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An Interview with James Holliday
Rapha's luggage collection offers products for use in every mode of a cyclist's life: whether it's scavenging around the city, travelling abroad for a riding weekend or commuting to the office. The philosophy was to create a collection that, like all things Rapha, combined exceptional performance with a pared down aesthetic.
This eventually led us to James Holliday, a specialist designer who has helped bring to life a range of pieces which are robust, weather-resistant and functional, all connected together with distinctive monochrome Rapha styling. We managed to catch up with James for a few questions.
You've worked on luggage pieces for some well-known and highly respected brands, such as Puma, Longchamp and Marc Jacobs, how does working with Rapha differ?
The most obvious difference is that Rapha is a company focused on cycling. A majority of the brands I work with are fashion companies where the focus is on seasonal trends and "lifestyle".
Walking into the Rapha offices for the first time is quite an experience. The majority of the staff are cycling enthusiasts and it is hard to tell at times whether people are just leaving by bike or arriving, and that includes CEO Simon who more often than not I meet in full Rapha cycling gear and cleats as opposed to a suit and shoes.
My formative years in fashion and design were spent with Paul Smith more than fifteen years ago, and Rapha reminds me of those days. The atmosphere within the company is relaxed and friendly but there is a strong sense of focus and purpose, which is very inspiring.
Was designing for Rapha challenging?
Challenging in the fact that I was designing product for a specific pursuit that I had a limited knowledge of. I had a number of meetings with the design team at Rapha and researched the market extensively prior to putting pencil to paper and presenting my initial ideas. The whole design process was made a lot easier by the product team at Rapha as they know what they like and most importantly what their customer wants.
Can you tell me the main philosophy behind the collection, with regards to how the pieces work to a brief: for a particular person, mode, or environment.
Each piece in the collection was designed with the Rapha cyclist in mind so high quality, function, simplicity of aesthetic and performance were just some of the considerations. A good example would be the two shoulder bags in the range. Rapha did not want a ‘typical’ courier bag in the collection but they did want the shoulder bags to have all of the function of a courier bag.
Importance was placed on comfort and the riding position of the bag but also to the fact that the piece should look modern and urban when carried off bike. We needed to consider weather elements of course so a rain cover was incorporated into the design and this item became a design process in itself. We developed the ‘Rapha’ pink high viz material, used a leather trim, added the Rapha logo in a high viz silver print and fitted the cover around the hardware of the bag perfectly, the result was a beautiful item in itself.
Would you say that when designing, function is always considered before form? Do the two always work simultaneously as something develops?
It really depends on the client and the end user to some extent. I have worked on ‘fashion items’ where the function aspect is not such a consideration but the aesthetic is all-important. For me personally function is very important so the two do indeed work simultaneously when I am considering the direction of a functional design.
It is important to have an understanding of the manufacturing process and how the construction methods and material selected for a particular bag will affect the shape and structure and ultimately its usability.
What was the most satisfying aspect of creating this collection?
Branding a product can be difficult at times depending on the client's needs. Some request a minimal use of the logo, others require the branding to be as visible as possible.
I was well aware of Rapha prior to my involvement with the company and I was always struck by the fact that I could spot a Rapha cap, jacket or top from a distance by their use of block colour. I wanted to incorporate this language and visibility into the luggage.
The commercial option for the collection would have been to use a black leather stripe on a black bag, we were confident in our choice and decided to use a white leather stripe, I hope the results speak for themselves.
And your favorite piece of this collection?
The Race Bag. The bag was designed for a cyclist traveling to an event so function was paramount but I also wanted the bag to appeal to the Rapha customer who simply wanted a great looking weekend bag without the typical language of a traditional sports bag.
Could you summarise the perfect piece of luggage as you see it?
I like bags that function and are comfortable to wear or to carry in the hand. Whatever the style, size or shape of a bag I want to be able to locate my personal items easily and quickly.
What can we expect to see in the future, I know there is more to come in the collection?
For Spring 2012 we are working on a wheeled piece of luggage with a 90 litre capacity which can be used for long cycling trips at home or abroad. We are also developing a limited edition of the ‘Race bag’ using the most beautiful calf leather from France.