You could almost say that the idea behind Orlebar Brown was a happy accident. “I was on holiday with friends and had something of a eureka moment”, Brown says thoughtfully, leaning forward in one of the armchairs in our top-floor clubroom at No.24c Old Burlington Street. “I tried to get into the hotel restaurant and the maitre’d wouldn’t let me in because I was wearing swim shorts. Out of nowhere, I started playing with the idea in my head; what if I could make ‘shorts you could swim in’ as opposed to conventional swim shorts? At the time, I was working as a photographer and I was bored of it. I just thought, ‘might as well give this a go.” Spend a little time with Brown and you’ll realise this sense of optimism is a natural part of his character – and one suspects, integral to his success. He founded Orlebar Brown in 2007 working from his spare room with a few boxes of samples. Quickly, the brand made a name for itself thanks to a steadily expanding collection of elegant resortwear, compelling communications and Slim Aarons worthy visuals. Brown sold the business to Chanel in 2018, but remains the company’s creative director – continuing to drive ‘OB’ forward.
“It’s a good balance for me,” he says. “The thing I enjoy most about my job is storytelling. I wanted to carry on, but I didn’t want to keep the responsibility of making something grow. So, we found a buyer who understood what Orlebar Brown was, what I wanted for the brand and what it could be going forward. Now, I focus on creating the stories and finding the characters that give a pair of swim shorts some context. That’s the interesting bit.” Of course, the natural question to ask any successful entrepreneur, like Brown, is what’s the secret to building a brand? His answer is refreshingly straight-forward. “For a style brand to be successful you need to have a singular vision. There’s nothing worse than a diluted idea. Somebody has to make a call and stick to it. Of course, you have to listen to others and take advice, but as founder you might then decide to do something completely different because your gut instinct tells you that’s the right thing; I always err towards that idea in the end.”
What is Brown’s gut instinct right now, then? “We’re constantly evolving what our brand can be,” he says. “We’re not just about swim shorts, we’re there to help people to holiday better, so the question I keep asking is how do we do that this year, while travel is difficult?” “The short answer is you have to remember that everything is an opportunity. Have a plan, stay focused and get on with it.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
"The thing I enjoy most about my job is storytelling. I wanted to carry on, but I didn’t want to keep the responsibility of making something grow."