Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
Do men care about what they wear on the beach? Probably not. Or at least only a tiny minority. But women care, which is why I’ve brought in Delphine, the Paris princess, for some style advice. What do you buy your loved one for la plage in high summer?
Is it Vilebrequin, famously modeled by Tony Blair in the Caribbean? Is it Lacoste with its cute little crocodile logo? Or is it – heaven forbid – Boden, famously worn by David Cameron in Cornwall?
Delphine has one style rule for men, gleaned from a male friend who’s Italian. Never, he says, wear a pair of swimming trunks with a print you wouldn’t wear as a shirt – so that rules out monkeys and palm trees. Sensible, n’est-ce-pas?
Delphine steers me towards Orlebar Brown, the British swimwear label. A quick Google reveals that this is a brand that makes regular guest appearances on the glossy metrosexual pages of GQ. They’re known as swim ‘shorts’ by the way and on OB’s website they are modeled by men so clean-cut and wholesome they have no hair at all except on their heads.
As I’m in the area I drop into Orlebar Brown’s shop on Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill, next door to Daylesford. It’s a white ultra-modern space split over two levels with all the clothes arranged by colour. A sales assistant called Anthony (pictured above) takes me under his wing and tells me that he gets a lot of French customers. ‘I think it’s because the French like things that look very sophisticated but are actually very simple,’ he says.
Orlebar Brown, he tells me, was founded by a photographer called Adam just seven years ago. Adam came up with the idea of launching his own swimwear label after holidaying with friends in India. While the women looked smart and elegant by the pool, the men were kitted out in a mishmash of unflattering, badly-cut swimming trunks and had nothing that could take them from pool to lunch.
Each OB short is tailored and based on the 17 parts of a man’s suit trouser. There are no elastic waistbands and the seam is curved at the back. The shorts come with a stitched label on the side, nickel-free buckles and a zip with a cross on it. The shop sells all the classic colours – navy, black, sky-blue – but also various seasonal colours including ‘splash’ (a startling turquoise that makes me think of Hollywood swimming pools and the queen’s coats) and magenta, a colour that’s un peu triste and best avoided on pale skins.
Adam is apparently mad about dogs so all the swimming trunks are named after dogs – dane, bulldog, setter, springer, boxer. Top halves, in the form of linen shirts, polos and t-shirts, are all named after boys – Sebastian, Tommy, Bobby etc.
Much to my surprise I like the shorts with digital prints on them, like the one below, which is called the Kaufman Cocktail (£225). The t-shirts with palm trees on them (below right) wouldn’t ring Delphine’s bell but they’re splendidly flamboyant. I can see them on a cruise ship or even better a super yacht but not sadly on anybody I know.
After looking at every single pair of swimming ‘short’ I’m picking just one star buy:
The perfect pair
I’m not convinced that wacky colours or prints appeal to many men, so I’m recommending just one pair of bulldog Orlebar Brown swim shorts in navy. They cost £135 – which is expensive – but one of the most style-conscious and athletic men I know, a property developer called Paul, says his OB trunks are still in great shape after four years.
This pair is very smart, it’s available online, and I’m convinced it will suit pretty much anybody. It has two side angle front pockets and one zip back pocket and comes with a waterproof drawstring bag.
The round-neck t-shirt (above left) is another winner. It’s called the Tommy T Riviera and is £60 which seems an awful lot to pay for a t-shirt. But it’s beautifully cut, super soft and comes in a shade of blue you don’t find easily on the high street.
Delphine believes in buying good-quality pieces that will last for years, rather than amassing great quantities of cheap clothes on the high street. Is this, I wonder, a better way to shop?
A bit too tame?
A male friend who has just been holidaying in the south of France says le tout St Tropez is currently wearing a brand called 83 990 named after the local postcode. It’s a French label consisting of patterned swimming shorts with a vintage postcard feel. It was founded in 2009 – possibly by the man who used to own Vilebrequin – and has just two shops, one in St Tropez, the other in Singapore. Its website has good sound effects (waves rolling in) and an appealingly nostalgic design but is quite hopeless otherwise. If you want to own a pair of 83 990s you’ll just have to go all the way to St Trop to find them. Sigh.