March 16 2011
Lucia van der Post
It seems a long time ago that Vilebrequin was the only label that Barbados man would ever have packed in his fancy suitcase as he set off for sun, sea and sand. The problem with the brand was the same as the one that beset the Burberry check – they were too ubiquitous. Enter, in 2007, Orlebar Brown, a British label started by Adam Brown after a seminal birthday gathering at DeviGarh in India, when he was so appalled at the men’s scruffy poolside attire that he decided to do something about it.
His key notion was that baggy shorts were not the answer to less-than-perfect bodies. Proper tailoring was. So he took himself off to Central Saint Martins to learn how to do it; and very quickly, in spite of its high price tags (shorts and trunks start at £95 and go on to more than £200), it became the hottest men’s swimwear brand around – so hot that, ironically, Orlebar Brown also found itself in danger of becoming too ubiquitous, just like Vilebrequin before it. Jeremy Langmead, editor-in-chief of the new men’s fashion website Mr Porter, which is stocking OB, last year dubbed it “the Rolex Submariner of 2010” (ie, every man wanted one). Since it’s a high-end label, its wearers like to feel that they’re donning something exclusive.
Orlebar Brown’s answer was to go in for limited editions and collaborations. It already has a collection with Eley Kishimoto under its belt, but launching this week is its most exciting collaboration to date – Alan Aldridge, the 1960s graphic artist and illustrator known as The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes, has come up with four stunning designs (two pictured, £199 each). All are highly colourful, using screen prints and embroidery to re-work iconic Aldridge images onto the shorts. Prices are £179 for the printed ones; £199 for embroidered ones.