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St. Tropez Short Cut
Tristan Rutherford
31st January 2019

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St. Tropez Short Cut

The wedding of Mick and Bianca Jagger wasn’t St Tropez’s biggest story of 1971. That summer the Vilebrequin swimwear company, which paired spinnaker sails with Provençal élan, was born near place des Lices. This season Vilebrequin draws inspiration from the yachting destinations of St Barths, Phuket and the Seychelles. Purchase your pair from any leading hotel, from the Cipriani to Four Seasons Maui.

Vilebrequin began with a love story. In the summer of 1971 racing car journalist Fred Prysquel moved to St Tropez to impress a local girl named Yvette. Despite the town’s beachfront position, Prysquel found the swimming trunks for sale around place de Lices saggy and unbecoming. Armed with a pair of scissors, he carved material from yacht spinnakers into American-style surf shorts. The trunks were cool and comfy. They dried quickly in the Riviera breeze. More importantly, the girl of his dreams fell for him. And every guy in the Vieux Port wanted a pair too.

Prysquel needed a name for the brand. In homage to his career reporting Formula 1, he christened his new store Vilebrequin after the Gallic word for crankshaft (which sounds far nicer in French). As racing driver Jackie Stewart won the Grand Prix at the nearby Circuit Paul Ricard, Prysquel scoured St Tropez for seamstresses. Vintage sewing machines chattered through the night. By dawn more lightweight shorts were folded and displayed to be sold throughout the day.
It turned out that 1971 was a fine time to start a home-spun, if knowingly chic, swimwear brand. Nearly five decades ago St Tropez offered a ray of light to a weary world. As the United States struggled through Vietnam, the American photographer Slim Aarons snapped sybaritic scenes on plage de Pampelonne. Here bare-chested blondes cavorted on the sand, while luxury cruisers twinkled offshore. Aarons even captured a portrait of tropezienne girls looking sexy outside a boucherie on rue de Commerçants. (It’s worth noting that the era’s Top 20 largest yachts included Philante, now the Norwegian royal yacht M/Y Norge, built by Camper & Nicholsons in 1937.

The Rolling Stones had also redirected the spotlight far from austerity Britain. In 1971, they declared themselves exiles from the United Kingdom’s 90% income tax by fleeing to the South of France. Mick Jagger’s wedding to Nicaraguan actress Bianca Perez- Mora Macias proved the highlight of St Tropez’s social calendar. It was a chaotic affair.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr had to be seated far apart due to a legal dispute. Keith Richards and Brigitte Bardot’s ex-husband Roger Vadim both claimed to be Jagger’s best man. After the ceremony the newlyweds sped to Café des Arts on place des Lices near the original Vilebrequin store. The café still serves the coupes of champagne and Tarte Tropézienne pastries enjoyed by Mick and Bianca today.

Unlike the Jagger marriage, Vilebrequin became a St Tropez success story. Prysquel added other styles of shorts to his classic Moorea cut. These include the more fitted Merise. Plus the MEV71, an elasticated shortie that harks back to 1970s images of Jean-Paul Belmondo reading Var-Matin in Café Sénéquier. The brand also firmed up its Toujours au Soleil ethos. By creating two annual collections called ‘High Summer’ and ‘Spring Summer’ it could blast out blatantly beachy swimwear - and later bikinis, beach towels and accessories - 12 months a year. A final innovation was the Père & Fils collections for fathers and sons aged from six months up. Style wasn’t limited to age, only to the garment’s place of purchase, be it La Mamounia, the Eden-Roc or the Fairmont Acapulco.

Vilebrequin’s latest showing shifts another gear. Their 2019 collection is inspired by "St Barths, Tulum, Phuket and the Seychelles". It’s no coincidence that all four are yachting destinations du jour. Some commentators prefer the brand’s recent collaboration with monochromatic fashionista Karl Lagerfeld. His designs impose black and white Seventies silhouettes onto beach tunics and clutch bags. For us nothing shouts St Tropez like a classic pair of Vilebrequin shorts - or a glass of pastis on a Camper & Nicholsons yacht.