You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht. And yet, Carly Simon wasn't talking about you. Or him. Or those two city boys over there. Or the guy across the way that you faintly remember from first year who, actually, looks a lot like every other guy you met in first year.
But you, and everyone else, could well be mistaken for the chief antagonist of Ms Simon's seminal 1972 FU hit. Not because you're a bad man. But because, in the last eight years or so, men's swimwear – the sort worn to actual yacht parties, and every other water-based party not hosted by a Belarusian cabinet minister – has become a homogenous body of Riviera-tinged, my-father-the-land-baron short shorts. They're often tailored, clean, best-worn by Ralph Lauren models, but also standard kit for those who weren't so successful in the DNA lottery. They come in classic shades of aquamarine and cerulean and Sean Connery (never blue, though), or in a print inspired by the architecture of an exclusive LA postcode. And they're very good. Hence, very popular.
What's more, it's in line with the resurgence of that whole prep 2.0 thing: the trust fund kid down the skate park. But what if you're not into that? What if you want something different, something built for more than Sicilian sunbathing? It was a conundrum faced by Alexandre Sundberg: a born and bred Parisian who high schooled in Sweden, and who that wanted proper flexibility with his summer essentials.
"I wanted shorts that were versatile, and shorts that you can swim in, and run in, or go to the gym in or, y'know, go for a stroll in Rome," he says. Which, coincidentally, was exactly what Sundberg was doing when we shared a phone call earlier this month, during which he was also wearing a shorts solution of his own making: True Tribe.
As a label that's yet to reach its third birthday, Sundberg's brainchild hasn't yet faced that difficult sixth season quandary: doing something different just to attract attention. It knows exactly who it is. Which means it's not much like the current rotation of yachty swimwear, but it's also not so left-field that it's "deconstructing the shorts paradigm" (there are, for example, still two leg holes). Instead, True Tribe is simple: a bit sporty and informed by Sundberg's travels abroad.
"I didn't have many clothes, just a backpack, and I went to Australia with some swim short samples I'd sorted with some Portuguese suppliers as a bit of a side project," says the former Saint Laurent staffer. "I went hitchhiking from Perth to Darwin in these shorts, so I had some exposure to tribal and Aboriginal culture, and that's kind of what triggered the whole brand. I saw some extremely beautiful prints and designs, and it was such a defined, individual sort of art, and the whole philosophy of True Tribe emerged from there: you just need shorts and a backpack and the bare minimum."
Alongside the kaleidoscopic patterns of Aboriginal art are iridescent fabrics, quieter takes on camo (elevated in name to the rather French special forces-sounding "camo verde") and mosaics that are much easier to wear than all-over prints. These are shorts you can just throw on, but which won't look out of place if you wear them straight from the beach to the bar. Less formal than what we've grown used to over the last decade, but that's sort of the point.
Most brands at this price point trumpet their homegrown manufacturing, but True Tribe's early marketing campaigns proudly bore the slogan: 'Not Made In France'. "My family is in production, and they work a lot in Pakistan," says Lundberg, "So, we decided to start our own workshop there, and we saw a massive opportunity for a new way to do business in developing countries where fast fashion is the dominant industry.
"We wanted to focus on craftsmanship, so we started with around five pieces and each pair of shorts takes about four hours to make. And it's all made from recycled materials, using nylon from fishing nets and other trash from the ocean. That whole circularity in the fashion business is really key, and we partner up with Survival International that covers the rights of Aboriginal peoples around the world with different projects." Quality over quantity then. And, unlike major players in fashion, True Tribe's dedicated artisans have faces, and names, and fairer salaries – all introduced to shoppers on the brand's website.
That tightly curated initial line of five pieces has grown to 20. That includes a pair of well-made t-shirts which, again, make their presence known with subtle design details – and a focus on the sustainable. "It's something we were able to produce using organic cotton, but now everyone's going for that. So we looked at interesting options like tencel, which is a tree fibre," says Sundberg. "Then, we went for something slightly more raw, so the edges of the collar are a little torn. It sits with shorts that are designed to go exploring in, and it's a change from the regular clean collar most brands are doing."
Who, coincidentally, are all sat on deck right now, Aperol in hand, Ibiza Chill Classics snaking from the sound system. True Tribe is nowhere to be seen. And as for the guys opting for its unique strain of fun-to-look-at functionality? Don't worry: that Carly Simon song is most certainly not about you ('bout you, 'bout you).
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