Swimwear has evolved through countless trends over the years, from the full-body getups of the Victorian era through the ooh-matron stir caused by the introduction of the bikini in the mid-1940s.
One of the most popular luxury swimwear brands to ride the waves of summer style is Vilebrequin, created by journalist and photographer Fred Prysquel in 1971.
This year marks the brand's 50th anniversary – and celebrates the milestone with a men’s swimwear collection, which takes design inspiration from the previous five decades to create a 50-piece collection of swimming shorts – one design for each year of the brand's history.
To mark the occasion, we’ve taking a look back over the swimwear giant’s history from its beginnings in a Saint Tropez café all the way through to global domination.
Sports automobile journalist and photographer Fred Prysquel created his first swimwear design on a paper tablecloth in 1971, while sitting in a Saint Tropezian cafe. Inspired by the spirit of the town, as well as the swimsuits of surfers at the time, Prysquel designed a longer boxer short-style which was much shorter and more fitted than other styles on the market at the time.
He wanted to craft a swimsuit that was bright, colourful and would dry quickly in the sun. It was a sensation that friends and acquaintances instantly wanted in on. In the coming years, the brand would take off even further, with highlights including the sponsorship of Jean-Louis Trintignant in 1976 at the Rallye du Var.
Early in the 1990s, Prysquel sold the trademark and the brand was taken over officially in 1991 by fellow Saint Tropezian and textile specialist Loic Berthet. He expanded the styles Vilebrequin offered and gave the business a revival. His designs were innovative, from Velcro-secured back pockets on men’s swim trunks to the materials used, such as stainless steel eyelet holes and cotton linings.
With the enhanced selection, Vilebrequin became the reference for men’s swimwear and maintained its popularity around the world.
In 1994, the business pioneered the ‘father and son’ concept, adding in boy’s garments to their repertoire. Over the course of the decade and into the 2000s, Vilebrequin expanded on a global scale, opening stores in London, Alassio, Paris, Geneva, New York, Madrid and Hong Kong.
Vilebrequin was acquired in 2012 by G-III Apparel Group, who also licensed the likes of Karl Lagerfeld Paris and Calvin Klein. It was a year of changes, as the brand also gained a new CEO in the form of Roland Herlory, previous managing director for Hermes.
In 2015, after over 40 years specialising in men’s swimwear, Vilebrequin launched its first women’s line and also began designing and supplying beach accessories and resort wear collections. By this point in swimwear’s history, women’s swim fashions were designed to make a statement and that’s precisely what Vilebrequin’s designs catered to, embodying the same level of fun and colour as it did decades before.
In 2016, the brand worked with world-renowned photographer Massimo Vitali who created a unique swimwear designed with a 360o pattern. Vitali’s pictures focused on the architecture of leisure and the bodies inhabiting these structures. And indeed, this was the perfect print for Vilebrequin’s special collection which embodied both the luxury and leisurely lifestyle, be this round a stunning private pool or a public beach in St Barths.
The brand also made public commitments to help the Polynesian association Te Mana O Te Moana save sea turtles, donating more than $50,000 in 2016 and 2017 to the organisation via the sales of their Mappemonde Dots swimsuit.
Following the success of the campaign, in 2018, Vilebrequin also committed to the RED association to fight AIDS, donating $15 of the purchase of every RED swim trunk to help support work in sub-Saharan Africa via the Global Fund.
In 2019, the brand experienced a host of successes as a business. They launched a range of shorter, stretchier swim trunks made from 100% recycled polyester from plastic waste recovered from the Mediterranean sea. The range contributed towards removing 1 kilo of waste from the sea for every kilo of recycled polyester yarn produced. They also embraced a new wave of chic and stylish sportswear that had a more carefree spirit and trod the line between elegance, luxury and fun with impeccable balance.
The Long and the Short of It
Over the years, Vilebrequin has remained innovative and adaptable to the ever-changing styles in the fashion industry. As one of the most elegant and luxurious swimwear brands on the market, it’s managed to stay on-trend since the first design in 1971.
From working with charitable organisations to committing to creating products from sustainable materials and utilising ocean waste, Vilebrequin has also managed to use its brand power to help the planet and support different groups as well.
Its casual elegance and fun designs have helped shape Vilebrequin as a brand that can cater to all ages – as well as throughout the ages.
Learn more about the brand.