An interview with Simon Mottram
Launched in 2004, the Classic Jersey was the first-ever Rapha jersey. Originally called the Sportwool™ Jersey, it was like nothing else at the time. All black with a white stripe on the arm and cut from a strange, light wool fabric, its minimalism concealed a beautifully functional garment. One reporter declared it the “best bike jersey the world has ever seen”. To mark the launch of the new Classic Jersey II, we spoke to Rapha founder and CEO, Simon Mottram, to find out about the origins of the design.
What was the brief for the first jersey?
The ultimate in performance and style, with no compromise on either. It always struck me that very little design or care had gone into cycling jerseys. They were made of very basic polyester, with little thought to the needs of an active rider. And yet, when riding for long distances, often over challenging terrain, the jersey needs to do a lot for you. It needs to fit well, with no scratching, pulling or irritation, and it needs to carry everything you might need on your ride. It’s a vital piece of equipment. A lot of attention had been given to bib shorts and chamois pads, but no one seemed to care about the design of cycling jerseys. It was a natural and most pressing place to start.
How did you arrive at using a wool-based fabric?
The existing polyester fabrics were very low performance and we needed something that worked harder. At the ISPO mountain sports show, in Munich in January 2004, we were introduced to something called Sportwool™. It was produced by Woolmark but hadn’t been used in cycling. The combination of merino and polyester seemed to work well and the ‘hand-feel’ was beautiful, so we decided to try it.
Where did the monochrome palette and arm-stripe come from?
There were a few reasons for the monochrome look. As far back as 2000, we were inspired by the bike messengers in London, urban ‘convicts of the road’ who, for practical reasons, tended to wear all-black clothing. It was also a complete juxtaposition to the primary-coloured, visually noisy jersey designs of the time. Black is flattering and just looks very cool, it transcends trends. The pared-back styling was also a reaction to that ugly and uncontrolled paint-factory-explosion approach of most jerseys at the time. We set out to design something completely different, utterly modern, but something that also bridged back to the glory years of the sport.
The asymmetric arm stripe came from 50s and 60s jersey designs. We’d spent a long time in 2003 exploring various graphic ideas, looking for subtle ways to brand our clothing. The stripe-focused thing was explored thoroughly; stripes in different positions – chest, both arms, one arm. When I saw the asymmetric sleeve-stripe design I knew instantly it was the right brand mark for Rapha.
You tested the first jersey prototypes on messengers, correct?
Yes, there was a group of London messengers who became our friends and tested the first jerseys and jackets. They’re pretty hard on products.
Are you pleased with the new Classic Jersey II design?
Yes of course, to have a fabric like this made specifically for us was unthinkable back in 2004, but now we are using the finest materials possible, with the most efficient and comfortable cut and construction. It’s essentially the same approach as it has always been, to make the finest cycling clothing we can.