The Real OB Man
The Real OB Man
Interview by Harris Davlas, Eleni Papaioannou
Next to a crisp pool in Athens, one bright May afternoon, Mr Adam Brown of Orlebar Brown is opening up to In Icons We Trust about how a piece of fabric can become an extraordinary storyteller.
Orlebar Brown launched in 2007 as the first brand with a more tailored approach to swim shorts. In 2010, OB moved off the beach, out of the pool and into resort. The range is now a full lifestyle collection that includes tees, polos, shirts, sweats, trousers and lightweight jackets. The force driving OB into its future is, as has always been, mister Adam Brown himself.
Mr Brown, we know you have told it many times but we’d love to hear the Orlebar
Brown tale, how it all started.
Well, in 2005, I went on holiday to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday in Rajasthan. There were 30 people in the group, aged 25 – 50 years old, a very mixed group, most of whom worked in design and took an interest in clothing – but were not obsessed with fashion. Around the pool, the women in the group looked great but the men did not. All were wearing brightly patterned, baggy boxer-style shorts, briefs or board shorts. Then we had to change for lunch. This is the main moment I came to think about Orlebar Brown. It was actually a play with words, “I don’t want a swim short, I want a short I can swim in”. So, that was the moment. I went back to London, did some market research _I realized many other brands have swim, but it is not the focus of their collection. This is the gap that OB came to fill. The tailored short, something you can swim in that follows the principles of men’s tailoring.
MY FAVORITE MOMENT IS WHEN YOU ARE LYING IN BED AND YOU CAN HEAR THE WAVES
What were you doing before you started OB?
I was at the charity sector _I raised money for charities_ and I also worked as a photographer. OB was just like having an idea and trying to make things happen.
…and they happened!
Well, when you sit here, today, it seems they just happen. When, for two years, you are sitting by yourself in a storage room, steam – ironing shorts, you don’t see it happening, but, eventually, you get there…
Who was the first man you saw in OB?
It was in Ibiza, a traditional Ibiza guy, but now when I go to Cornwall I also see older, more conservative guys wearing OB.
Is the beach a place for tailored swimwear? Shouldn’t it be scruffier?
No. I don’t want to be scruffy, I would never wear elasticated trousers, my grandfather wears them. I think that if you’re going to Saint Tropez, or Mykonos, with grown up pools and beach bars, you have a different reference point. Lately, men have been much more aware of luxury goods and nice fabrics being a way to express your personality in any occasion, even on the beach. There are also the principles of men’s tailoring you have to consider. If you go out to buy a suit, you will look for the tailored one that fits you properly, and so is more flattering. When I go to the beach and take off my clothes _especially then_ I need all the help I can get. Why would I want to wear something baggy and shapeless, why do I think that is going to make me look better? Whether you’re fat, thin, with a big or small bottom, whatever, if you go and buy a pair of trousers that fit you it will be more flattering. And that is the main principle for OB.
Who’s the brand’s ideal man?
I am genuinely always very happy when I see anyone wearing them. Our customer, the man who buys Orlebar Brown, falls into three categories. When we opened our first store, I’d go in and work at Saturdays and there’d be these three kinds of men walking into the store: there’s the young, early twenties, fashion forward man who may be going to Mykonos or Ibiza, he’ll probably be renting a villa with his friends…he’ll buy shorter shorts in bright colors. There’s the man in his mid thirties to fifties, maybe mid forties, with young children, an urban professional man, this is our core customer. These men will buy three pairs of shorts, three polos, these guys almost buy in uniforms, they have to have the essentials for their wardrobe and they know what they want. They are very canny shoppers. But the surprise was the third group of customers: in their sixties, mostly Asian, conservative, but they care about tailoring, they don’t buy branded things, they care where something is made, they don’t want fussy, overly decorated clothes.
We see people on the beach that would match OB with anything, maybe a pair of
havaianas, but the main focus is on the shorts. Because they are “the right choice”.
Yes. The thing we have in our mind when we put together a collection is that you can either wear it with Bottega Veneta or J Crew, it has to have the flexibility for you to wear it up or down. It’s great that people can mix it up.
With the business having grown this much, have you steered away from your vision?
No! the product offering has grown bigger, but the core values, the lifestyle, the focus of the collection remains the same.
How do you stay in touch with it?
You question everything. I ask myself “would I wear it”? Which is fine for now but maybe it needs to open up. You know, we have three words for the brand, everything has to come back to these three words, every product, every story we are trying to tell, everything. They are our original values: Considered, tailored, colorful. If its not one of these, then you shouldn’t do it.
You always had a relationship with fashion? As a photographer?
No, I did portraits. I like clothes but I am not obsessed with fashion. I like detail, fabric, I appreciate clothes, and actually I shop too much!
I once wore Orlebar Brown with Valentino.
What are your favorites?
I buy Moncler, RRL, J Crew, I also buy Valentino trainers a lot, I have an addiction to them at the moment that I need to go to therapy for. I like evening shirts by Prada, they have the best fit and the fabric is beautiful.
WHEN YOU ARE TRYING TO SELL SWIM SHORTS IN LONDON AND IT IS OCTOBER OR NOVEMBER, YOU THINK THAT YOU ARE MAD
So, yes, you buy a lot! What is in your summer suitcase?
Not suits or anything dressy, in the summer I tend to dress down. Relaxed tailoring and good fabrics is the key. I’ll go to Turkey next week. I will have denim, I have piles of old denim OBT, you can wear anything with denim, black, white, anything. I’ll have navy blue or black Setter shorts, a linen shirt _this fabric is great for the evening, a pair of Sperry Top- Sider shoes I just bought from Simple Caractere here in Athens, who is our agent in Greece.
What is your relationship with Simple Caractere?
We have worked together for a few years, it has been great.
Do you sell a lot in Mykonos?
Yes, a lot. See, it is one of the places where OB should be. You know, I used to go to the island when we would sleep on roofs for a pound.
Now back in the UK. How do you design for the summer under a gloomy weather?
(laughing) I know there is no color…you see, I feel I have lived there all my life, my friends are there, I love London so much, I adore it. But having a swimwear brand? You know, we all travel, we go away for the weekend, that’s just the way it is. But sometimes, when you are trying to sell swim shorts in London and it is October or November, you think that you are mad…so we are selling t-shirts, chinos, sweatshirts, all the other products. And we are starting a winter collection, too. You see, if the shorts are sitting in the center, and you have your core values, what it is about OB is that it is not about work. We started selling around the pool, in 2010 we took OB off the beach and into the resort with the t-shirts, denim, the polos. Did you know only 40% of our sales are swim? Sixty per cent is all the rest, 30% of which is t-shirts and polos.
What is your favorite fashion film?
I saw September Issue last week, it was really good. But, as I said, I don’t buy fashion, I buy clothes.
What is the sexiest thing?
Oh god! (Laughing). I suppose my favorite moment is when you are lying in bed and you can hear the waves. That, I love.
Do you work on the photographic prints yourself?
Well, we have some marvelous dog images we have coming out soon.
Are they your images?
Unfortunately yes (laughing)…when we first started I couldn’t afford a professional photographer but I had these dog photos at home. You know our products are named after dogs (the setter, the bulldog etc). So, we did a set of swimsuits with dog images back in 2009. Those were the first ones, but some customers would keep coming back asking for a new round of dogs so now we have a bulldog on a “bulldog” short, a setter on a “setter” etc.
I DON’T BUY FASHION, I BUY CLOTHES
About the blogger boom…what do you think of it?
I don’t follow many blogs. I read magazines, I read editorial, I love the idea of blogging and I love it when they have a sense of what they truly like, when they speak their own voice. I find it less easy when you pay people to “like” your brand. We work with bloggers that we know are a great fit to the brand. You know, pressing “like” is something very powerful. We encourage honesty in blogging, we wouldn’t pay a blogger to create a feature.
I love Pinterest, people building galleries. I have a personal instagram account called @ therealobman and I only have 4 posts…I don’t know, maybe I am too old (laughs). As a brand we are very much involved, we have a hashtag #obsaroundtheworld, we have a new app where you can create your own, virtual swim short. Many people send pictures from amazing locations, e-mails with wonderful stories. This goes back to when I used to do all the customer service and I’d hear where they had been, what problems they might have faced.
You are one of the first brands to have this strong communication through social media.
Any extraordinary stories by your customers?
There is this e-mail we received by a lady who is currently in the Galapagos, she has been everywhere, the Amazon, trekking, in her OB. Also, there is this customer who sent us an e-mail regarding our “Eden Roc” swim shorts. Eden Roc is a pool that is famous for being in one of Slim Aarons’ most known prints. This customer, who wears our Eden Roc short, told us that he learned how to swim in that same pool.
Eden Roc is one of our favorite prints…see how authenticity connects the dots?
Yes, what we are is about storytelling…and this is it: How do you tell a very good story with a pair of shorts?
Spiros Liakotitis of Simple Caractere, says: Three years ago I went to Paris, saw OB, and realized it would be the perfect time for the brand to come to Greece with the opening of our Simple Caractere store in Mykonos. The collaboration with Orlebar Brown is excellent; they do everything really fast and efficiently. Doing business is not always a happy place, especially now with the crisis, but this partnership is very enjoyable.
Simple Caractere, contact: info@simple-caractere tel:+302106232280