Vilebrequin has tapped Los Angeles-based artist Alex Israel to help ride the commercial wave for holiday 2016. The heritage brand, founded in 1971 by Fred Prysquel, is embarking on its second artist collaboration after tapping photographer Massimo Vitali to create a print for its swim shorts last year.
Israel, known for his mixed-media artworks that often reference images from his native Los Angeles, interpreted an animated wave he created as part of a dream sequence for his forthcoming feature film-directing debut, “SPF-18.” In sketching the wave, Israel drew inspiration from Japanese painter Hokusai and Ken Price. It was after he had completed this sequence that Vilebrequin happened to contact him via his Instagram account.
“It was so timely because I had already brought this brand into my work. It’s a movie about teenage surfers and the boys’ costumes included an old pair of Vilebrequin trunks,” said Israel, who has also used elements of his film in other works, such as a sculpture of a wetsuit designed for the movie that he showed at the Huntington Library museum earlier this year. It is Israel’s first collaboration with a fashion brand outside of his own sunglasses line, Freeway Eyewear.
Vilebrequin’s global chief executive officer Roland Herlory said artist collaborations are part of a new strategy for the brand to tap into different worlds. “What I love is the human relationship. It is not about taking a pattern and printing it onto swimwear; it’s about mixing our universe. Alex’s style is joyful, happy and colorful. He is a master at mixing California symbols like sea and sand and Hollywood atmosphere with brands. It seemed obvious that he could intersect in our world with his own vocabulary,” Herlory said.
As a rule, Herlory, an avid art collector, doesn’t think art and fashion are a natural mix. “Art is about speaking to the mind and creating an intellectual reaction; fashion is useful. It’s two different worlds and finding the bridge between them is not easy. Some bridges are very fragile, and you need to be respectful of the art.”
He also noted that Prysquel was first inspired to create Vilebrequin after seeing California surfers wearing trunks in the Sixties, a time when most European men were wearing brief-style swimsuits. “You need a spark for the big bang, so we are going back to the original spark which made the big bang,” he said. As a nod to its origins, the new short will launch in Vilebrequin’s 18 U.S. stores and wholesale partners next month, then roll out to its stores in 57 other countries in February. The company currently operates 180 stores worldwide.
The company is also extending its reach having launched a women’s capsule two years ago that it has slowly been growing. As for its men’s business, Vilebrequin will expand its ath-leisure and ready-to-wear collection exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue and launch a watch license with a California-based brand in 2017.