Chris Kolbe

Is that a Penguin on Your Shirt?

Thirty-five-year-old Chris Kolbe was hired by Original Penguin in 2002 as President and Brand Manager. His job, essentially, was to re-launch the brand. Since then, he’s given Original Penguin a whole new personality. “We’re now more offbeat when it comes to our sense of humor,” says Kolbe. “We’ve taken that classic sensibility and given it some attitude.”

The company started out by introducing the first official logoed golf shirt in 1955. They designed clothes that were “staples among the masters of suburban leisure.” Now, Kolbe enjoys poking fun at the same preppies the company used to design for. “Original Penguin is really an old but new brand,” says Kolbe. “Our soul comes from 50’s and 60’s America, but we’ve found a way to make it more interesting, more fun.” Drawing his inspiration from the music of bands like Ok Go and the city streets of New York and Tokyo, Kolbe is interested in making beautiful products that aren’t boring. “We’re very interested in making nice products, but we still want to have fun. We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously,” he says.

He comes up with the clever names for all of the collections himself. For example, “The Rolling Green Country Club” was their subtle drug reference, for those savvy enough to get it. “The Fast Times of O. Wilde High” paid homage to an imaginary Oscar Wilde, the one who went to a Southern California high school. Just recently, he came up with the collection, “Leave it to Yoshi,” based on a suburban Japanese kid living in the suburbs of Tokyo—a sort of alter-ego to Leave it to Beaver.

If there’s one person who embodies what Original Penguin is doing creatively, Kolbe would have to say that’d be Woody Allen, “but in the 70’s, back when he was funny,” he insists. Ultimately, these are clothes for people who think more about style than fashion.

“People who are attracted to our brand are those that might wear plaid pants with a biker jacket and a sweater vest underneath,” he says. “There’s a lot of intelligence behind our designs.” The company now consists of menswear, womenswear, bags, sunglasses and shoes. They even came out with a “Pimp” watch recently, inspired by James Bond. Whether it’s a more classic-looking polo or a striped V-neck sweater, every piece has a bit of attitude, which is what Kolbe believes will make Original Penguin “the brand of the next generation.”

– Amy Zalneraitis

Reading by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Chris Kolbe.

1. Romantically, quite monogamous by nature. Tends to give his whole heart and wants to find his soul mate. Will do so, but it will take awhile – not likely to find that soul mate straight out of high school.

2. Good stage presence. Will be completely believable in public speaking, no matter what the subject, whether it’s practical science or flying saucers.

3. This believability will be a great resource for his love of practical joking – the perfect “straight man” who gets you going completely believing him before delivering the coup de grace of the punch line.

4. Probably had a relatively sane childhood and early family life, less trauma in youth than many people might have. He was probably, with his warped sense of humor, more traumatic for his family than the other way around!

5. With all the humor, he is nonetheless a very gentle person – and considerate of others. Not the sort of person who would play his music loud if he knew there was a baby sleeping next door.

6. Good health and a basically strong constitution. Likely to live a long time provided that nobody gets TOO upset by one of his practical jokes!

7. He leads with his heart in most all things.


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