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Orlebar Brown: “We’re all about sunshine, travel, happiness, good times”

Orlebar Brown: “We’re all about sunshine, travel, happiness, good times”

The best ideas often seem so obvious in hindsight. Adam Brown’s revelation certainly looks that way now, fourteen years after he wondered why it was impossible to find a pair of shorts that he could swim in, then wear straight to lunch once he’d dried off. His prototype, painstakingly crafted over 18 gruelling months, became a quartet of shorts of different lengths, then a collection of everything else you’d need by the pool, and now a thriving business aimed at providing everything a man needs when he’s on holiday, wherever he’s on holiday.

The brand he founded in 2005, Orlebar Brown, has since appeared on James Bond, in Skyfall, and offscreen has become a beach favourite for the likes of Hugh Jackman, Justin Theroux and, er, David Cameron. But Brown’s focus is less on his celebrity customers, more on helping every man capture that vacation feeling, even when he’s heading to work on a wet Wednesday. “Summer is a state of mind,” Brown says, grinning, when we catch up with him in the light-bathed west London office where he and his team turn holidays into beautiful clothes. “We feel summer is the way we do things. Being up, happy, joyful.” Slip into one of his shirts, or those iconic shorts, and it’s impossible not to feel the same way.

Where does your inspiration for each collection come from?

We’re all about sunshine, travel, happiness, good times. So it’s thinking about different adventures, different journeys, different places and different things that people might want to do while they’re on holiday. But that can be cold, it can be windy, it can be whatever. But at the top, everything revolves around holidays. Just around the type of holiday you might have in LA, versus the Seychelles, or versus the Caribbean, or versus South America or whatever.


You started with a single product – swimming shorts. How have you grown into other parts of the wardrobe?

In the early days, it was my gut feeling. I wanted to do a towelling polo shirt because I had pictures of my grandfather on a boat in Hong Kong in a particular towelling polo shirt. Or I’d seen film references, whether it’s James Bond, David Niven in Cap Ferrat. I could be purely selfish and do exactly what I want. Now, we have an architecture to the collection. There’s always a bright, vibrant pop in the collection, you’ll always have that. Very wearable navy, charcoal grey.


How important are the swimming shorts today?

I noticed at the beginning that there were loads of brands that included swim as part of their collections, but nobody had made it the focus. So the idea of swim being not an ancillary part, but actually the fundamental part of the whole story, was the thing we did slightly differently. And today, if something can’t be worn with the swim shorts, we shouldn’t be doing it. Swim’s still categorically the most important – it’s what people know us for. It’s our canvas to explore print, illustration, photography. It has to be central.

Where did the idea come from?

I was at a particular point in my life where I was looking for something to do. I went on a holiday, I had to change for lunch and I was thinking by the pool that I didn’t want a swim short, I wanted a short I could swim in. That sowed the seed of an idea for a versatile product that you could wear on the sun lounger, then also to go and have lunch. Getting a sample made that I thought was OK took 18 months. Then I just launched. I started with a website and a database of 600 people and just got it going from there. Really, it was nothing more complicated than that. Just following a hunch and getting on with it. There was no plan, there was nothing.


The engineering is fascinating. Things like side-fasteners, they’re rare enough on ordinary trousers, let alone making them solid enough to swim in.

It’s become our signature. I didn’t know it would, but for me, the principles of a tailored approach were the cornerstone. As a man of 40, when I started it, I didn’t believe that a baggy, voluminous boxer short was doing me any favours. If you’re fat, if you’re thin, whether you’ve got a good body, a big bottom, whatever you like – if any item is well-tailored, and fits you properly, it’ll ultimately be more flattering. It’s nothing more complicated than that. There’s 60 elements that go into making one pair of shorts: things like having an eight-part waistband; shaping the waistband rather than it being straight so it sits at the base of your back rather than slides down your bum; having darts at the back so it shapes your bum rather than giving you a flat bum. All those little things contribute to making something that’s hopefully better quality, fits you better, you feel better. Is better.

Can you talk me through the relationship with James Bond – how it started and the way it’s developed into the recent collection.

The relationship with Bond really started when I put the original moodboards for Orlebar Brown together. Then in 2011, we were in the Skyfall film, which came completely out of chance. There was no relationship there, we were selected by the costume department. So that was cool. We were really happy, because the colour was right, everything was right. It was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it shows that it was a good moment. With the DNA of Bond – adventure, romance, storytelling, essentially British but ultimately international – there’s things in the storytelling that felt right and relevant. So we had conversations and came up with a three-stage partnership. The first was the photo-print shorts from the film posters, the second was a 15-piece capsule collection based on historical, iconic Bond moments. And there’s phase 3 – you’ll have to watch this space.


We’re coming into autumn now. As a brand that’s so associated with summer, is it difficult to make that transition?

Summer’s a state of mind. He says, very deadpan. But it is. Orlebar Brown, we’re about holidays. Fundamentally, we feel summer is the way we do things. Being up, happy, joyful. Why could you not wear outerwear on the deck of a boat? You could still be in sunshine and layer up. So we don’t have a problem with autumn – we do outerwear, we do cashmere, we do midweight shirts, we do merino, silk jerseys, all this sort of thing. I don’t believe we’ll ever do skiwear, but we’ll do stuff you can wear on the Alps. It’s that twist. We’re about holidays, and that holiday can take many different forms. It doesn’t always exist under an umbrella with a cocktail in your hand.


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Words: Tom Banham
Photography: Angus Williams