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Luxury swimwear labels are making a big splash.

Twenty-four karat gold thread, solid-gold accents and sapphires. Sounds like the recipe for a couture gown but, in this case, they are the materials that distinguish Vilebrequin’s latest Golden Turtles swim trunks. The price? Up to 12,400 euros (S$18,700), depending on whether the customisable trunks have one or two gold aglets (cord tips), and whether these are embedded with a navy blue sapphire.

The limited-edition, gold-embroidered trunks were snapped up by 35 Vilebrequin clients worldwide.

Now the French premium swimwear company is in Singapore, having just opened a boutique at Marina Bay Sands to sell its bread-and-butter polyamide swim shorts printed with whimsical patterns. Prices for these start at $260.

Vilebrequin, which turns 44 this year, is arguably the best-known name among brands specialising in luxury swim shorts. Other, more recent, contenders include the likes of Rio-based Frescobol Carioca, and Orlebar Brown, an English brand that offers a more tailored look.

High-end products like these are part of a burgeoning global swimwear market expected to be worth US$19.3 billion (S$26 billion) by 2018.

Vilebrequin CEO Roland Herlory, who was recently in town, surmised that this rising wave stemmed from the desire to “be elegant” – even when lounging at the beach or pool. In fact, the company itself was founded on one man’s need to impress. According to Herlory, in 1971, in a bid to “seduce a beautiful lady”, a young motoring journalist in Saint-Tropez by the name of Fred Prysquel created boxer shorts-style swim trunks to “look elegant”.

Looser and longer than the prevailing swimwear styles of that era, those trunks were the precursor of the company’s best-selling model today, the Moorea. The lad succeeded in his pursuit, eventually marrying the woman. As Herlory would have it, there’s a lesson here for the modern man.

“It’s not because you’re on holiday that you escape being elegant,” says the former Hermes executive who calls St Barts home. “When you’re on holiday and with the people you love, you should pay attention to how you look.”