Photographer-turned-fashion designer Adam Brown is the founder of UK-based men’s swimwear label, Orlebar Brown. Established in 2007, Orlebar Brown offers a flattering alternative to the baggy board short with tailored swimwear that seamlessly transitions from beach to bar. What originally began as three short styles and an online shop run from Brown’s bedroom is now a globally successful line of pieces ranging from polo shirts and jackets, to the 1950s-inspired short worn by 2012’s James Bond in “Skyfall.” This summer, Orlebar Brown made its foray into womenswear with a 16-piece capsule collection of simple swimsuits and shorts modeled after the signature men’s trunks, teasing a wider women’s collection set to launch in November.
How does your background in photography lend itself to your design aesthetic?
My background was not in fashion. I was a photographer, and although the original idea came from a particular holiday, it really was essentially about spotting a gap in the market and going with a gut feeling. My knowledge and experience with perspective and colour makes me look at design in a different way. We often use photography in our designs, most recently taking images from the archive of Hulton Getty.
Thank goodness men have an alternative to baggy board shorts! Was this what inspired your collection?
It really was just one of those moments—by a pool for a friend’s 40th birthday looking around and thinking all the women in the group looked great…and the men looked dreadful. Although it was quite a design/visually led bunch of people, the men were all in either budgie smuggler type briefs, baggy patterned boxer short styles, or shapeless board shorts—there had to be something more exciting. It also annoyed me that we had to change for lunch—it just seemed stupid when on holiday. However, that has been at the core of how we started – a tailored approach to swim shorts. Not a swim short, but a short you can swim in.
Tell us about the collaboration with Gray Malin. Was it exciting to work with another photographer?
Gray has a real unique take on landscape photography that translates so well onto our shorts. Choosing to work with his ‘A La Plage, A La Piscine’ series of work was perfect for Orlebar Brown, as we see three very different views on the beach experience.
How is swimwear a representation of a man’s overall style and wardrobe?
Our swimwear is definitely a representation of menswear style through classic, tailored styles and clean lines. There’s nothing more revealing to your style than what you wear on the beach.
Do you think men have a tough time buying swimwear at a higher price-point?
Men buy into quality. Price-point is definitely a consideration, however they are inclined to go for something that feels and looks right for them. With swimwear, it is often difficult to find the right style and fit, although we feel we have achieved that balance.
What does a collaboration with The Paris Review entail?
Following the success of our photographic imagery on shorts last year, we began to explore illustration on a range of shorts and shirts. When Barneys suggested an exclusive edition using artwork from the covers of The Paris Review, it was a great opportunity to push this story a bit further. Not only do we all love reading The Paris Review on holiday, but now we can wear them too.
We worked closely with The Paris Review and Barneys to select the illustrations. We all felt that each illustrator brought a different personality to the collaboration through his or her style and creativity. We wanted each illustration to complement each other, whilst offering something different, and I think we found the perfect mix – from an illustrative line drawing, to a detailed (almost architectural) sketch, to a colourful repeat print, and a loose, free-hand approach. All represent different means of illustration.
When did you know it was the right time to begin work on your women’s line?
We are constantly receiving feedback from our female customers about a women’s line. When we first launched, we had a lot of requests on the website from women to buy our Setter shorts in small sizes and cut the net linings out (or steal from their boyfriends). They would then wear the shorts over their bikinis etc.
How will it reflect the characteristics that have defined your men’s collection?
The concept of Orlebar Brown translates naturally into a collection that embraces a lifestyle with well-made classic pieces – that can now be worn by women too. The quality of fit, the resort fabrics, such as pique cotton and the OB signature side fastener, translate effortlessly from menswear to womenswear.
When does womenswear launch?
We have launched a small capsule collection with Net-a-Porter this summer as an online exclusive and with Barneys in New York. We will be housing a much wider collection, with new prints, colour ways, and classic clothing from November 2013.
What designers round out your everyday attire?
I currently have an unhealthy addiction Valentino Camouflauge trainers. I love a good pair of chinos and an Orlebar Brown Sebastian or Reed.
You must love to travel. Where are some of your favorite destinations?
Cornwall, Ibiza and Saint-Tropez are always on my holiday list. Fail-safe fun.