The #menswear guys love London-based line Orlebar Brown for its expertly tailored, nattily fashioned swim trunks. (And in more recent years, t-shirts, polos, and khakis, too.) But up until last week, us ladies had to settle for buying the men’s version and cutting out the netting. Now that’s all changed (!) with the launch of Orlebar’s 15-piece womenswear collection, sold at Net a Porter, Barneys, Opening Ceremony, Harrods, and Montaigne Market in Paris. The line, which looks like something a ’60s-era Bond Girl would enjoy wearing, features sexy-but-simple bikinis and flattering board shorts.
I spoke with Orlebar Brown founder Adam Brown, who’s currently in Florence for Pitti Uomo, to learn more about the collection.
Fashionista: For those unfamiliar with Orlebar Brown, can you give me a little explanation of how it came to be?
Adam Brown: I worked as a portrait photographer for magazines in London. I was on holiday for a friend’s 40th birthday, and there was a pretty diverse crowd: gay/straight/married/single, aged 25-50, many of them working in fashion or graphic design. The women looked great, but the men were a bit of a mess. The options were either a brief, an elasticated waist boxer, or board shorts hanging so low that their crack was exposed—which is fine on a guy of 17, but not a man of 40. And at the hotel where we were staying, we had to eat away from the pool. So we’d have to change in and out of our suits to go to the restaurant.
The premise of the line is that we’re not just a swim shop, we’re a short you can swim in on and off of the beach. It underpins everything we do: t-shirts, polo shirts, jackets. The story revolves around holiday travel, but it’s also work-to-play, day-to-night, home-to-holiday. For the transitional moments in your life.
So when you got back from vacation, you launched the company?
I took a week-long drawing course at Saint Martins, just so I could make a pattern for the shorts and get the information to a pattern cutter. That was all of my training. We started with four styles of shorts, in five colors, six years ago. I made 1,000 pairs, and I was selling them from my spare room. Now we have three stores in London, along with the online shop and stockists around the world.
You’ve become really well known for your prints.
We started doing the photograph prints about a year ago. I love photography, my background was in photography, and I started collecting imagery that reflected an Orlebar Brown way of life. We chose photographs of men surfing, or by the pool…we’ve used Slim Aarons’ photographs, and other celebrity photographers. We do them as editions, 250 pieces. Once they’re sold out, that’s it.
How do you get the rights for these photos?
We talk to Getty Images, photographic libraries, and the artists themselves. We did an illustrated series with Alan Aldridge. For that, I spoke to him directly. We’ve used David Hicks’ geometric prints, too.
Since launching six years ago, you’ve expanded categories quite a bit.
We are known for our swimwear, but 55% of our business is non-swim. T-shirt and polos make about 30% of our sales. We want to make classic clothes that could have been worn five years ago, or in five years time. But everything ties back to the short.
So did the women’s collection come out of requests from female fans of the brand?
We have masses of women who would go into our stores and buy the Setter shorts, cut the netting out and wear them. But they were built for a men’s body. So we reengineered our classics in shapes appropriate for women. Our signature side buckle is on the swim shorts, bikinis and one-pieces. There’s a deep scoop-neck t-shirt, too. For now, it’s a 15-piece collection, but we’ll see how it goes.
What else do you have coming up?
Well, we just did an exclusive edition with the Paris Review and Barneys, featuring original artwork and illustrations from the magazine. And we’re continuing to explore illustration. In the coming months, we’re using the work of a tattoo artist. I can’t tell you who she is just yet, but watch this space.