Well-cut clothes are always more flattering. Whilst most men understand this to be true when it comes to a tailored suit jacket or tapered trouser, an equally high level of attention to fit does not often extend to decisions about what one wears pool and beachside. UK-based resort and swimwear label Orlebar Brown is on a mission to overhaul this globally careless attitude to “shorts you can swim in”, one sorry, elasticised waistband and garishly printed board short at a time.
“A tailored fit will rarely fail you, which is why our classic shorts are all based around the 17-piece pattern of a traditional pair of trousers – four part shaped waistbands, tapered legs and darts at the back all enhance a clean silhouette that will never date and will last you for years,” explains Adam Brown, the label’s founder.
Inspired whilst on holiday, the then photographer decided to follow a hunch and launched the label back in 2007, despite having no formal background in fashion. Initially very much a one-man show, Orlebar Brown began out of a spare room, where Brown spent hours ironing and packing the small number of orders he received, before he would personally queue up and deliver them at the post office.
“Even though the sizing was wrong, unit costs were shot to pieces, there were no margins and I had no real business plan, I just wanted to see if there was a market for the product,” says Brown, recalling his first uncertain 18-months of solo operation.
Five years on, Orlebar Brown employs over 40 people, is stocked in 250 stores internationally, has three stand-alone stores in central London and has recently launched an Australian online arm to join its UK, US and German siblings. Clearly, the market for something other than Speedos that Brown bargained for is going strong.
After receiving an influx of online orders to the UK store from Australia, despite its geographical distance, Brown sees his latest expansion as a logical move. There is the linguistic and cultural connection, previously strong sales in local stockists and Brown’s own “really, really fabulous memories of Australian beach holidays” to suggest Australians are likely to understand and embrace all things Orlebar Brown.
A quick turn through the online store makes it clear the label does more than just flog togs. On top of the standard shopping bag function, the site includes a Style Advisor feature that allows users to explore entire head-to-toe looks rather than merely shop for single items. After expanding the range in 2010 to include polos, shirts, shorts, jackets and trousers, the label’s ability to offer a complete resort and travel wear solution is key.
Moving the experience even further beyond the product alone, OB Approved is the label’s online magazine, bringing together thoughtfully selected articles, interviews, and photography to encapsulate the broader undercurrent and personality of Orlebar Brown.
“OB Approved is that part of the website where we can give the whole picture, where we can speak with a distinctive voice to give a clear idea of who and what we are,” explains Brown. “When you don’t have the bricks and mortar shops around the world, your website really is that flagship store. It is the place where you bring everyone into the world of Orlebar Brown without having a physical presence.”
It seems the world of Orlebar Brown is one in which the beaches of Turkey, South Africa and Brazil don’t seem so far out of reach, examination of the niche and absurd are privileged to fascinating effect, and most importantly, there is not an elasticised waistband to be seen. In other words, beachside bliss, with a side of brains and wit.