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Favourite Shirts Exhibition
To mark this month’s Giro d’Italia, the Paul Smith shop on Melrose Avenue in L.A. is hosting an exclusive exhibition of classic cycling jerseys.
Held in collaboration with Rapha and Rouleur magazine, the Favourite Shirts exhibition will run until 31st May and features a collection of iconic jerseys curated by Rouleur’s team of writers and photographers. A selection of vintage jerseys from Paul Smith’s personal archive will also be on display, including a commemorative jersey produced by Paul Smith and Rapha in 2007 to celebrate Le Grand Départ of the Tour in London.
A good friend of Rapha, Paul Smith is well placed to judge what makes for a classic cycling jersey. As a child, the celebrated British designer had plans to become a pro himself, a dream he held until, aged 17 , injury put paid to such ambitions.
Cycling jerseys and their designs are an intrinsic part of road riding culture. The sport was the first to embrace the idea of its protagonists as mobile billboards, when Henri Desgrange conceived a cycle race in order to advertise the name of his newspaper. The organ in question was called L’Auto; the race was the Tour.
Advertising on race jerseys is an idea which, down the years, has appealed to an ever-increasing range of sponsors. As Rouleur’s editor Guy Andrews notes in his foreword to a series of articles dedicated to the subject many of the brands were well known, such as Ford and Peugeot. Others were more obscure, endorsing everything from processed meat (Molteni) and coffee machines (Faema) to confectionary (Mars), beer (Watneys), white goods (Fagor) and power tools (Skil).
More recently, the cash needed to fund a team has seen jerseys adorned in much the same way an F1 car, a patchwork of names that has broadened the roster of sponsors yet further, such that it now includes included anti-snoring drugs (Silence) and burritos (Chipotle).
Yet for everyone connected with the sport, both riders and fans alike, what is being sold is beside the point. “We feel an affinity to them,” says Guy Andrews “but why is not completely clear. It could be a courageous rider that captures our hearts, or perhaps a memorable visit to a hardware store in Belgium that ignites an association, or maybe the colours and patterns just feel right.”
Each jersey in the exhibition will appear alongside the stories behind it. Some showcase the legendary names that wore the colours, others shed light on the often quirky mystique that attached itself to certain designs.
Peugeot, for example, is the choice of Guardian cycling correspondent William Fotheringham. The iconic chessboard design was carried into battle by “foreign legionnaires”, by Tom Simpson, Stephen Roche, Robert Millar and Sean Yates, by Bernard Thevenet and, of course, the incomparable Merckx.
Bill Strickland, executive editor of Bicycling magazine in the US, opts for Brooklyn. As Bill recounts in Rouleur, the stars and stripes design was something of a red herring, being the name of Italy’s leading brand of chewing gum. Less confusing was the pedigree of those that wore it, in particular Roger de Vlaeminck. While draped in its colours, the Gypsy suffered not one flat on his way to four Paris-Roubaix titles. When shorn of its power, the team soon disbanded and de Vlaeminck failed to reach previous heights.
Speaking for the riders, it’s perhaps unsurprising that David Millar chooses the rainbow stripes of the World Road Race champion. “It is the jersey that supersedes every other,” Millar wrote in Rouleur. “It outranks all others and is thus the most coveted.” Millar also notes that “it only has its true effect when worn by an already great champion; when an outsider or a young rider wins it, there seems to be a dimming of its aura”.
A rider whose aura never dimmed, even with the waning of his powers, was Fausto Coppi and the exhibition also features the Bianchi jersey worn by Il Campionissimo. “Fausto Coppi was ‘the one’,” recalls the Rouleur contributor for whom the famous celeste is the jersey of choice. “Wearing the pale blue Bianchi jersey, there was just something about him, something inside me, something subconscious, that made me interested in him.” The rider for whom Coppi was “the one” was none other than a young Paul Smith. Lining up alongside the classic Bianchi jersey will be a new limited edition Rapha jersey, the Campionissimo Shirt. Designed to commemorate the greatest season of arguably the greatest of them all, 1959 was the year Coppi became the first man to win the Giro and the Tour in the same season.
Other encounters with classic jerseys are more prosaic. Rouleur photographer Camille J McMillan, for instance, became a lifelong fan of Francesco Moser when, as a young boy, he had the honour of sharing a urinal with legendary Italian. “All I could see next to me was a pair of immaculately shaved brown legs, perfectly folded cotton ribbed socks and perforated calf leather racing shoes. I really wanted to turn and stare but I froze.” Nevertheless, the deep green Sanson jersey worn by Moser that day at Goodwood in 1982 stuck with Camille forever.
The full articles, Favourite Shirts, can be found in Rouleur issues Ten and Twelve.
Favourite Shirts exhibition
8221 Melrose Avenue
Jersey photography by Taz Darling.
Visit the Rouleur website.
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