The Founding Love Story Behind This Luxury French Swimwear Label

Vilebrequin's core product is still its $280 signature swim trunks

Vilebrequin introduced its matching Father and Son swimsuit line in 1995. Courtesy of Vilebrequin

Fred Prysquel was a man on a mission. The swashbuckling photographer/journalist had traveled the world in the 1960s, covering the Formula 1 racing scene. But this time Prysquel wasn’t after a story or a shot. It was the summer of 1971, and he’d come to St. Tropez to win the heart of a woman named Yvette.

OK, we know. This bit sounds like a bad imitation of an Ian Fleming novel. Except that it’s not. It’s real life. In fact, it’s the founding story of legendary swimsuit label Vilebrequin. Prysquel, explains CEO Roland Herlory, “didn’t want to do a business, he wanted to seduce a lady—and in the process, it became a business.”

1. ‘Son’ Size: In 1995, Vilebrequin introduced its Father and Son concept, which allows boys as young as 6 months old to don the same style trunks as their fathers. 2. Pattern: Vilebrequin is famed for its colorful nautical motifs like anchors, turtles, coral and, in this case, a fishnet.
Courtesy of Vilebrequin

Here’s how: For men in the late 1960s, the prevailing beach fashion was tight-fitting, low-rise briefs (think: Speedo). But Prysquel wasn’t comfortable wearing skimpy bottoms all day. Taking a cue from the boxer-style bathing suits he’d seen on surfers in Southern California, he went home, grabbed some colorful fabric he’d bought in Africa and stitched himself a pair of swimming trunks. When fellow beachcombers began asking Prysquel where he got his suit, he made a few pairs to sell and, well, you know how stuff like that ends up.

Today, Vilebrequin (French for “crankshaft,” a nod to Prysquel’s automotive passions) remains the largely unchallenged leader in luxury swimwear. It sells its goods in 62 countries, to men and women, and has ventured into extensions like sunglasses and even après skiwear. But the core product is still that pair of swim trunks in the signature style (marine-themed prints in tropical colors) and signature cut (called the Moorea)—and it’s all yours for just $280.

Fred Prysquel (above in 1972) sewed his own pair of swim trunks (early designs at left) so he’d be comfortable as he pursued his seaside paramour. Today, the standards he established (such as high-quality fabric printing and braided stitching, above right) are still upheld by the firm.
Courtesy of Vilebrequin

Which is pricey even by French Riviera standards. And, true, you can get a similar-looking pair of easy-fitting designer trunks for much less. So why do people pay this kind of money—enough to help grow the brand by 73 percent since 2010—just to go swimming?

Courtesy of Vilebrequin

In a word, craftsmanship. Vilebrequin suits are made with a high-density polyamide yarn: spun in Italy, woven in Spain, then brushed soft enough to feel like cotton while it retains its colors and shape. Behind the festive nautical patterns, the suits feature braided-thread stitching, double hems, reinforced pockets and—most impressive of all—interior net lining and water-draining eyelets that reduce the “balloon” effect. (Dudes: The suit won’t stick to your privates when you emerge from the water.)

To Herlory’s way of thinking, Vilebrequin is more of a lifestyle-by-the-sea brand than one than simply makes swimwear. “When you’re on the beach,” as he puts it, “you don’t have many ways to be elegant.”

Forty-six years ago, that was the thinking of Fred Prysquel, too, and whether or not his luck had to do with his bathing suit, he did wind up marrying Yvette.

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.