Friday, July 15, 2011

Rapha Women's Line... I Don't Get It

Rapha, Ride Studio Cafe
Rapha is one of those companies that people tend to either love, or love to hate. Essentially a manufacturer of high-end cycling clothing, but also a magazine publisher, racing sponsor,  event organiser, bicycle design collaborator, and general "lifestyle brand," Rapha promotes an unapologetically romantic vision of roadcycling via an endless output of dreamy images as part of its advertising and social media campaigns. Slender, beautifully backlit cyclists suffer exquisitely as they scale mountains - often in black and white, and often to the accompaniment of haunting music, fostering a sense of nostalgia for a time that is not yet in the past. The garments offered are minimalist and expensive. That is Rapha in a nutshell. 

Rapha, Insignia
Now, let me make it clear that I have nothing against Rapha's marketing tactics. I appreciate an effective advertising campaign achieved through emotional channels, and for this they surely deserve an award. When something inspires such excellent parody, you know it's reached iconic status. I also have nothing against brands that are considered luxury or high end, if the quality of their products reflects the price. So what's my problem with Rapha? It's not so much a problem, as a genuine feeling of dissonance - at least when it comes to the women's line. When I encounter their clothing in person, what's in front of me does not match the image cultivated by the impressive adverts.

Rapha Jacket
Take, for instance, the Women's Stowaway Jacket. Last summer I was desperate for a cycling rain jacket after my old windbreaker came apart. I wanted the jacket to be form-fitting, waterproof, and, ideally, red. Having exhausted the less pricey alternatives, I followed up on a suggestion to try Rapha. The Stowaway happened to be on sale at the Ride Studio Cafe at the time, and I came prepared to buy it. I tried on the jacket. It wasn't bad. I mean, not horrendous. Basically, it looked like a tracksuit top circa 1982 - something you'd expect to see on, say, an East German gymnast of that era. It's an intriguing look if you can pull that sort of thing off, but not especially flattering. The shade of red also strikes me as uninspired: not an exciting bright red and not a classic vintagey-brick either, but a dated crimson that I do not readily associate with cycling.

Rapha Jacket, Collar
True to '80s tracksuits styling, the fit is tight in the chest, but mysteriously baggy above the chest - forming strange folds at the collar that threatened to constrict my breathing.

Rapha Jacket
And do you see that bulge in the back? You're probably thinking that's the rear pockets. Nope. This cycling jacket has no rear pockets; that's just a bulge that forms on its own.

Rapha Jacket, Pocket
Although there are side pockets, they are small - so small, that I had trouble sticking my hands inside. Mind you, none of these design flaws are at all unusual in the sadistic world of women's cycling apparel, and if anything Rapha is not as bad as some of the alternatives. But for me, that is just not good enough given what I was made to expect.

Rapha, Jersey
Moving on to the Classic Women's Jersey - which I had considered when looking for wool cycling clothing: The styling in itself is all right, except that the full-length zipper creates artificial "tummy folds," as is common with this type of jersey.

Rapha, Jersey
The fabric is described as "sportwool," but as soon as I put it on, it became clear that this was a euphemism for a polyester-heavy blend. I later checked and yup: "sportwool" is 60% polyester.

Rapha, Jersey
Though the minimalist design is tasteful and subtle, I would rate the texture of the fabric as average on the rough vs silky scale. And for a hot weather jersey, it seemed somewhat heavy to me.

Rapha, Arm Warmers with Jersey
One nice thing about the Rapha jerseys, is that they come with arm warmers. Problem is (and I am not the only one to have noted this), that the arm warmers seem to be one size smaller than the jersey - rendering them essentially useless for those whose arms are not stick-thin. Too bad, because including matching arm warmers is a wonderful idea.

Rapha, Cycling Cap
I could go on about other items in the Rapha women's line, but that's probably enough for now. Suffice to say that I find all of it more or less all right, but by no means extraordinary either in quality or looks. I am supportive of what Rapha is trying to do - create inspiring, classic, tasteful, well made cycling clothing. We can certainly use more brands that create such clothing for female cyclists, so really, I am all for it.  But come on Rapha: Live up to your image. Watching all those dreamy backlit videos, I expected some truly "epic" women's cycling apparel... and this ain't it.

41 comments:

  1. I know I've harped on this a bit, but until this post and pic http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6013/5940497654_bac42d84c5_m.jpg I'd say I could pick you out of a line.

    If you find a line of faux 70s other side of the Iron Curtain styled gear, that would be a good look to go for, on just the right occasion.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You mean I look different here than usual? Admittedly, some of the angles are a bit weird : )

    I've seen 80s Eastern Euro track suits in vintage stores, so might be worth a look!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think you've highlighted a company that probably doesn't have cyclists as designers. Once again, the cut is horrible and uncomfortable looking. I also notice that with the light colored garments you can see the pockets and lining right through it. :( sad

    ReplyDelete
  4. "...until this post and pic...I'd say I could pick you out of a line."

    Chris,

    That was the first thing that I thought when I started reading this post!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I work at a clothing factory where I design clothes (workwear, nothing glamorous) for a living, and I could instantly see what the problem is with the cut of these jerseys. Either the patterns were derived from menswear patterns (which tend to be cut like a box) or if they were built up from women's slopers (basic patterns), the grading (sizing) was done with a menswear formula, or both.

    Women sometimes wonder why the cost of their clothing is often more than similar men's garments, but in the factory, it really is a whole different ballgame when you're making women's' clothes, especially fitted ones. If you try to manufacture women's clothing with a menswear mentality, nicely tailored garments become impossible, even with something as simple as a knit cycling jersey, and especially with something like a jacket that can't fake good fit with stretchy fabric.

    ReplyDelete
  6. East German gymnast. That is SOOO funny! I was thinking sportwool must have been a key ingredient in liesure suits (of the same era).

    I'm a sucker for impeccable roadie wear, black, Euro, flattering, roadworthy, fast. Like I channeled into NY from Liege or the Ardennes. Its all part of the fun.

    ReplyDelete
  7. V, I hope it felt good to vent! (Always makes me feel better! ;-)) BUT, I do have to say that cycling needs more people making stylish cycling clothes! To me that is the thing that will attract a certain number of enthusiasts, just because we are cyclist does not mean we don't want to look good!

    The problem as I see it is when I go to look for something to wear on my bike; anything too expensive seem counter productive! Even with fenders, riding clothes tend to suffer. Rain, wind, sweat, bugs, dirt; that being the case anything that's Too precious seems counter productive.

    Is it too much to ask for something, practical, utilitarian, looks good and that's still economical?

    MASMOJO

    ReplyDelete
  8. Bif - yeah, I am trying to suppress the memories of stale BO, so characteristic of those leisure suits (and seemingly impossible to wash out), when my friends in high school used to buy them from the local vintage shop...

    Rona - They actually are cyclists, but as breakingchainstakinglanes suggests, most likely all male. They've got this one model on whom the women's tops look good, and she has an unusually bony body type with wide shoulders and narrow hips, so I suspect these items have been specced for her. But on other women - even on one of their own models, you can tell that the tailoring creates problems.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I find this problem with almost all fitness-specific clothing. It's designed by men, and the only women they know are itty-bitty, super-fit triathletes. Now, my neighbor is one of those ladies, and more power to her. But for those of us who aren't super-duper-sporty, and who just want to wear practical clothing that performs specific sport-related functions well, fit is a nightmare. I stopped being built like a teenage boy when I was 12. I know there are many grown women out there who have small breasts and hips and tiny little thighs. I see them riding by, and hate them accordingly. But I have full-on mom boobs, left-over kid-holdin' belly fat, thighs and a rear-end. I need some room, and a tailored fit.

    That's why I never buy cycling-specific clothing. I just can never find stuff I like that doesn't emphasize every little wrinkle or fat roll on my body as if I were posing in a Reubens painting. HI! SEE MY BELLY? HERE IT IS!! It makes me want to remind the young gentlemen designing these things that middle-aged ladies do bike, despite their belief that once a woman has a baby, she turns right into their mom, who they conveniently forget did anything other than feed them home-baked pies.

    Can you tell this stuff pisses me off? And that I need cycling shorts soon and I'm putting it off for this very reason?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Peppy (amazing cycling-, the)July 15, 2011 at 6:55 PM

    I have all my cycling outfits tailor made. Although crotchless, they are remarkably comfortable and moisture wicking (and self-cleaning). I even have a winter and summer set.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Haha, preach!

    I read this first from work where flickr photos are blocked, so I did not have a visual, but I was laughing out loud. Looking at the pictures now from home, the jacket and jersey look much better than I imagined. But I hear you on the strange bunching and the odd combo of too tight on the bust/too puffy elsewhere. The problems with Rapha and many other lines make me feel that many companies are more interested in the potential $$$ to be made from "women-specific" lines than in actually designing clothes that work for real women.

    ReplyDelete
  12. They block flickr at your work? Scandalous! : )

    One brand that has surprisingly flattering women's cycling clothing - at least for my body type - is Campagnolo. If I could wear lycra, I'd be all over their jerseys, they fit like a glove and don't bunch up. And I bought their rain jacket last year, which fits well and is waterproof.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I do pretty fine on a mixture of Lululemon and American Apparel.
    May give them a try...

    Anna

    ReplyDelete
  14. "Big fonts. Because Helvetica means we're not fucking around." LOL!!! Yes, excellent parody indeed. :)

    There really is no way to design a line of outfits that can fit everyone. But that shouldn't be an excuse for designers to design clothing that only fits one body type. Especially if they intent is to make money. I mean really, why not create garments that many people can wear and therefor will want to buy?

    ReplyDelete
  15. I love the Rapha mens stuff -- the materials and construction are leagues beyond anything else on the racks, and the small fashion details (asymmetrical zippers, pink accents) are eye-catching without being flashy. Their womens line does nothing for me; it's just not the same at all. As a tall but bony female, I wish I could wear the mens apparel... but I'm just too small.

    Take a look at Nau clothing. It's not cycling-specific, but the cuts of some of their jackets are very bike-appropriate. Remarkably well designed but sky-high priced, so I'm thrilled they have a sample sale every season here in Portland...

    ReplyDelete
  16. Good to hear a frank review that pulls no punches. Guess Rapha won't be advertising here anytime soon.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I wonder though if you had liked the Rapha line and if your photos had better lighting, if you smiled, and let your hair down and straightened everything out a bit, if it would change the effect of your review. This is not a criticism I think your points are well made about the line. I too had to take a double take, I wasn't sure if that was really you in those photos.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thanks for the reply back Velouria. What you say makes sense about the designers.

    Have you considered that for 160.00 you can buy a nice men's garment and have it altered to fit well? You'd probably get a better garment and you will have given work to someone in your local economy.

    Lately I've been giving the Lidl and Aldi cycle clothing a try. It's not bad at all for the bargain prices. I wear my favorite light wool sweater over top. The weather here lately has been like an extended springtime. It's July and barely over 75F most days. No super short cycle shorts for me right now!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Sue - Good point, and partly intentional on my part. This is a complicated topic and I don't want to be misunderstood, but basically clothing does not look in photographs the same as it does in person. I can make my favourite Ibex jersey look either good or horrible on me depending on how I take the picture, but in person it always looks good. I can make the pair of Pearl izumi shorts I bought 2 years ago look either good or horrible on me in pictures, but in person it always looks horrible. This dichotomy between reality as seen by the human eye vs what is possible to capture in photos is why successful advertisement is possible even when clothing does not actually look good on people in person.

    Anyhow, when I ride a roadbike, I look disheveled, my hair is sweaty, and I have no space for a DSLR camera in my jersey or on the bike. I also had no one with me to take pictures of me and it's too complicated to use a self-timer inside the shop. So, this is what the pictures came out like, and I decided it was an appropriate way to make the point that the Rapha clothing I see looks just sort of regular and tired in person. I don't actually think it looks bad on me - or that these pictures of me are bad. I think it's all sort of okay, but "sort of okay" is not what Rapha promotes.

    Oh and (arevee) re advertising - Not that I am asking them to advertise, but I don't think this review is bad for them. I generally don't think critical reviews are bad for businesses, possibly the opposite.

    Essentially, I am not bashing the company, but criticising a specific line of products. I enjoy reading Rouleur and I like the way some of the men's clothing looks on the men I see wearing it. I am just saying that I think they should try harder with the women's line. Make a better women's line, with more flattering tailoring, more exciting colours and ideally a 100% merino option for the fabric.

    ReplyDelete
  20. snarky - I have a size A chest which is definitely not "Mom boobs" and the Stowaway jacket is still tight across the chest (while being loose elsewhere, so it's not a matter of the size being too small). Truly mysterious.

    I avoided cycling specific clothing for as long as possible, but gave in when I started "seriously" roadcycling. When you find stuff that fits right and is made of the fabric you want, there are all sorts of practical reasons why cycling clothing works better. I can't tolerate polyester, but Ibex, Swobo and Icebreaker wool works well for me.

    ReplyDelete
  21. V - Are you allergic to lycra ? I'm not a fan of lycra jerseys but wear one occasionally ? It smells horrible after a ride so I wash it immediately. I usually wear Smart Wool or Ibex.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I think that jacket looks smashing on you!
    I'm an admitted Rapha junkie and love the Sportwool. It has that nice merino feel on the inside, but the synthetic on the outside allows it to be thinner and seems to make it much cooler in hot weather. I've found nothing better than their lightweight jerseys for the hottest days, whether dry or muggy.
    Rapha is sort of backwards: most companies' women's gear is more stylish than the men's, but the Rapha women's line is more dull, IMO.
    Did you try the shorts or 3/4 bibs? I'd be curious to know what you thought.
    I'm not a woman, but prefer the women's 3/4 bibs to the men's version. They're not too long in the leg and the "female specific" pad fits my male undercarriage just fine :-)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thanks for the review. I guesss I would have to try it on in order to know if they fit me. I have a latin shape and I often struggle finding clothes that look good. I often find that clothes that are made in Asian countries run extremely small.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I looked at the store Newstoneage mentioned, Nau. They have a cycling jacket that looks promising:
    http://www.nau.com/womens/categories/pedal/dualist-jacket-014W01.html
    It has a merino body with recycled poly panels. Don't know if recycled poly works for you Veloria, but I would totally consider this jacket for myself if it weren't...drumroll....$265!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Yeah, I was pretty disturbed by the lack of a women's line for rapha...I don't think they even had one until recently. But their women's stuff is definitely not the same quality as the mens'! 60% polyester/wool blend is horrible stuff, why bother? I find it hard to take rapha too seriously.
    I don't even bother with cyclng wear. I find icebreaker's shirts to be perfect and they fit so well. Their advertising is 'super serious' too, but I know their stuff fits and is wonderfully well made(ditto for ibex and others). I also collect whatever merino and cashmere I can find second hand. If you find something second hand or on sale it can always be tailored to fit. My rain jacket is still just my old mec gortex jacket with a broken zipper.
    One problem for slim men is that they cannot find clothes that fit either. My husband often ends up wearing women's clothes because the men's smallest size is still too big. But the fit is wrong and he feels like a dork.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Anon 1:29 - I don't know whether it's allergic per se, or some sort of skin sensitivity. I get a rash if I wear polyester right against my skin. I can wear spandex and lycra fine, but cycling clothing is actually mostly polyester and not actual lycra. So if a fabric is, say 50% wool and 50% lycra/spandex, I can wear it, but not if it's 50% wool and 50% polyester.

    ReplyDelete
  27. rapha gear is overpriced (way way overpriced) and, quite frankly, sucks. for rainwear? showerspass. and for all other woolens and all? anyone but rapha. but for videos? rapha's yer guys.

    ReplyDelete
  28. most times i just wear dickies stuff. most all the time, actually. pearl ozumi if i'm goin' more'n say 50 miles or so. anything less? street cltohes. like i say. dickies and cheap shit.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I tried Showerspass when shopping for rain gear last summer. The fit wasn't too bad, but the jackets make rustling sounds that would drive me nuts on a bike after a few minutes!

    ReplyDelete
  30. What we really need is cycling apparel made by women, for women. Women that actually sweat a lot and ride hard. And don't use ugly patterns like Terry does--who actually buys those horrible printed jerseys??

    I feel like pretty much all cycling apparel takes their mens line and modifies it for women, without real women even trying it out. The shoulder fit on that jacket makes it seem like that's exactly what Rapha does, at least.

    For that reason I wear clothes designed for other sports while cycling. Loads more attractive, well-fitted, women specific options. Still waiting for the perfect cute cycling jersey, though! Love seeing reviews like this on your blog, please keep them coming--I've often wondered how those Rapha tops fit! :)

    ReplyDelete
  31. i just bought a Showers Pass "Portland" commuter rain jacket (locally, on sale) a couple weekends ago. fits well, i'm happy to say. i'm about 5'9" and i bought the women's large. i don't own anything Rapha, but i do have a couple Ibex wool jerseys. they are nice and snug and the lines are good for me. my favorite cycling 'knickers' aren't cycling specific at all...the Arcteryx "Gamut" capris are awesome. i liked them so much i bought five pairs when they went on sale. Thanks for your review of women's line at Rapha, as i had been thinking to try something (the vest in particular) Think i'll wait a bit, now.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Also meant to add i bought a pair of Outlier women's cycling pants a couple years ago (the winter version) when they ran a sale posted on Twitter. They have been wonderful. I am long legged, and these pants were not only long enough, they could have even been hemmed a tad. It is rare for me to find pants long enough. They fit true to size, fwiw, and i highly recommend them. i do wish Outlier would introduce more women-specific cycling clothing, too.

    ReplyDelete
  33. @Lauren: that dualist jacket is on my wishlist! It might work for Velouria as the polyester panels are sewn on top of the merino body so she wouldn't be wearing poly against skin. While Nau retail pricing is as high as Rapha, you can find new/discounted stuff on ebay (often items being re-sold by Portlanders who picked up bargains at the Nau Warehouse sales!). If you're in the PNW, Nau is pretty attainable - a local store has 40% sales about once a month.

    @kim: agreeing on the Outlier pants - the fit is fantastic. I'm a little disappointed with the quality of the stitching. For $180, I didn't expect loose threads and a button that felt like it would fall off on first wear. The waistband also pulls strangely. As the pants slide down on my hips over a few hours' wearing, the waistband stretches oddly. Seems like there should be a layer of reinforcement in the waist to help maintain the structure.

    Someone ought to start a blog reviewing womens cycling clothes... anyone? anyone want to join me?

    ReplyDelete
  34. I'd be interested in seeing a Rapha x Lovely Bicycle clothing collaboration now...

    ReplyDelete
  35. I would love to see a blog reviewing women's cycling clothes!

    I've been curious about the outlier pants, but they're pretty expensive and I just assumed not well fitted for women. Are either of you guys curvy (@newstoneage, kim)? I have a weird shape--long legged (but still only 5'3), short torso, petite, and curvy, and have no faith that those pants would flatter me.

    I agree with Anna--love lululemon, and occasionally american apparel, though I no longer buy from american apparel due to all the attached scandal and sexism the company is known for.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Adam - I think Ibex x Lovely Bicycle is more likely, some day.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I agree, I think you look terrific in this kit from the photos you've posted.
    Your audience should know that Rapha women's product development is lead by women who are keen cyclist themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  38. "Rapha women's product development is lead by women who are keen cyclist themselves"

    Curiouser and curiouser. Would love to see how this jacket looks on them.

    Just so you know I am not alone in my impressions of this jacket, here's a review from BikeSkirt along with many comments expressing similar.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I like the Rapha women's stuff and own one of the items but it is all tad bit too serious for me. Personally, I want clothes that are made for some hard riding but that still make feel like a girl. That's where I think the Rapha stuff falls short.

    I bought a jersey from Road Holland which I have been very pleased with. The material is the same sportwool blend that is being talked about here and I like the way the jersey has a fun tulip print inside the collar. The fit is great and obviously geared toward a girl with some chest up there. Plus, it was a bit cheaper than the Rapha stuff but still of the same quality.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Hey Velouria, speaking of women's bike apparel, I just came across this: http://www.cyclodelic.com/collections/clothing/products/red-edwardian-jacket I had never heard of Cyclodelic before, but they look to be making unique and functional cycling gear specifically for women. Long may it continue! The specific link up there is to a red cycling jacket, as I know you were interested in them.

    ReplyDelete