Content | Core values
Brand article for Rapha’s D&AD award-winning Mondial magazine, detailing the development of a new product line.
Core values: How Rapha redefined ‘workwear for the bike’
There is beauty in simplicity. It’s a principle that has informed much of Rapha’s design since its first jerseys – plain black with a white armband – rocked an industry accustomed to neon colours and garish logos.
Twelve years on, and Rapha continues to refine that principle by creating a pared-back collection of essential ridewear designed for putting in the hours. Consisting of cycling jerseys and shorts for men and women the Rapha Core collection is available in five of Rapha’s most popular colourways from a palette spanning more than a decade.
“Let’s call Core ‘workwear for the bike,’ or what you’d wear to train in,” says Alex Valdman, head of design at Rapha. “It’s a great collection to wear when you’re putting in the miles – it’s durable but it’s still a premium product at a premium price.” Fundamental to the Core design philosophy is that less is more.
“In the fashion industry, there are only a handful of designers constantly challenging the traditional construction of garments,” Valdman explains, “brands like Acronym and Wooyoungmi. Yet the ultimate goal remains the same – to create something inspiring.” In architecture and furniture design the concept is easier to articulate, much as it is in the technology sector. Apple has long offered alternative product lines that uphold the brand’s commitment to quality while using fewer parts or offering slightly less functionality (think iPod Shuffle or iPhone 5C).
“Imagining new techniques and new ways of engineering a garment is the best way to upgrade the functionality,” says Valdman. But one inspiration for the Core range came from an early innovator.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the Levis Orange Tab jeans from 1969. They weren’t born out of fashion or vogue, instead they were a design exercise in creating a pair of jeans that were as durable as Levis’ other products but used a streamlined production.
“Levis’ famous red tabs took 12 people to sew and six rivets to reinforce the critical areas. The Orange Tabs took half the time to make and half the people to make them, utilising just enough thread and rivets to make a durable garment that still stands the test of time.”
Rapha Core has been created with this same efficiency in mind, the streamlined production process reflected in the finished product. The material used in the leg-gripper trim of the shorts is also used in the back of the jersey, and the zip guard fabric reappears on the sleeve tips.
Crucially, there has been no compromise on quality – the shorts, for example, feature the same high-grade chamois pad used in Rapha’s Classic Bib Shorts.
“We wanted to be able to release products that are still at the Rapha standard but which aren’t heavily branded,” says Valdman. “For me, there are similarities with the work of Japanese architect Tadao Ando, whose style of reimagining empty space highlights the beauty of simplicity. For example, Ando uses offset walls to create gaps in his buildings. This replaces the need for windows and also creates wells of light.
“This concept, the absence of one component to create a feature, was used to give the Core garments depth.” On the Core jersey the traditional Rapha armband – a separate piece of material sewn in with an embroidered logo – has been replaced with a simple, raised stitch pattern, and the gripper usually incorporated into the turned-back hem of all Rapha jerseys, which keeps the rear of the jersey in place while riding, was also removed in place of a raw-cut strip of grippy material.
“The aim was to create a fresh aesthetic that made it distinct from other Rapha collections,” Valdman says. “It remains a beautiful collection and still visibly Rapha.”