Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
August 16, 2022
The artist Sylvie Fleury joins Kenny Scharf and John M Armleder in adding her mark to a collection of Vilebrequin swimwear this summer, in collaboration with JRP|Editions. Fleury set her series of black swimsuits ablaze (figuratively, that is) in gradient blue-to-purple flames, not unlike a motif you’d see sprayed across the chrome doors of a hot rod racing car. The flame print can be found on a one-piece rash guard, a pair of men’s swim trunks, a halter-tie bikini, and a beach towel. Employing her signature tongue-in-cheek wink, the pattern is one we’ve seen before in the Swiss artist’s work—known for poking and prodding at the values and trends around contemporary consumer culture.
“Sylvie Fleury was a very logical choice,” said Director MAMCO Geneva, Lionel Bovier, whose expertise in the art world came into play when imagining the Vilebrequin x JRP|Editions collaboration. “She has had a dialogue—and sometimes even a conflicting dialogue—with the fashion industry. Her work is both encompassing and a critique of that fashion industry.”
Those familiar with Fleury’s work may have seen pieces like her 1998 Kelly bag, which recreates the iconic Hermès handbag shape in chromed bronze; Gates of hell, the series of theatrical flame-laden hanging textiles; the 2020 wall-work reading “SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS” atop an alarming red backdrop; and her 1999 Formula One Dress, which transformed a racecar driver’s uniform into a long dress with a hem of flames sewn into the lining. Playing with scale, material, color, and texture, the objects Fleury creates—standing within the context of a gallery—pose questions about societal desires and aspirations.
Whether it’s neon verbiage, metal-cast designer pumps, or recreations of ad slogans or packaging, Fleury’s gift is in creating enticing visuals that seem worthy of the descriptor “normal” in the context of current cultural norms, but which leave viewers with a lingering feeling of unease as they question the meaning of what it is they’re actually experiencing—which we’d speculate is a tactful win on behalf of the artist.
Given the nature of her work, Fleury has rarely collaborated on products, but jumped at the chance to design swimwear, exploring the customization of clothes both for future customers and for herself. Fleury shared with Whitewall how the collection began with her own desire for a good swimsuit.
WHITEWALL: How did you arrive at the work, “Hot Rod,” for the bathing suits and accessories?
SYLVIE FLEURY: It's always good to have a hot bathing suit!
WW: Where did your exploration of hot rod culture begin? What does this motif of the flame represent for you?
SF: It deals with the practice of alchemy, fire representing conversion or passion.
WW: These are flames we would see on specially customized cars, trucks, or maybe even a tattoo. How do these pieces speak to the human desire to “customize”?
SF: Sometimes one wants to say how he or she feels through the clothes he’s wearing. Or she or he might feel the opposite the next day… that’s what fashion is for.
WW: Your work investigates our relationship with value, luxury, and consumption. How are you thinking about that relationship when collaborating with a luxury brand on a series of products?
SF: I am quite selfish and think about what my needs are. In this particular case, I needed a neoprene that looks good.
WW: Fashion and luxury brands have been subjects of your work, and you’ve created pieces like the Formula One dress (which used the flame motif, as well). In this case, what is it like to see your work translated to textile?
SF: It’s a hobby of mine to translate ideas into objects. So it came very naturally.
WW: Is there an aspect of this collaboration with Vilebrequin you’re bringing back to the studio?
SF: Possibly I would very much enjoy a self-portrait on the beach wearing an evening gown surrounded by 20 surfers wearing the flame boxer shorts.
WW: Do you have any current projects or plans for the summer you can share?
SF: Looking for the right beach to complete this project.