchange, we can do things we are proud of on both sides. Some artists are heavily involved, others less so. It’s a question of personality, but that’s what makes the project interesting. Everybody acts differently. The only common ingredient is dialogue.

Vilebrequin Vilebrequin x Massimo Vitali, courtesy of Vilebrequin.

WW: In 2015, Vilebrequin began collaborating with artists—first with Massimo Vitali. Today, we’re seeing new prints from artists like Kenny Scharf, Sylvie Fleury, and John Armleder. Why did you choose to work with these artists for the latest collection?

RH: These specific artists were selected by Lionel Bovier of JRP|Editions because, for him, we could achieve a natural expression of their work using swimsuits as a support. Then, of course, the strengths of their work and the quality of the expression, the force of this expression, was exactly what we were looking for.

Kenny Scharf is full of color, full of joy. It has a streetwear expression, and it matches our spirit of vacation very well. Sylvie works with luxury products; her whole work is informed by seduction and consumption, and the luxury world plays a big part in it. That’s why we chose flames, which are typically used to decorate the cars. “Vilebrequin” in English means “crankshaft” because the guy who created the brand, Fred Prysquel, was passionate about cars. He was a motor racing journalist, and he named the brand after that. So when we approached Sylvie, she said, “I know exactly what I want to do. Of course, you do bathing suits, but it’s about cars. And that’s part of my work.”

For John, it was different. One print is an abstract expression where he took the colors from the painting and used some accidents in his movements, and used the brush to mix both. It’s super colorful and aesthetic. For the second print, he wanted to have something more conceptual, so he chose an ice cube that’s becoming water.

In a few months, you’ll see our next one with Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont. They were the most inspired about doing products. They offered us multiple products, because they were full of ideas about what they wanted to do. The capsule was so extensive that we didn’t have time to develop it all for this year, so we’re doing it next summer! It’s about collage, and the way she wanted it to be printed on the products was extremely precise.

Every artist is different, but what I like is that we know these artists are masters. We have a few different artists at once, yet they are all, each in their own right, masters.

Vilebrequin Vilebrequin x John M Armeleder, courtesy of Vilebrequin.

WW: In 2017, you also mentioned, “We always select artists who are connected to our roots and our spirit.” With these new artist collaborations—and with brands like the Four Seasons—what does collaboration bring to design?

RH: It’s a laboratory that pushes us into unknown territory. It’s a way for us to communicate and create strong moments instead of just doing our usual collections. It gives us something exciting to talk about. That’s why with collaborations, each time, we have to do it well. With Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont, we were not on schedule because we had so many ideas; we had to push it back—and that’s not a problem. What’s most interesting for me is learning. When you have to mix two worlds, respectfully, you have to change your mindset and your way of doing things. Collaborations are a way of mixing two worlds and going beyond what you’re used to. 

WW: How did the pandemic impact your idea of the brand? Vacation?

RH: Of course, it has been very difficult for us because during the pandemic, people could not travel—and our brand is about traveling. It’s about going to the seaside and enjoying vacation. In the end, it has emphasized the value of this opportunity, this possibility, to travel. Suddenly, for so many people, they realized what was normal was no longer “normal.” They realized it could disappear. It gives more value, more pleasure, more intensity to this possibility of the beautiful escape. Now that it’s back, it has more flavor. It’s more tasteful. And it’s good to realize how lucky we are.

WW: What is a typical day like at Vilebrequin for you?

RH: They’re all different, hopefully.My greatest passion is working with the studio and the products—that’s where I come from. The truth is in the product. But I also love being in the stores. I travel a lot. I’m not big on e-mailing, and I don’t like managing from a distance. I was so sad during the pandemic that I had to Zoom all day long. That’s not my way of doing things. Half of what I do is understanding body language and energy when I’m in front of somebody. And managing is about understanding people. I’m always either in the stores, the studio, the factory, or in the offices. But I’m always on the move; I’m never somewhere for long. I need to capture the energy of people to understand my role. That’s my mirror and it helps tell me where I can be useful.

Vilebrequin Vilebrequin x Kenny Scharf, courtesy of Vilebrequin.

WW: What does the brand mean to you?

RH: What I want it to mean to the client is an art of living at the beach, with playful and carefree elegance. That’s what I want for Vilebrequin. When I talk about an “art”, it’s about giving meaning to swimsuits. With Woolmark, that meant expanding the territory of natural fibers to make them water-compatible. This elegance is the absolute expression of the brand.

As for what it means to me, of course, it’s slightly different because it’s my daily life. I never stop working. I’m always “on,” so it’s absolutely part of me. I can feel the company in my flesh. It’s part of my body, and I’m happy and proud of it. I try to do the best I can to reach excellence and always upgrade what we do because it’s about being proud of what you do. If you spend so much time working, and you’re not proud of what you do, it’s a loss of time. And time is precious.



John M Armleder Vilebrequin JRP|Editions
The work of the lauded Swiss artist cleverly moves from canvas to swimwear.
Vilebrequin x Sylvie Fleury
The artist's collection is ablaze in pop culture references.
The artist applies his recognizable touch to an expressive collection of wearable, playable art.




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