RAPHA’S COLLABORATIONS: Disrupting the Cycling Norm 5 May 2023
END. delves into the boundary-pushing collaborative approach of Rapha.
20 years ago, if someone was to mention cycling apparel to you, you’d be forgiven if the mental images conjured up weren’t the most inspiring. Technical, perhaps, but aesthetics were unlikely to fall into the picture. Steadily over the past couple of decades, however, this idea of unassuming, strait-laced cycling apparel has begun to unravel, replaced instead by something that’s imaginative and aesthetic oriented — apparel that looks just as good as it performs.
Central to this shift in collective consciousness has been London-based Rapha, who has remained unwavering in creating apparel with a finely tuned balance of aesthetics and performance. Its clothes are made for cyclists by cyclists, though carry with them a design orientation that mirrors that of labels with a sole fashion focus. Integral to the label pushing itself in terms of innovation while maintaining this fashion emphasis is its collaborative output, with Rapha continuously uniting worlds that once over would’ve been considered at the other ends of the spectrum.
Celebrating this, END. takes a retrospective look back at a selection of Rapha's disruptive collaborations, showcasing why each one has helped position the label as one of the frontrunners in the world of contemporary cycling apparel.
Rapha x Brain Dead
Earlier this year, Rapha partnered with Brain Dead for the first time: the disruptive creative collective renowned for its love of all things counterculture and pushing the boundaries of collaboration. Since its inception in 2004, Rapha has shared a similar sensibility, one that defies convention and aims to reshape the way the world of cycling is perceived. Channelling that, the two came together for a collection rooted in mountain biking and the rebellious spirit deeply embedded in it, celebrating the culture of off-road cycling and the unapologetic figures that collectively form it. The collection also channelled a mutual love and respect for nature, taking inspiration from the way in which trail riding is shaped by, and also in itself shapes, the natural world.
The result was apparel that both drew upon pre-existing styles and introduced new ones, like the Trail Maintenance pants that sat at the crossroads between technical outerwear and streetwear, or the Trail Windblock jersey that was transformed through the hyper-experimental lens of Brain Dead. The overall aesthetic was as eccentric as you’d expect, introducing the psychedelic patterns and colours of the creative collective and merging them with technical design. Ultimately, what the collaboration exhibited was a sensibility that’s sat at the core of Rapha since day one — a dedication to colouring outside of the lines and disrupting the conventionality of the cycling world.
Rapha x Palace
Disruptiveness is something Rapha has never shied away from, waving a flag for non-conformity in a world that’s so often renowned for its lengthy rule book and strait-laced outlook. In celebration of the Giro d’Italia in 2020 — the annual, multi-stage race predominantly held in Italy — Rapha continued this envelope-pushing approach, partnering with a brand that was until that point considered a nigh-on opposite to the world of cycling: Palace. While that may have been true, the similarities between Rapha and Palace made the collaboration unexpectedly organic, seamlessly joined through their shared outlook of forging their own unapologetic paths.
The collection saw the two join forces for a limited-edition switch-out kit for EP Pro cycling, which also extended to casualwear, helmets, bikes and even the team’s bus. Aesthetically, things were influenced by early noughties club culture and video games, culminating in a vibrant, technicolour palette that was destined to raise eyebrows. And raise eyebrows it did; the kit was deemed non-compliant by the sport’s governing body after the team failed to register it on time, which was followed up by team rider Ruben Guerreiro claiming a stage victory wearing the kit.
For their second collaboration, Rapha and Palace decided to commemorate another milestone in the cycling calendar, creating a capsule in honour of the Tour de France Femmes. The TdFF marked a seminal moment in the history of cycling, representing the first time since the ‘80s that both women and men were on the starting line. In light of that, Palace and Rapha united to create a switch-out kit for the riders of EF Education-TIBCO-SVB and EF Education-EasyPost, which was a reflection of what they do best with their collections: playful, tongue in cheek and energetic. The collection comprised of both a switch-out kit and off-bike apparel, both of which were adorned with vibrant pink hues, green, dragon-like characters and a celebratory Venus symbol. The collection even saw the eccentricity extend to none-other than Crocs Clog: arguably the perfect canvas for the riot of rainbow hues and playful characters — in the form of Jibbitz™, naturally — that filled the collection.
Rapha x Snow Peak
With the world of cycling, it’s easy to see how parallels can be drawn with other brands. Take Rapha and Snow Peak, for instance; despite their product outputs being completely different, their sensibilities unify when it comes to a love of outdoor exploration, premium craft and design refinement. In 2021, the two joined forces for the first time to celebrate that, creating a collection centred around premium bike-packing accessories. For those that are unaware, bike-packing is essentially a combination of hiking and cycling — a fusion of the self-sufficiency of backpacking while hiking and the enjoyment of taking in the outdoors on two wheels. The collection was made up of Snow Peak’s usual premium titanium accessories — manufactured in Niigata, Japan, using time-honoured techniques — comprising of co-branded mugs, sporks and bottles to make those two-wheeled adventures seamless.
Rapha x Van Gogh Museum
Rapha’s connection to the city of Amsterdam is immediate; after all, around 80% of the city’s residents own a bike and around 60% are said to use these daily. It goes beyond that, too, with Rapha’s Amsterdam clubhouse representing a pillar of the cycling community within the city. In celebration of that, Rapha joined forces with an important cultural and historical element of the city, the Van Gogh Museum, to pay homage to the institution and the pioneering Dutch artist. The collection represented a love letter to various pieces of artwork from the master painter, designed to emulate the layers of texture in his work through the use of collage patterns that referenced preserved conversations, memories and art. The collection span both apparel and a bespoke bike made in partnership with Canyon, which featured the same bold graphics detailed on a custom rendition of the Canyon Ultimate road bike.
Ultimately, Rapha’s collaborative approach is one that demonstrates the mantra that’s sat at the core of the label since day one: to push the boundaries and well and truly shirk the convention of cycling apparel. Its clever way of tapping into different brands has elevated the Rapha name beyond just the world of cycling, allowing it to permeate other fan bases and further establish itself as the disruptor of cycling apparel.