Recently I was riding my bicycle around Prospect Park in Brooklyn, something I do a few times a week, when a Bicycle Dude in multicoloured team-sponsored Lycra zoomed past. I say “zoomed” because my bike, a relic of the Liberty/Target collaboration, has an amazing print on its chassis but no gears. I tend to ride it at my leisure, while humming songs and looking at the trees, while Bicycle Dude was clearly in training mode.
As he blew by, however, he turned, and said: “Cool bike.”
“Cool, but slow,” I replied.
“Cool is not a speed,” he answered from afar. “It’s a state.”
Indeed it is. And lately I feel like everywhere I turn, it’s a state increasingly being applied to bicycles. As the Tour de France begins today, it is increasingly clear that the accessory you really need to be up to speed fashion-wise is a bike – or to be specific, a city bike: a non-competitive, often vintage-inspired, elegant form of self-transport. Forget the trend for designers dressing the tablet and the iPhone, it’s all about two-wheeled transport now.
Almost every day an email lands in my inbox proclaiming a new design moment in the bicycle universe: Dolce & Gabbana has launched a leopard-print bike for summer, complete with wire basket; Pineider, makers of superluxe stationery and leather accessories, has also launched a new bike, made in collaboration with Olmo and named 1774, the year the company was born. Hermès has done a bike for a few years (in stainless steel and in a very subtle brown/orange with black wheels and seat); so has Chanel (in black, with “quilted” pedal casing and bag at the back).
On its website, Bobbin Bicycles offers tips on what to wear while cycling, such as a 1950s sundress, Breton top or straw fedora. It suggests assorted bike colours from lipstick red to bright yellow and sky blue.
There are fashion blogs devoted to the bicycle, including copenhagencyclechic.com, with the tagline “style over speed”; fashion blogger the Sartorialist also features lots of biking snaps; and a few seasons ago Milan Fashion Week instituted a cycle share scheme.
Italia Veloce is an Italian company that produces hand-crafted bicycles and supplied some of the bikes for May’s London Tweed Run, a leisurely ride through the city centre with participants dressed in vintage clothes or tweed suits. The company, which specialises in vintage-style bikes that can be completely customised, reports its business has exploded in the past few years and has more orders than it can fill. “A beautiful bicycle is the new must-have,” says Italia Veloce. “As people spend more and more time on it, they want to love it.”
The truth is, when I see these bikes (you get your name on them, and each frame has its own number), I go through the same emotional and psychological evolution I do when I see, say, the new Céline handbag.
First I think, “Oh, that’s nice.” Then I think, “Hmmm. Wouldn’t my life be nicer if I rode around on that?” Then I feel that niggling worm of desire. And then I start running the numbers. Most bikes, from Italia Veloce’s signature Ribelle to the Hermès, are equivalent to, or less than, the cost of a Birkin bag (a normal Birkin – not one in precious skins). And it’s an investment that can be amortised over time, since an It bike, unlike an It bag, is a long-term purchase.
As to why the bicycle has become so trendy, I think the answer is relatively obvious: it’s a combination of the urban push that has seen cities increase the number of bike lanes, institute cycle share systems, and otherwise facilitate riding; the general eco-conversation; and fashion’s continuous drive to boost market share by extending its reach into other areas where design is possible in search of the opportunity to penetrate every area of a consumer’s life.
I mean, if you make their clothes, their sheets and their furniture, why not make a bike? Especially given the attachment many people seem to feel for their bicycles and the fact that, like a handbag or a coat, a bike is seen with its owner – indeed, is often the first thing you see of an owner, even before their handbag or their dress – and, hence, reflects their aesthetic choices. (Another unsolicited comment I have had while riding my bicycle: “That bike matches everything you are wearing!”). In the same way that the ubiquity of a phone or an iPad started to communicate something about the person who used them, and became fair game as a fashion item, so the ubiquity of the bicycle has proven something of an epiphany to the fashion world.
Just think of the brand extensions: bike bags, gloves, baskets, backpacks. (I thought of this quite a lot at the recent resort collections, where both Peter Dundas at Pucci and Jason Wu showed chic backpacks that easily convert from no-hands carry-all to office attire – the former a cool safari leather and canvas number, the latter a chic black-and-white print body with neon trim and black top.) Because these are meant for the city, as opposed to any competitive arena, they escape the usual censure from the serious hobbyists; instead, the general response of the bike world seems to be, effectively, the more the merrier.
In fact, I was relating some of this while admiring Diane von Furstenberg’s resort collection the other day, full of jazzy colours and surprising fabric juxtapositions, when the DVF-er I was speaking to suddenly looked up. “We should do a bike,” she said.
I looked at the abstracted graffiti print in pink and black overlaid with clear sequins on a matching T-shirt and trousers, the geometric “new leopard” spot print on an oversize smock-like jacket, and imagined them transposed to a metal frame. It was an eye-catching picture. “Yes,” I said. “You should.”
More columns at www.ft.com/friedman