“It was in India and we were staying at one of those beautiful palace hotels,” recalls Adam Brown, explaining the surprising genesis of his wildly successful swimwear brand Orlebar Brown. “I’d spent the afternoon laying by the pool and apparently lost track of the hours. I was rushed to dinner straight from the pool, and one of the hotel staff stopped and asked me to change.” Evidently a standard bathing suit was not transferable from poolside to dining room. And so here begins the origin story of his company, a label that by no exaggeration has been a catalyst for men upping their vacation style game.
Twelve years on, the guiding principal of Orlebar remains simple: create a pair of shorts that are both functional swimmers and stylish shorts for any occasion. Combining sharp English tailoring with playful influences from Brown’s extensive travels around the world has proved his recipe for success.
It follows that the fashion house is directly inspired by water, but more than that, Orlebar Brown and the man himself take pure inspiration from the joy of travel and exploration. The finding of that perfect hotel pool, a Mediterranean grotto, a Sydney rockpool, a bracing Norwegian fjord or a sexy Brazilian stretch of sand. It is for that reason that PRIOR is honored and excited to partner with a kindred-spirit company in the creation of a one-off swimming trunk and, of course, to speak with the elegant, enthusiastic and articulate man behind the brand.
I reach Brown as he’s waiting in the airport lounge ready to board a plane (somewhat ironically to the otherworldly deserts of Namibia) for yet another adventure taken by him and his partner, Tom Konig Oppenheimer. Logically, I first inquire how the brand began, but it is the next question that I am most interested in discovering: What was the emotional motivation behind the business? “I’ve always had an affinity for water,” he explains, “and after years of being a photographer I wanted to make my first love my work.”
Adam describes various experiences around the world swimming in a wide range of waterways. But he becomes most passionate when speaking about a somewhat unexpected locale. “I could swim every day in the North Cornish coastline. There is something about its windswept drama, its cliffs that plunge into the sea and its beautiful coastline that I am attached to,” he says.
As beautiful as Cornwall is, it strikes me as an unlikely love affair for someone who is constantly shooting shorts in some of the world’s most desirable warm-water vacation spots (think from all around the Mediterranean to as far as Mustique). But it comes back to the fact that Brown recently bought a house there and a nostalgia for the English seaside.
When he speaks it illuminates to me the mercurial nature of water and its capacity to evoke the happiest memories; of times on holiday, times spent with friends, those days in our lives of pure unadulterated joy. Such days so often spent by a pool, lake, stream, beach or boat.
Nostalgia plays a big role in the design and conception of Orlebar Brown’s shorts and other wares. You need only look to its latest collection’s cheeky homage to Bond, James Bond, to see its playful nod to men’s collective imaginations. Rockets explode on the shorts, and the unmistakable insignia dominates swimwear that is eye-catching to say the least.
The designs are done in Orlebar’s signature digital photographic prints—something that few had been as brave to do before. To scan the #obsaroundtheworld tag on Instagram, you’ll witness young men (and the young at heart) with Bond shorts jumping off boats or laying out in the sun.
For those not wanting to make a bold Bond statement, Orlebar’s main trade is with a wide range of nuanced patterns—some bright and strong, others elegantly conservative but with a sharp edge—lending their pieces a near universal appeal. For me, his patterns that take inspiration from a place or simply the idea of a place hold the most allure. I can immediately think, “That’s Greece,” or, “Was he thinking about Australia?”
“We haven’t shot a collection in Rio, Brazil,” he says, “but when I think of there I think of warm tones and intense patterns.” It is this sense of romance and curiosity in the world and the anticipation and eagerness to travel that is writ large on the shorts of Mr Brown.
Where was your last vacation? Namibia.
Where will your next vacation be? North Cornwall.
The thing you can’t travel without? Chili flakes.
Plane, train or automobile? Train. I get masses achieved and love making up stories about what goes on in people’s houses passing by. Good train journeys are great for day dreaming, and some of the best ideas come from that.
The person you’d most like to sit next to on a flight? My partner, Tom
What is your in-flight ritual? Cashmere socks, a gin and tonic, a bag of crisps, Master & Dynamic noise-canceling headphones and a sleep eye mask.
The language you wish you spoke? Italian.
When were you happiest while traveling? Mykonos in the early ’80s was always an adventure. We were young and didn’t have a care in the world. In those days you could sleep on the beach in the harbor or rent a space on a roof for about £1 a night. Everything was new. The only priorities were catching the right boat to the right beach and what weird and wonderful people you might chat to that day. It was way less frantic back then. So much slower, rustic and romantic. Now it just feels like somewhere that was otherworldly.
Desert island or downtown? Desert island. I’ve had plenty of downtown in my life already.
If you could live at any hotel, which would it be? Claridge’s.
What is your room service indulgence? A club sandwich, fries, ketchup and a movie almost anytime. Strong fresh coffee at 6am. Two-litre bottles of water at night (it makes me crazy when they give you small ones). I’m quite busy on the room service front.
The strangest place you’ve spent a night? In Peru, way up in the Andes in a two-man tent (which is not so strange), but it was literally surrounded by llama. You could hear them walking around outside, and they made going for a pee at night very tricky. They seemed to make it a sport to spit at you in the safety of the dark.
What is your favorite market? The Sunday Farmers’ Market in Marylebone. It’s where I go. Apart from the produce, it always just says “Sunday” to me.
If you could travel to any place in any epoch, which would it be? To be at one of the parties Slim Aarons photographed in the 1970s. Perhaps in Mustique or St Tropez.
What are the show-off spots in your hometown? The Tate Modern. Farmacy restaurant in Notting Hill. Hampstead Heath.
Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, and a year?
Weekend: Weekends in London are heaven. Firstly it’s just a treat to be at home. You can do nothing or everything; there’s no pressure to do anything but it’s all there for the taking.
Week: Mustique Island, the West Indies.
Month: Walking the Scottish Highlands.
Year: At Constantine Bay in North Cornwall. If I had a year I’d try to write a novel.
Your biggest extravagance on the road? Business class. I can never justify it but it just makes everything so much better.
Describe a memorable meal from your travels. The simple ones are always the best. We did a press trip to Mykonos which was a full-blown modern-day Mykonos experience. On the final day we all got a boat to a deserted beach where we lay on the sand in the shade of the cliffs and this leathery, bearded guy prepared raw sea urchins with lime and some grilled fish. It was sublime.
Travel hell is? Airplane food and delays.
Where are you ashamed that you’ve never been? China.
Three favorite stores on earth? Paula Rubenstein in New York. Sports Classics London, a vintage car garage in South Kensington. John Bell & Croyden in London.
Why do you travel? For work. To escape. To rest. To learn. To be inspired.
Co-Founder and CEO David Prior was formerly Contributing International Editor of Condé Nast Traveler and Contributing Editor at Vogue Living. David was named by Bloomberg Businessweek as “One to Watch” in 2018 as part of the publication’s prestigious Global 50: the people who defined business in 2017.