The Luxembourg stealth project (Team Leopard) finally rolled out the hanger. Like everyone else I've been intrigued by the prospect of the world's most formidable team (based on individual past performance). I imagined, even expected something fresh considering the circumstances of the team's creation and its implicit rejection of the old guard.
I wasn't disappointed, the besuited team looked good against that B&W mountain projection and the "true racing" tag line has promise, in fact it all felt familiar. Why, because I think it bore the unmistakable influence of Rapha. The new website, the team kit, even the slightly over-the-top neck scarves borrowed a little from our Perren Street favorites, but in a good way.
Rapha has no patent on black, distinctive striping, asymmetry or high-contrast black and white photography. They'd be the first to admit all these elements have graphic precedents stretching back decades, if not centuries. Their brilliance, and I don't think that's an overstatement, was to pull all the elements together with an inspired narrative and unflagging good taste. The result has been distinctive and iconic; classic cycling recast in modern terms. And now seven years after their humble beginnings they shape an aesthetic that other companies emulate.
I'll start with rêve.cc the new venture Wilfred de Kruijf and I just launched. I've been a designer for twenty five years and worn so much black since adolescence that it actually became part of my studio's identity. My love of B&W photography goes back even further, but I owe Rapha a debt of gratitude for proving that the visual elements I've always loved can appeal to a cycling audience.
The Rapha influence is or has been evident in the identities of Team Sky, Primal, Outlier, Panache, Baum, Enigma, Peloton Magazine and now Team Leopard-Trek to name a few. Consciously or unconsciously the Rapha effect is out there.
This is not to say that cycling industry designers have no originality. The truth is, there's nothing truly new under the sun. Look hard enough and you'll find prior art for everything. Influences are everywhere, in fact designers are known for keeping piles of reference material around to stimulate creative thinking.
As it turned out I think the Leopard Kit is quite distinct from the Team Sky and Garmin-Cervelo designs, but it did have me wondering out loud whether the UCI might step in at some point to prevent too much black in the peloton. Imagine the difficulty in covering race moves if everyone looked the same, especially in poor conditions. To my Twitter friends who thought I was ignoring cycling history and teams who wore black kits in the past, that wasn't my point. Free of the 140-character limit, I hope I've made that clear.
And Luke, take something for that migraine, you started this.