“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.