Rapha + Liberty
Words by Zoë Leverent, Photography by Cole Wilson, Art Direction by Tayler Rae Dubé
Styling by Anna Maria, Modeled by Laura Solís
When Rapha announced their collaboration with Liberty of London, I couldn’t contain my excitement. The only thing I love as much as cycling is pre-1970s vintage style, and Liberty is renowned in the vintage world for its timeless printed fabrics, considered the gold standard for reproducing early-20th century fashions. Finally, a kit for riders whose taste for vintage elegance has so far gone unmet, and an opportunity for the uninitiated to discover the beauty of vintage textiles. Here in New York, we live alongside iconic Art Deco architecture, the perfect backdrop for Rapha’s own elegant styling. This is the story of a girl who lives – and rides – through beautiful worlds both old and new.
Out of thousands of options from the Liberty archive, Rapha selected a print from the 1930s for this collaboration, and the choice couldn’t be more apt. This was the era in which cycling became a fully-formed leisure sport thanks to bicycles practical enough (in their time, at least) for distance riding. It was in the 1930s that road cycling emerged as form of exercise and recreation, not just local transportation, with touring becoming a popular way to enjoy the outdoors. Much of what was written then about the grueling beauty of road cycling could be stitched into a Rapha jersey pocket.
The print is untouched save for the subtle addition of reflection to the larger dots on the Souplesse Jersey. In the 1930s it would have appeared on a lightweight fabric like chiffon or voile, and it transfers beautifully to Rapha’s high-performance and similarly lightweight souplesse. Says Scott Tepper, fashion and buying director for Liberty: “It’s a pleasure to see an archive Liberty print reworked onto sleek cycling gear in such a contemporary way. These pieces will surely become collectors items.”
While Liberty – a valuable resource for designers – has previously collaborated with brands like Nike, Adidas, and Hershel, this collaboration marks their first for sportswear. Alex Valdman, Rapha’s head of product design, thinks the pairing with Liberty “speaks to the beauty and style of road cycling and its appeal to increasingly more people.”
In addition to souplesse and merino jerseys, the Liberty print also graces limited-edition staples from Rapha’s City line of casual wear. The merino sweatshirt features simple styling with details like reflective cuffs and a rear zip pocket for valuables. Leggings offer the familiar Rapha comfort, with the print adding a welcome departure from black while staying sleek and versatile.
Like the general population, women in the 1930s also enjoyed unprecedented success - and growing admiration - for their cycling, finally free of Victorian hysteria about “bicycle face” and related ailments. In 1938 Billie Fleming rode almost 30,000 miles, smashing the women’s world record for distance riding. Joyce Barry, too, spent most of the 1930s making headlines for her distance attempts.
Liberty has always been ahead of its time: from 1910-1927, founder Arthur Liberty hosted a cycling tournament for his female staff on the grounds of his estate. Rapha, too, has proudly supported women from its inception. With plans for Liberty to revive its tournament in time for the 2016 Rapha + Liberty collection, it’s clear this is the perfect collaboration: for Rapha, for Liberty, and for every woman who rides in style.