Beyond the beach
Vilebrequin has just opened their third store in Dubai, at The Dubai Mall. They’ve also just launched their first ever cold-weather collection for the winter, their Aspin Collection, featuring jackets and other essentials for the impending ski season. While it’s not too relevant to Dubai, their High Summer 15 collection most certainly is and the brand has future plans that go far beyond the beach. We caught up with CEO Roland Herlory about the future of the luxury beachwear brand when he was in the region last month.
ESQUIRE: You were last in Dubai nearly three years ago when you launched the trunks with the gold thread?
ROLAND HERLORY: Yes, and you know we produced 40 pieces. They cost around Dhs28,000 each and we sold 37 immediately.
ESQ: Just in Dubai?
RH: No, all around the world. We sold one in Hong Kong, one in Mexico, one in Brazil, we sold in many places in Europe, one in France, England, Russia, one in Ukraine, two in the US. We sold them everywhere!
ESQ: It’s interesting that the whole world were buying them. I thought it would have been just this region
RH: They are an exceptional piece. Every season we do another pattern. So this season, because we’ve just launched the first ski resort collection a month ago, the trunks have a print of two skiers in the gold thread, and the drawstring has solid gold tips. We’ve also made a trunk with really blue sapphires at the end of the drawstring, just to push the limit a little bit further.
ESQ: Your new Aspen collection is a brilliant idea because the people who shop at Vilebrequin are probably doing the the winter ski season too
RH: Yes, we want to target the family, and the family that goes to Saint-Tropez in the summer will go to St Moritz in the winter. The collection has the same mood, the same ambience, it’s still very colourful.
ESQ: You seem to be moving towards becoming an all-round lifestyle brand
RH: It is difficult to enlarge the territory of a brand, because you need to do it without losing your soul or your integrity. I want us to take our time and if we go to new territories we need to integrate, to digest, to appropriate, and to mix with our values, our DNA, our style and then step-by-step we can move forward. For instance, with the women’s collection that we launched two years ago, it is not just a collection but more of a capsule collection that we created using the codes of the men’s closet translated into womenswear. We have a long, unique history so the key to moving forward is to go deep into our roots and start from there. We will extend the womenswear, and we have accessories coming out soon too. We will present a shoe collection in March and then at the end of next year we’ll launch a sunglasses collection too.
Vilebrequin’s Aspin Collection (above) is for customers who summer in St Tropez but head to the ski slopes during the winter season.
ESQ: What can we expect from the shoe collection?
RH: They’re great. We’ll have boat shoes, flip flops, espadrilles, plimsolls. We’ve take our prints and colours and put them in footwear. The laces will be like our swim chords, with small tips at the end.
ESQ: In gold?
RH: Not gold. But you just gave me an idea! Why not?
ESQ: You guys were the first luxury swimwear brand when you launched in 1971, but now you have a lot of competition, is this shift a reaction to that?
RH: We have a lot of imitators, but that is the reality of business. Competition is only exciting. It pushes you into moving forward. We have a very unique history so we feel we’re a step ahead of everyone already. We can now focus on the more technical aspects of our products, like the 360 prints we now do on shorts. For us, we want to push the know-hows, the skills and investment into making a truly excellent product.
ESQ: And you’re doing limited edition collections?
RH: We can do. This guy I know helped us to find additional suppliers and he had been travelling all around the world to help us find new technologies for swimwear and I wanted to thank him. So we created an embroidered swimsuit with the names of all the places he went. It was a map print and had coloured initials of the countries embroidered of the places he’d been. It is very limited edition because it was just one piece. It is for him.
ESQ: Do you do that a lot?
No, but we should.
ESQ: What about a bespoke service?
RH: We do monogramming already, but I am not in favour of people being able to create their own designs.
ESQ: Why not?
RH: Because we have a style. I do not want to have the client creating our product in bad taste. We’re an elegant brand, and so I don’t want people asking us to make trunks that aren’t what we represent, such as bad colour combinations.
“We don’t do a bespoke service because I do not want to have the client creating our product in bad taste”
ESQ: Basically people have bad taste?
RH: Ha-ha, well everybody has their own job and own talent.
ESQ: How important is this region for you?
RH: Very important because you are very lucky – it is sunny all year long. You always need swimwear because it’s always summer. The second reason Dubai is particularly important for us, is that it’s a unique tourist location. People come here to enjoy the sun, the beach and swimming pool, so for us it’s a huge market. The Middle East counts for 10 percent of our worldwide sales.
ESQ: How many stores do you have here?
RH: We have three stores in Dubai, at Mall of the Emirates, Souk Madinat, and the one we just opened in The Dubai Mall. We have two stores in Kuwait. We will open next month in Doha, and we have two point of sales in Bahrain, and four in Saudi Arabia. We will also open in Egypt soon.
ESQ: Busy times. You’re also an avid art collector fan?
RH: Art is very important for me because around 15 years ago, I realised that I wanted to have a better understanding of the world now. The media focuses on really dramatic situations but the world is much larger than this and I believe artists have true freedom to express what’s going on in the world today. I love contemporary art.
ESQ: How does this spill over into your work?
RH: There is an Italian photographer, Massimo Vitali, who shoots beaches in Italy. I’m a big fan of his work as he’s been shooting beaches over the past 15 years because his theory is that humans are their true selves when they are unclothed on the beach. So he’s been documenting changes in society by taking pictures of people while they’re on the beach. I loved his work so I wanted to do a project with him, so he shot a beach for us and we printed in on a trunk. It sold out immediately.
The new Vilebrequin boutique is now open at The Dubai Mall, +971 4 339 8592