When it comes to choosing swimwear, bear in mind the three tenets of style: Cut, colour and coverage.
It was a family vacation that acted as the catalyst for British photographer Adam Brown’s new fashion venture; he cast his eye over the poolside in dismay at the way in which the resort’s well-heeled female guests were catered to in considered, well-fitted swimming costumes, and yet its menfolk were cast adrift in sagging, shapeless, distasteful trunks and shorts. “It started back in 2007 when I was on holiday with friends in Rajasthan. I looked around the pool and the women looked great but the men didn’t. They were just there in the usual board and boxer shorts – nothing you could wear to lunch afterwards.”
A kernel of an idea was born, and Brown – with his wife – set about creating Orlebar Brown, intelligently taking the tenets of tailoring and applying them to the creation of swimming shorts – so tabs on the side to adjust the width (à la on tailored suit trousers) and a crisp, lean cut. The roster of pieces relies on a series of shape templates: Bulldog for a mid-thigh cut, Dane for longer and Setter for a shorter aesthetic. And from an initial line-up of zinging bright shades in solid block colours (no apologetic blacks and greiges here), the range has expanded into richly patterned pieces and shorts with photographic snapshots of Riviera life.
“I think we have delivered something to our male audience that feels classic – it’s all about true quality and understated style,” says Brown. “We have approached swimwear from a different angle. We’ve brought tailoring to the beach. We are ‘shorts you can swim in’.” Outfitting Daniel Craig’s James Bond for just that purpose – the scene where he took a few laps in the Four Seasons’ rooftop pool in Shanghai in Skyfall – helped cement OB’s position as the swimwear label of choice for stylish men.
Brown’s pin-sharp precis of exactly what men need and expect from their swimwear wardrobe has in part led to a quiet revolution, from the shores of Marbella to the coves of Amalfi. The global swimwear market is expected to reach $19.3 billion by 2018, with retailers such as Matches Fashion and Mr Porter reporting spikes in sales of luxury swimwear. It was this fervour – along with a jaunt to Rio de Janeiro – that prompted British entrepreneurs Harry Brantly and Max Leese to launch dynamic lifestyle brand Frescobol Carioca, which takes inspiration
from the vivid patterns and colours of South America with a hint of Savile Row panache thrown in. The duo apply patterns and iconography from the murals and pavements of Brazil, and have gone on to launch two standalone stores in London.
Across the pond, Saturdays Surf NYC – founded by a magazine art director, professional snowboarder and fashion designer – was created to combine sporting finesse with a sense of downtown cool, a respite from the tiresome Honolulu prints that had come to dominate surfing attire. And further afield, this spirit has infused the nation that perhaps more than any other encapsulates outdoor sportiness and dynamic vim: Australia. The country’s dedication to beach life is well documented, but thankfully, a new swell of swimwear brands has tidied up the silhouettes, prints and proportions that once were a byword for ‘daggy’.
Cult label Tom & Teddy was founded by two Sydney residents Michelle L’Huillier and Jelle de Jong, as an outfitter for fathers and their well-attired little ones; the label makes nautical-inspired pieces that eschew the standard functional form for something more playful. And following in Orlebar Brown’s footsteps, Mosmann Australia creates swimwear silhouettes in the same vein – neatly tailored with bold, vivid colours and intricate prints. The brand was founded in harbour town Mossman, a well-heeled suburb of Sydney, and acts as a reminder that the country’s swimwear (and underwear) contingent needn’t necessarily step into questionable Aussie Bum territory. Men, it’s time to up your presence, from the pool to the parasol and lounger.