Since being headhunted by G-III Apparel Group’s CEO, who was keen to know who was selling his wife so much Hermès, Roland Herlory has been overseeing operations at Vilebrequin – a brand synonymous with St Tropez – from his home in St Barths (albiet with regular trips to Paris and Geneva).

Herlory, a self-proclaimed beach bum, recognises that Vilebrequin’s 45-year success is based on a perfect balance of fun and elegance – which means you’ll find shorts covered in the Rolling Stones’ back catalogue on one end of the rail, and a £9,400 pair embroidered with gold thread at the other. He sat down with Robb Report to share a little of what he’s learned

On ‘the art of living’…

‘The ’70s was a legendary time. There was a change in society – a change in the way we lived. Before then, society was very conservative – St Tropez was really a catalyst for a new way of free living. St Tropez in the ’70s is part of Vilebrequin’s history. My generation and your generation come from what happened there – the values of freedom, humour and fun. It’s the origin of the art of living – it was liberation. We come from peace and love.’

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‘The origin of Vilebrequin is a love story. There was man, Fred Prysquel, the company’s founder. He was a journalist who covered all the Formula 1 racing. Mechanics was his passion. He fell in love with a lady who was living in St Tropez so he decided to move to there to seduce her. They spent their days on the beach. At the time the trend was to have the very narrow shorts or briefs, but he didn’t feel comfortable in them, so he designed a short for himself. As he was a journalist he’d travelled in many places around the world – he’d seen the surfers in California and Australia and he had some colourful fabrics from Africa. But instead of making a performance short he made them for the art of living – not to perform but to enjoy. He created what has become the first swim short of modern times – not for performance but to seduce a lady.’

On life and business, and succeeding at both…

‘The success of the brand is down to the quality of the product but also the ability to find the meeting point between contradictory values – fantasy and elegance. That’s what’s interesting not only in business, but in life. When you’re on one side or the other side, that’s not interesting. Being radical is being able to find the perfect balance between antagonising forces. It forces you to move and take risks but it’s a magical point. For me a successful life is when you’re able to get that excitement of finding the precise point. It’s like walking a tightrope. Mixing the antagonism is the key to success: mixing the fantasy – pink shrimps and elephants – with elegance. Sometimes elegance is boring, and fantasy is not so elegant, so it’s about finding that perfect point.’

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On bathing suits…

‘Vilebrequin isn’t just St Tropez, it’s beach style. We’ve kept the DNA – the humour the freedom – the specific flavour. Each time we do a product we think, ‘Is it in the flavour of St Tropez in the ‘70s – not today?’ We plan for that spirit but then we plan for how to live today on the beach. How to enjoy your vacations. And a vacation is holy time – sacred – and we want to be a part of it. I’m in the business of making people happy by providing good products – products which are inspiring, products of quality, products that you’re going to keep for years. Because when you feel good you are more seductive.’

On beach life…

‘I live by the sea nearly all year. For me, in St Barth or St Tropez it’s all about the quality of the light. When you wake up in the morning the light is pure; there is something transparent about the intensity. Like today for example, you have blue sky, the light is strong and it makes you happy. Compare that to the grey cloud and the dirty light… These places you have a very bright, intense light and that’s what makes me happy. For me it’s about working on the beach at sunset and being able to swim every day.’

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On luxury…

‘It’s quality that lasts. For me luxury is something you’re going to keep your whole life, something you would repair, something that will last forever. It’s also a design or style which expresses intelligence of creation.’

On his dream ambassador…

‘Jacques Dutron is a singer from the same period as Serge Gainsbourg. His son Thomas encapsulates the spirit of the ‘70s – real freedom. He’s cool but elegant and super-talented. I love the mix of the coolness and the talent. I also wanted to ask Pierre Niney, the French actor who starred in Saint Laurent the movie – he’s super, super talented and very elegant but I don’t know if he’s funny enough for us…’ vilebrequin.com

Alex Moore