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The chicest new accessory is also the greenest way to get around.
Forget fragrances and handbags: The latest brand extension comes on two wheels.
This story first appeared in the January 15, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As cycling picks up its global pace, with dedicated lanes rolling out across the world’s capitals and glossies filled with shots of Agyness Deyn or Chloë Sevigny pedal-pushing, fashion labels are opting for the humble bicycle as a vehicle for brand image.
“We want to be in some way connected to the street,” says Jonny Johansson, creative director of Sweden’s Acne, which tapped Italy’s Bianchi, one of the world’s best-known cycling manufacturers, for its made-to-order Pista racing bike, due out this spring.
“It’s about a love for cycling rather than the hype,” says Morten Mildgaard, Web designer for Danish streetwear label Wood Wood, which collaborated with Danish bike manufacturer Vision to create a road-racing carbon fiber bike that’s so light it wouldn’t be allowed in the Tour de France competition.
It’s priced at a whopping 10,000 euros, or $12,700. “It’s not a fashion bike,” declares Mildgaard.
Acne and Wood Wood join the likes of Chanel, Gucci, Comptoir des Cotonniers and Puma, who all introduced bikes in the past year, following Paul Smith, a keen cyclist and pioneer of the trend.
Fashion always has sought out things that are getting attention, notes Wayne Hemingway, who created the U.K.’s Red or Dead fashion brand in the Nineties before going on to found Hemingway Design, whose products include Roadrunner, a fold-up bike.
It’s also a way to underscore brand identity. Chanel’s model came with quilted saddlebags, Comptoir des Cotonniers designed a tandem to emphasize its mother-daughter theme and Puma recalled its functional sports heritage with a frame that glows in the dark.
“Interestingly, it is only Chanel and Gucci that have produced classic, upright models. The others have all opted for the youth market with speedy racer forms,” notes Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagencyclechic.com, a blog offering “street style and bike advocacy in high heels.”
“Given the fact that most bicycles in the world, especially in countries with strong bicycle cultures, are upright models—and this model is experiencing a renaissance in cities around the world—it seems that Chanel and Gucci have their finger closer to the pulse,” he says.
However, he noted that the fashion bike phenomenon is little more than branding dressed up as corporate social responsibility. “I doubt these bicycles will leave so much as a skid mark on the consumers’ consciousness,” he says, adding that genuine bicycle brands, such as Velorbis and Umberto Dei, ultimately will reap the benefits of such branding. “Consumers, at the end of the day, will buy a bicycle from people who are dedicated to making them.”
Keen to highlight the label’s legitimacy in cycling, Mildgaard pointed out that Wood Wood’s founders, Brian Jensen and Karl-Oskar Olsen, are both enthusiastic cyclists, going so far as to launch a racing team in 2007. “We wanted to make a statement, to say we have a close relation to the sport,” Mildgaard says. “I don’t think the other brands that have done bikes necessarily have a tradition in that.”
Acne’s Johansson freely admits he knows “nothing about biking,” hence the collaboration with Bianchi, an established name, founded in 1885. “When you go into a field where it’s more like a hobby, you don’t want to make a mistake,” he says. Bianchi took an existing men’s frame, the Pista, and shrunk it down, while Acne lent its aesthetic in feminine, suede saddles plus a choice of yellow, orange or pink frames.
A woman on a man’s bicycle summed up the simple, athletic take on men’s wear Johansson had in mind for Acne’s New Standard collection. The women’s line, which includes T-shirts, chinos, shift dresses and biker jackets for spring, was inspired by a girl he saw one morning in New York on a man’s bike, wearing a men’s suit jacket with leggings, plus a bike helmet, bag and shades. “She looked amazing,” he recalls
With London planning a Paris-style, low-cost rent-a-bike scheme by next year and one of every two Copenhageners expected to cycle to work by 2015 (from one in three today), plus the growing number of car-free days, the amount of hip young bikers is likely to increase.
That’s not lost on Johansson, who already is hatching designs for another bike. “My job is to be current,” he says. “And I think that the bike is very important and very current.”