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Indagare Insider: Vilebrequin CEO Roland Herlory on St-Tropez, St. Barth’s and Sustainable Travel

Founded in St-Tropez in 1971, high-end swimwear brand Vilebrequin has long captured the summertime glamour of the Mediterranean coast. But the company, known for its stylishly colorful patterns, has also evolved over the decades and taken on new initiatives, such as partnerships with eco organizations promoting conservation. Born in France, Vilebrequin’s CEO Roland Herlory now splits his time between St. Barth’s, Geneva and Paris. Indagare spoke with the ever-traveling exec about the brand’s mission, the power of travel and his favorite spots in Europe and the Caribbean.

Since its origin in St-Tropez, Vilebrequin has evoked images of Europe’s chicest summer hot spots. What are your favorite summertime destinations in Europe?

At Vilebrequin, we are always looking for the “New St-Tropez”…it’s a tradition! We have found a few: Menorca in Baleares, Guéthary in France, Cadaqués in Spain and some islands in Greece…for the hidden paradises…

But Europe has many pearls: the French Riviera, the Liguria and Amalfi coasts, Croatia, Sylt in North Germany—the list is endless! You can find a place for any taste.

What makes a resort town like St-Tropez stand the test of time? What makes people want to return? Why the nostalgia for such places?

St-Tropez was the home of many important movements and characters starting in the 1970s, a legendary time that lives on and creates an ethereal atmosphere, vibe and charm that you can’t find elsewhere. The image of Brigitte Bardot dancing barefoot in the bar is unforgettable. I think people come to St-Tropez to experience the same vibe and world of their idols. Even when crowded, St-Tropez keeps its charm. The whole presqu’île is an atmosphere apart from the rest of the world.

You have lived part-time on St. Barth’s for more than a decade. What is it like to live in two places?

St. Barth’s is a small paradise on earth: The crystal-clear turquoise waters, the best food in the Caribbean, the best shopping, world-class hotels and villas and, above all, the locals’ hospitality and character make this destination really unique. Its super small airport has protected the island from massive tourism, and landing there is an experience in itself.

Living in St. Barth’s is an exclusive experience. I’m lucky to be able to travel there for a few days as often as possible. Other times, I travel between Geneva and Paris, where we have offices, and visit new places to find potential store locations and understand each place’s characteristics. I get the best ideas when visiting stores or factories, and I am most productive when traveling. And when you travel this much, you are never bored!

What are your go-to spots on St. Barth’s?

For lunch, Le Toiny Beach offers the most authentic “beach lunch” in St. Barth’s. A Land Rover shuttle drives you down there. The beach is perfectly preserved, wild and a surf spot. I go to Villa Marie to enjoy the beautiful garden and swimming pool, tropical ambience and excellent food. I also like Fish Corner in Gustavia, a very small space hidden behind Café de L’Oubli. Managed by a local fisherman, it has the best fresh fish in town. And Le Barthelemy Hotel, on the lagoon, has the most beautiful turquoise colors of the island and is serene and beautiful. Good food, perfect service.

For dinner, L’Esprit offers the most inventive and creative cuisine on the island. The chef is an artist. I go to Bonito for the excellent food, fun ambience, sweetest service on the island and the harbor view at sunset. Hotel Christopher has a beautiful sunset atmosphere, sea views and absolutely amazing food—go for a drink at sunset and then dinner at the restaurant. And Le Tamarin has a unique and romantic tropical garden and excellent food.

For bars, I head to Quarter. Crossing through the storage, you discover a hidden rum bar with only three tables and more than 700 different rums!

For fun and food, head to Le Ti, a local party institution with live shows, DJs and dancing, and Nikki Beach for Sunday brunch.

My favorite yoga teacher is Diana Bourel. A unique experience.

I visit the St. Barth Municipal Museum, in an old Swedish house, to learn about local history and discover regular exhibitions.

When it comes to shopping, the best luxury world brands are in Gustavia (including Vilebrequin!). Don’t miss three local female designers who capture the spirit of St. Barts: Poupette St Barth, Lolita Jaca and Patti French West Indies. My favorite “Alibaba cavern” is Loulou’s, a souvenir shop where you always discover inexpensive, fun accessories.

I also recommend buying fresh vegetables and fruit at Ti Marché facing the old post office in Lorient, open from Thursday to Sunday. In the summer, try the fruits sapotillier, pomme cannelle, pomme liane, and corossol, which encapsulate the flavors of the island.

You also spend a lot of time in Paris. For travelers who want to head off the beaten path, do you have any favorite hidden gems in the city?

My favorite is a tiny Italian restaurant called I Ghiotti. It has just a few tables and the best Italian food I’ve ever had, and the owner’s wife advises on the best Italian wine pairings.

I love the Beaubourg Museum (Centre Pompidou), where you always discover gems among the permanent collection or new exhibitions. When going there, I always visit the terrace at Café Beaubourg in front and, if time permits, have lunch at Georges on the roof.

A visit to the Musée de la Vie romantique is so romantic!

A hammam at the Grande Mosquée de Paris in the 5th district is a must. 

A walk in Jardin du Palais Royal is a journey onto itself. It’s straight out of time, with perfect proportions and timeless charm.

If you have your credit card, stop at Le Grand Véfour for dinner or lunch. Guy Martin’s food is unforgettable.

My favorite walk is from Étoile (where I’ve had an apartment for 30 years), down the Champs-Élysées, through the Tuileries gardens and to Concorde. Then, I either go left to Castiglione street, Place Vendôme, Rue de la Paix and the opera, or go to the Louvre Museum, Cour Carrée and through Passerelle Des Arts (I particularly love crossing the river Seine) to Académie Française.

My favorite stops on the Left Bank are Brasserie Lipp on the Boulevard Saint-Germain for harengs pomme à l’huile and millefeuille and Café de la Mairie on Place Saint-Sulpice for its typical Parisian bar atmosphere.

How have the different places you’ve lived in and traveled to inspired you and your work at Vilebrequin?

Traveling is a very rich, personal experience for me, and I’m lucky enough to be able to travel the world doing what I love. Discovering so many countries and cultures makes you value diversity more. I am always surprised by the diversity of our world. It makes you very humble and spurs creativity. I am a compulsive observer of the world: The beauty of a landscape, human attitudes and an object’s perfection bring me to tears. My professional obsession is learning how to please clients more, and all the answers are in front of us if we know how to observe.

Vilebrequin has partnered with several organizations to promote marine conservation, specifically protecting endangered sea turtles and their habitats in French Polynesia. What makes this cause important to the company?

Water is all over our DNA, and protecting the oceans has become an absolute necessity today. The turtle is Vilebrequin’s iconic emblem. For many years, we have supported the Plant A Fish Foundation (lead by Fabien Cousteau) to protect turtles in Central America and Te Mana O Te Moana in French Polynesia. When we met Te Mana’s founder, Cecile Gaspar, we were deeply impressed by her passion and commitment to the ocean and marine life, and we have been extremely proud to support its mission and be part of the Te Mana family. We work everyday to make our production process and products more sustainable, including developing a wide range of eco-sourced swimsuits.

Protecting the environment has become an integral part of Vilebrequin’s work. At Indagare, we believe that how you travel matters. Do you have any tips for travelers who want to be more environmentally conscious while on the road?

It is both a citizen’s responsibility and a global necessity to protect and save our environment. It starts with the smallest actions, like using an eco-friendly bottle, avoiding cabs when possible, eating locally sourced food and packing light. Indeed, it is important to respect the environment, culture and history of the places you visit. Doing so makes for a richer experience and helps reduce negative environmental impacts.

For more tips and travel inspiration, check out Vilebrequin’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Eco-Friendly Beaches.

Lightning Round

What’s always in your carry-on?
I never travel without a book, a silk scarf, swim shorts and a few essential oils to cure any small injury. They make me feel at home in any place in the world. 

What’s your favorite long weekend getaway?
Venice.

What’s your travel uniform?
A pair of Vilebrequin jeans (especially the velvet ones in lilac or orange) and a Caracal shirt in cotton voile: light fabric, the absolute expression of cool elegance, perfect for traveling!

Are you an over-packer or a minimalist?
Definitely a minimalist. I always travel with a carry-on only, no matter where I go.

What’s your favorite souvenir you’ve brought back from a trip?
I like many places, but Mexico is something special. The food, smells, people, colors, flavors, variety. It is a unique experience.

What destination is next on your bucket list?
Greenland.

Where are you headed next?
China, where we are opening new stores soon!

– Nikki Erlick on August 6, 2019

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Quotable

Discovering so many countries and cultures makes you value diversity more. I am always surprised by the diversity of our world. It makes you very humble and spurs creativity.
~ Roland Herlory

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