These Swim Trunks Are Emblems of Black Excellence

These Swim Trunks Are Emblems of Black Excellence

by Dylan Kelly

Derrick Adams — the Baltimore-born, Brooklyn-based artist whose multidisciplinary practice spans across painting, collage, sculpture, performance, video and sound installation — is a master of all trades.

Probing the influence of pop culture, his art explores how Black experiences intertwine with art history and impact American culture and iconography. Most notably, his Floater series, which depicts Black Americans lounging on whimsical swan, duck and rainbow-maned unicorn floaters in the pool, is a new crowd favorite.

His work caught the eye of Vilebrequin, the Saint Torbez-born swimwear label, who approached Adams with a new proposal: a limited-edition swim trunk with a one-of-a-kind print inspired by his art.

"After designing a unicorn pool float last year, I wanted to pair it with swim trunks featuring my paintings, but set the notion aside," Adams said in a statement. "A few months later I received a remarkably serendipitous email from the most venerable of swimwear brands wishing to collaborate, and the rest, as they say, is history."

A vivid turquoise anchors the collaborative design, while Adams' pool floater paintings decorate the trunk and offer vibrant pops of citron, magenta and lime. And to celebrate the art-embossed design, Villebrequin is donating $20,000 to the Eubie Blake Cultural Arts Center — a non-profit which develops and advocates for cultural and education programming in the arts — in Adams' hometown of Baltimore.

PAPER spoke with the buzzy artist about his role in the fashion collaboration, the impact of his art and what's next on his radar. Read what Derrick Adams had to share, below.

How did you get involved with Vilebrequin?

The bigger question is: how did Vilebrequin find me? Last year I was working on my Floater series of paintings, featuring Black figures lounging on pool floats, and said out loud, "I want to make swim trunks with these paintings on them." A few weeks later I received an email from Vilebrequin wishing to collaborate. Thank you, Universe.

What role did you play in the conceptualization and design process?

Working with such an established brand as Vilebrequin, the process was very organized. They allowed me the freedom to design an all-over pattern, based on a small series of watercolors I made, and to choose the cut and fabric of the trunks. They presented options and offered guidance, but were very generous throughout the entire process.

What inspired your Floater series?

I was looking at images of Martin Luther King Jr. online and came upon images from a 1967 issue of Ebony Magazine featuring MLK on vacation in Jamaica, lounging in a pool in a bathing suit, just chilling with his family. Most other images in the Google pages were of him in struggle, fighting for Civil Rights. I then looked for images of people on pool floats, and page after page — when I looked in 2015 — there were hardly any images of Black people on floats. I needed Black people, especially children in the future, to see a balance of images of themselves at moments or repose and regeneration — not only struggle and strife.

How have you seen your art impact others?

I believe I've been a part of, or contributed to, a changing narrative of artists who've shifted their interest to more personal and celebratory imagery of Black life, which I imagine having a positive effect.

How do you feel that 2020 has shifted your artistic vision?

It hasn't really shifted as much as accelerated it. With so much not happening, I've been able to work in my studio a lot more.

What's next on the agenda for Derrick Adams?

Focusing on upcoming shows at Salon 94 and Rhona Hoffman Gallery in February, and at the Milwaukee Art Museum and Henry Museum, in September.

Vilebrequin's Derrick Adams swim trunks launch on December 1, on

Photos courtesy of Vilebrequin