Weeks of careful planning, meticulous preparation and high pressure to perform on the day.
While perhaps not as torturous as the effort that went into Sir Bradley Wiggins’ hour record attempt, Rapha’s bespoke celebratory jersey for the Briton to wear as soon as he finished was a labour of some proportion nonetheless. A team of eight people worked over 200 hours to create the jersey, including a frenzied final few minutes when the golden numbers of the new UCI hour record distance were hand sewn onto the jersey inside the velodrome.
Inspired by the attention to detail that Sir Brad puts into his own sartorial choices, Rapha wanted to reward him with a truly special keepsake to mark the day he broke the record. The black long sleeve jersey he wore on his victory lap is made of fine Japanese silk and features the WIGGINS roundel, as well as rainbow stripes on the cuffs, marking Wiggins’ world champion time trial heritage. It also features concealed zips on the sleeves for a more formal touch of haute couture, and emblazoned across the chest are the all-important numbers denoting the exact distance of Wiggins’ record: 54.526km.
Produced in-house, Rapha pooled the talents of its design team and product developers, with the help of some external experts, for a one-off bespoke piece befitting the occasion. Claudine Rousseau, Course Director of Fashion Sportswear at London College of Fashion made the jersey’s patterns, which were then sent to Hand & Lock, embroidery specialists by royal appointment, who hand embroidered all of the gold Rapha, WIGGINS and Sky logos onto the jersey using chain stitching before sending it back to Rapha.
Once the materials were carefully pieced back together, tailored to Wiggins’ body shape by Rapha seamstresses Sharon Stokes and Carla Rees, only the numbers were missing. On Sunday night in the middle of the track centre at the Lee Valley Park Velodrome, Rapha Product Development Manager Jennifer Choi assisted Sharon, renowned couturier in the fashion industry, in sewing the numbers onto the jersey straight after the exact distance Wiggins rode had been confirmed. It was a job of care and precision to be done as fast as possible in the most distracting conditions imaginable, and so Sharon had done her own sewing ‘time trials’ leading up to the event in order to make sure she could perform quickly on the night.
“We had to be meticulous in our preparation and set-up beforehand to make sure everything went right – the pressure on us was pretty intense,” said Jennifer. “We had a table in the middle of the velodrome, upon which we laid out the jersey, all of the gold numbers and ten sewing needles with black thread all ready to go. We were both very nervous as the hour went on, and our palms were getting sweaty – not ideal for sewing! With a few minutes left we knew that he was going to get the record, so began stitching on the first number 5, gluing it in place first. We had marked out beforehand in red thread where the numbers should be stitched to keep them aligned. Each big number took 1 minute 18 seconds for Sharon to stitch on and with just over a minute to go we used the final prediction on the big screen to sew on the number 4 for 54km. Thank God he didn’t speed up or slow down.”
Amongst the raucous din of the 6,000-strong crowd celebrating a new record and the desperate urgings of UCI and Sky staff pressuring them to hurry up, Jennifer and Sharon focused on the task at hand. “We entered into a zone of complete concentration,” said Jennifer. “Sharon told me afterwards that she imagined she was in the studio, just me and her, stitching in silence. Once we finished and handed over the jersey, we were almost in a state of shock. A couple of minutes later though, I looked at Wiggins wearing the jersey and those numbers – 54.526 – which had meant nothing to me, sank in. He had actually done it, he’d broken the record.”