Fashion

Brand Focus: Orlebar Brown

It’s the 10th anniversary of resort wear brand Orlebar Brown and, to help celebrate, we take a look back, before looking forward, at some key pieces from the current collection

Ten years ago, gentleman seeking swimwear were limited to a choice of two styles. Regular square-cut board shorts, which were nearly always generously sized, with drawstring elasticated waist, which took ages to dry and made the wearer look like he’d just stepped away from the surf. You’d see the same men taking the beach to the street, wearing their board shorts around town, often combined with flip-flops. Other men wore tiny tight-fitting polyester swim briefs, where guys with all the wrong physiques tended to prefer the smallest trunks to maximise their exposure to the sun.

Either way, neither options looked flattering and were never suitable for anything more than the beach or pool. To eat lunch, you were expected to change. After lunch, you’d need to change back into your swimwear to hit the pool. Forget a bring a change of clothes and you’d often be refused entry to a resort restaurant with your wet inappropriate swimwear.

Adam Brown of Orlebar Brown, who spends time test-driving every piece of OB clothing, himself.

Nowadays, we’re somewhat spoilt for choice with a plethora of men’s swimwear. There are many different fit and styles to suit every individual and their body types. Although men’s swimwear, just like the rest of the fashion industry, undergoes cyclical changes, one of the main proprietors for the sea change in men’s swim design was Adam Brown, founder of Orlebar Brown.

The idea behind Orlebar Brown originated in 2005, with the first short hitting the market in 2007. Ten years on, they’re a globally recognised brand. At inception, the premise was simple. Produce a short you can swim in, rather than a swim short. This inspiration came to Adam Brown on holiday in India. He noticed that the women looked fabulous by the pool. When called to lunch, there was no need to change. The men, on the other hand, were wearing various differently patterned, baggy boxer short styles, briefs or board shorts and when called for lunch, they were either declined entry or had to scramble and change into something more appropriate.

This insight gave Adam the idea to create a tailored short, based on the foundation of a suit trouser, with a quick-drying fabric, which looked both fantastic on the eye but also enabled the wearer to keep the same piece of clothing from sunrise to sunset, without requiring a change.

The issue for Adam was how to take his idea to reality. A professional photographer by trade, Adam had no prior experience in fashion design. His answer is simple in hindsight, but ingenious at the time. In order to be able to discuss his idea with manufacturer’s, Adam subscribed to a one-week drawing course to understand the basics. With no business plan and little idea of what to expect, but armed with a fantastic idea and bags of enthusiasm, he set out to manufacture his first batch of shorts.

Armed with an initial 1000 shorts, in three styles, Adam was the ultimate one-man band (he initially partnered with friend Julia Simpson-Orlebar who decided to leave the brand after a year to focus on her family). In a hired lockup at Earl’s Court, Adam handled the orders, marketing, finances, customer queries and queuing at the Post Office at the end of the day to get orders posted. For the first two years, as is the case with any small business, it was tough to gain traction, but Adam remembers visiting Soho House in Miami and seeing men wearing the initial batch of shorts and realised that the initial idea was quickly becoming a reality.

Beyond Inception

The most interesting aspect of Orlebar Brown’s history is how they went from producing the initial batch of shorts in 2007 to the multi-store resort wear company you see in 2017. Looking back through the short history of Orlebar Brown, the impact would make ideal research for any budding entrepreneur or business student seeking to research a successful British company. Many small businesses fail. They fail as they either run out of funds or spend funds in all the wrong areas, making poor marketing decisions. Orlebar Brown has made some inspired decisions over the last ten years.

According to Adam Brown, picking the right team is important. Knowing your limitations is always wise for any new business – you need to bring in talented individuals who can help you do what you’re doing well, even better. One of the key decisions was to launch the “OB Concierge” service, a service which Short Motivation has utilised for years. The Concierge service was unique in the respect that all feedback from Orlebar Brown customers was fantastic, even if it was negative. Concierge customers were offered previews of forthcoming collections, unique pieces, invited to key events, encouraged to send photos of themselves in shorts (using hashtag #OBsAroundTheWorld) and made to feel part of the “Orlebar Brown club”. The Concierge service continues to this day.

Marketing was also important and handled in a very different way from most companies. When you launch a new brand, it’s very easy to think the answer is to bombard media with a collection of adverts promoting your brand new and unknown products. Problem is, this is an expensive exercise and most people are wary of new brands and won’t react to a printed advert unless it’s referenced elsewhere within the magazine or has a unique element to grab the readers attention. To succeed with the press, you need a different angle.

Instead, money was spent focussing on video. Video played an important role in early Orlebar Brown history. Short Motivation was inspired by the 2012 Spring Summer video, filmed in Ibiza. The location, styles and sense of fun encouraged us, like many others, to explore our Summer vibe. The Orlebar Brown seasonal videos are still produced in 2017, as you can see from the Summer 2017 launch video, below.

Looking back through old “OB Approved” magazines, you’re reminded of what Orlebar Brown did so differently from other brands. It’s hard to understand the work the OB team put in to promoting the brand in the early days. Does anyone remember the OB Truck, which took to the streets of London? This truck opened up into a mini showroom of products and, combined with an enthusiastic team, slowly converted people on the street to an OB way of life.

In addition to this marketing, Adam and the OB team realised early on that working with other successful individuals was the key to spreading your brand ethos. Money was invested wisely in networking. Key customer and press events enabled Orlebar Brown to bring individuals together to discuss the values of the brand, rather than through traditional advertising. New seasons were launched at hired venues and early customers would include David Gandy and Oliver Cheshire alongside other celebrities such as Sean Frank, Graham Norton, Petra Palumbo and Saffron Aldridge.

At one stage, every day customers were invited to tell their story and how Orlebar Brown products played a part in their daily lives. The “Day in the Life” videos are still available on Vimeo and are a recommended watch for any new customer to the brand.

Collaborations have played an important role in the success of Orlebar Brown. Through the years OB has partnered with Nick Wooster and Monocle magazine and existing fashion brands such as Gieves & Hawkes and Pucci, creating a range of men’s resort wear for both partners. With every season, Orlebar Brown will partner with designers to create an exclusive range of swimwear. With Summer 2017, Orlebar Brown has partnered with Sanda Anderlon, a Croatian-based artist, on a range of unique Summer scenes, exclusive to the Bulldog range of swimwear and OB-T prints.

A Memorable Ten Years

Ten years on, Orlebar Brown are celebrating their birthday and it’s a special year for the brand. Having successfully transitioned from the pool to the resort, with a range of tee’s, polo’s and cotton shorts, in 2010, the collection now includes a wider range of resort wear, including cold weather jackets through to the recent Jack sports shorts, which Short Motivation referenced recently as our recommended ‘universal’ short, suitable for the the pool, beach, sport and the resort.

Orlebar Brown is now a resort wear brand you can find across the globe. Multiple stores in London, two in the United States (New York and Miami), Europe (France, Turkey) and Australia. With a US online store served by an Atlanta warehouse, with the same service coming to Australia in the near future, with other stores and expansion plans in the pipeline.

It’s important to note that the ethos of Orlebar Brown hasn’t changed from the early days. Interestingly, Adam still regards the brand as a ‘startup’ company. The Concierge service is still in place, a new “OB Approved” magazine was released for Summer 2017 and, in essence, the Bulldog’s, Setter’s and other shorts you see today are based on the original idea from 2005 (albeit with a few tweaks and improvements along the way).

At Short Motivation, we’re passionate about explaining to our readers why we believe Orlebar Brown should be regarded as more than a ‘shorts company’. It might surprise you that our favourite pieces, those we’d wear regularly, at the office or the weekend, aren’t the traditional clothing you’d expect to buy from the brand.

With this in mind, we’ve picked out our five key recommended pieces and the reasons why we’ve selected them:

Cayson in Fossil (click for larger version). Also shown is the Whiteley waffle in Navy and Orlebar Brown rucksack in Military Green

Cayson

It’s taken quite a few iterations, but Orlebar Brown has produced what we believe is the perfect chino. Made from a mid-weight cotton twill, this slim-fit trouser is an excellent all-year option. With waist loops, you can utilise your favourite belt. The Cayson has two buttoned back pockets.

The Campbell is the alternative option. A slim-fit trouser, with mid-weight cotton, but with the OB-branded side adjusters for reducing the waist by up to an inch.

Larson in White (click for larger image). Also shown is the Springer in Mazanine.

Larson

Described by Orlebar Brown as “the shoe you can swim” in, we’ve chosen the Larson for one important reason: it’s extremely lightweight,  making it the ideal shoe to take on your travels, especially when you are travelling with cabin-only baggage.

Made out of a polyester mesh, the shoe is ideal for the beach, pool and for walking around town (although after a while, your feet can get rather warm). The Larson can run rather small, so move up a size if you want more flexibility.

Terrence in Pomodoro Melange (click for larger version)

Terrence

We debated over this one. Which OB jumper to recommend? There are so many options. We were close to recommending the Peele. The cut, the knit and the style of the Peele is better in person than you’ll see on the website. It has to be experienced to be appreciated.

The Terrence gets our vote. We love the Pomodoro Melange version of this jumper. This cotton pullover can be worn over an OB-T or on it’s own. It’s a very comfortable tailored fit cotton sweater and thoroughly recommended.

In addition, all the Orlebar Brown waffle sweats get our vote, from the Whiteley crew through to the Yarwood sweatpants.

OB-T in Olive (click for larger version). Also shown is the Setter in White.

OB-T

We couldn’t leave off the OB-T. This fantastic cotton t-shirt was introduced in 2010 and has barely changed since launch. It’s a lightweight t-shirt with a tailored fit and curved hem. There’s an alternative OB-V, which is the same fit and style, but with a V-neck.

You’ll see the OB-T featured widely across the Short Motivation social media. We have a huge selection of these tee’s for good reason. Easy to wear, lightweight and we’re fans of the bright poppy colour choices.

The Sammy is another Orlebar Brown t-shirt you may see across the Short Motivation social media. This is a classic fit tee with a thicker cotton.

The Orson jacket in Ebony (click image for larger version). Also shown is the Campbell in Rosewood.

Orson

If there’s one area where Orlebar Brown has really excelled in recent years, it’s their jackets. Although we’re really keen on the Nichol, the more recent Orson receives our final vote.

The Orson is a lightweight jacket for changeable weather. Wear it above a jumper in the colder months or above a t-shirt on cool Summer evenings. A breathable waterproof jacket, we’d recommend taking an Orson with you on your travels.

We need to make a reference to the Maddox, which is another Short Motivation favourite. The Maddox is a lightweight showerproof bomber jacket and often our go-to jacket for travelling to just about any destination.

It was tough limiting the choice to five pieces and we’ve deliberately excluded shorts from the list, which we’ve featured elsewhere such as the Short Motivation Four Shorts for Sport article.

Further reading: Orlebar Brown and the latest Summer 2017 collection.

 Have you bought or used any Orlebar Brown products? Bought a piece from the current High Summer 2017 collection? If so, what do you think of the range? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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About Author

The co-founder of Short Motivation, Chris originates from a technology background, initially developing software and then migrating to the international magazine industry for the last 15 years. The idea for Short Motivation came from travelling through 2011 and eventually became reality six years later, in 2017.