Fashion, like literature, has both text and subtext. As a physical object, it can be admired for its technical virtuosity, but it is in its subtext where fashion achieves something greater than the sum of its parts, some ineffable quality called style.
Adam Brown, founder of British menswear label Orlebar Brown, speaks the language of style better than most. His 17-piece swim shorts, tailored according to Savile Row specifications, are a testament to technical dexterity, yet his genius lies in his ability to evoke the good life. (Think late nights in Cap Ferrat and last-minute jaunts to Morocco.)
George Plimpton, the longtime editor of The Paris Review, was a perfect embodiment of this spirit. His many exploits included sparring with Sugar Ray Robinson and being appointed Fireworks Commissioner (a not-altogether-real position) by the mayor of New York. And his parties were legendary.
It comes as little surprise, then, that The Paris Review, now under the aegis of Lorin Stein, has teamed up with Orlebar Brown to commemorate its 60th anniversary. The result is a limited-edition collection of swim shorts, available exclusively at Barneys New York, emblazoned with artwork from the literary journal’s iconic covers.
The season-appropriate prints chosen for the capsule collection include William Pène du Bois’s illustration of la Place de la Concorde in Paris, Kim MacConnel’s 1980 beach scene, Donald Sultan’s orange floral print from 1996, and Leanne Shapton’s cover from the spring 2011 issue. Below, we chat with Brown and Stein to find out more about this summer’s must-have collaboration.
The Window: How did this collaboration come about?
Adam Brown: Following the success of our photographic imagery on shorts last year, for SS13 we have been exploring illustration on a range of shorts and shirts. When Barneys suggested an XO edition using artwork from the covers of The Paris Review it was a great opportunity to push this story a bit further. Not only do we all love reading The Paris Review on holiday, but now we can wear them too…
Lorin Stein: It was written in the stars! But also we wanted a way to celebrate our 60th birthday. Sixty is ancient for a literary magazine. These trunks made us feel young.
How did you choose which covers to use?
AB: We worked closely with The Paris Review and Barneys to select the illustrations. We all felt that each illustrator brings a different personality to the collaboration through their style and creativity. We wanted each illustration to complement each other, whilst offering something different and I think we found the perfect mix—from illustrative line drawings, to a detailed (almost architectural) sketch, to a colorful repeat print and a loose, free-hand approach. All represent different means of illustration.
LS: Orlebar Brown did the choosing—we’d have been stumped. Every cover has its own associations for us. For instance, I might have suggested the Larry Rivers cover from 1963. It’s a sort of mashup of the Lucky Strike target and the Gauloise winged helmet. But I guess cigarette logos aren’t very beachy in 2013. (You see why I ‘m not a bathing suit designer.)
Do you have a favorite suit from the collection?
AB: My favorite is the grey Du Bois Bulldog shorts. They feature a beautiful cityscape sketch of Paris, which is a nice play on our popular photographic print shorts, which often feature desirable destinations.
LS: My personal favorite has to be Leanne Shapton’s drawing of two women sunbathing, with the caption “‘Poor man,’ I heard Hanna say.” That’s an illustration from Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Third Reich, which we published in the Review. It’s the first original art I commissioned as editor. But also … is it just me, or is there something irreducibly sexy about half-naked women expressing pity for a man behind his back?
Where will you be wearing the collection this summer?
AB: My partner and I will be going to Ibiza later this summer.
LS: I can’t decide—Malpais or my fire escape?
What are you reading right now?
AB: I always have a few books on the go at the same time: Diana Vreeland by Amanda Mackenzie Stewart; Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore; and After the Fall by Charity Norman.
LS: Two terrific books: Claire Messud’s novel The Woman Upstairs and Mac Griswold’s epic history The Manor: Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island. I’m learning so much I didn’t know about early colonial America but also about archaeology and, more generally, about the way families mythologize their origins.
Sunbathers Swim Trunks
Watercolor Scene Swim Trunks
Floral Sultan Swim Trunks
Cityscape Swim Trunks