by Stephen Garner

2021 marks the 50th anniversary of swimwear brand Vilebrequin.

Founded in Saint-Tropez in 1971, the brand’s name, which is French for “crankshaft,” was inspired by the shape of the staircase in founder Fred Prysquel’s first store. A crankshaft, which is found at the heart of a motor car engine, gave him the idea for the brand name and the shape of the original logo.

In the 1970s, Saint-Tropez was the place to be. Where else could you casually run into Brigitte Bardot at the beach, stop by the Sénéquier Café for a drink with the likes of Romy Schneider and Alain Delon, go for a ride on Gunther Sachs’ Riva, enjoy a chat and a Gitane with Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, hang at the Gorille with Warhol, then party the night away at Mick Jagger’s wedding reception?

Provence’s once-sleepy fishing village had earned its reputation as a hotspot some years back. Come summer, the beautiful people flocked to the jewel of the French Riviera. But the ‘70s brought with them a new wave of freedom. It was here, in the thick of the fun, glamour, and color of 1971, that two young dreamers from Nîmes inadvertently changed the face of men’s swimwear.

To get the girl of his dreams, Fred bet everything on a swimsuit. Mad about motor racing, he’d spent the early part of his career covering Formula 1 races around the world. On returning to France in 1968, he headed straight down to Saint-Tropez in search of his childhood sweetheart, Yvette. His secret weapon: swim shorts. Influenced by his time abroad, they were like nothing the French Riviera had ever seen before. They moved with ease to rival the board shorts he’d spotted Californian surfers wearing, and wowed with their bright motifs reminiscent of African wax fabrics he’d come across in Senegal.

And the bet paid off! That summer on Saint-Tropez’s Moorea beach, Fred caught Yvette’s eye, grabbing the attention of his friends and a few celebs along the way. It was a bold move, admittedly: multipurpose trunks you could just as easily wear at the beach, on the streets, and to the disco. Talk about a revolution! Fred and Yvette got together (not just romantically speaking), and Vilebrequin was born.

Fast forward to 2021 and Vilebrequin is celebrating its 50th birthday. The brand is starting the party with its visual identity, which has been given a vintage-pop makeover for the occasion. Sea turtles — the brand’s long-standing muse — already have their costumes sorted: Neo-psychedelic “50”-shaped shells. Stickers echoing Vilebrequin’s take on life dance around them, while the iconic blue shade is tinged with lagoon, orange-yellow, and violet sunsets.

Specially designed by Studio Yorgo & Co, this standout branding identity is featured on a wide range of collector’s items including the limited-edition labels for the men’s anniversary collection and the spinnaker swimwear bags they come in. From packaging to store windows and, yes, stickers, everyone’s in on the fun.

Plus, the brand will also release a special capsule of 50 collector’s edition swim shorts, covering every year from 1971 to 2021. To re-create these models, Vilebrequin Studios had to dive deep into the brand’s archives… And they dug up some real gems in the process! That same free-spirited, funny, daring, and loveable DNA was everywhere, in every pair tailored since the early years in Saint-Tropez. Back then, Vilebrequin was the passion project of a couple who weren’t afraid to experiment — even if that meant using tablecloths or boat sails as fabric.

The hardest part? Narrowing it down to one design (just one!!) that perfectly captured the spirit of the year. Some were so delicious they deserved a remake exactly like the original; others have been playfully revisited here and there in the spirit of the decade. Any excuse to have fun! Richard René, creative director of Vilebrequin Studios since 2013, certainly had a good time: “We delved into Vilebrequin’s history from the early years through to the present day. By plunging into the archives, we were able to bring the House’s essence to light.” Each decade is marked by one or several Mistral embroidered shorts, only ever released as limited numbered pieces. They don’t come more collectible than that.

According to the brand, this anniversary is not only a chance for Vilebrequin to look back, but to focus on the road ahead. And at 50, the brand has never been more ocean-minded. In 2021, recycled or recyclable materials already represent 50 percent of Vilebrequin’s collections (among them 62 percent of its exclusive anniversary men’s swimwear collection); by 2025, that figure will rise to 80 percent.

As for ready-to-wear, there will be more natural fabrics used like Tencel (aka lyocell, made from eucalyptus pulp using non-toxic solvents in a closed-loop system), European linen, and organic cotton (Supima).

Plus, for its 50th birthday, Vilebrequin is offering its clients a one-time complimentary repair service on their special edition swimsuits should they start to show any signs of aging after years of sea and sun. Whether it’s the net lining, drawstring, Zamak tips, or even the elasticated waistband that needs mending, leave it to the experts to take a look “under the trunk.”

The 50th anniversary collection is now available at selected Vilebrequin flagships and at