With the success of the Rapha Raeburn line earlier this year, my friends at the Rapha North America office reached out to me for a different kind of press. I was very impressed with what the first Raeburn line accomplished: high end, performance cycling wear, manufactured in the UK and developed by one of the UK’s most renown fashion designers, Christopher Raeburn.
Check out my interview with Christopher and his brother Graeme Raeburn for Rapha below!
Christopher Raeburn + Rapha Raeburn
Christopher and Graeme:
First, I want to say I’m honored to interview you two, especially after the success of your last collection for Rapha. Which leads me to the first question: Graeme, how did you begin to work at Rapha and at what point did incorporating your brother’s unique eye for design come into conversation at the offices?
GR – Thank you John, a pleasure to meet you too – I was looking forward to it at Eurobike, but we just missed each other!
Well, it all actually started with Chris; going back seven years, Chris and I had a studio space above a cleaning product factory in Luton. We used to produce our own garments, do production for other companies, and work on design consultancy projects together.
Chris’s housemate, Joe, was one of the first members of staff at Rapha, and kept on saying ‘you guys should come in and meet the team!’. From an initial meeting, we started on designing and sampling for Rapha in our studio, and it went from there.
There was a feature on Chris in O Magazine here in the UK (The Observer’s fashion special, in conjunction with Tank Magazine), in which he mentioned me a few times. Turns out a lot of people at Rapha read the Observer, and from a few conversations the collaboration grew.
Are you both cyclists? Describe how the bicycle ties into your day to day life.
GR – Apart from in my role at Rapha, a bike allows me freedom. It’s my method of commuting, socialising, and switching-off and escaping.. Ever since we were kids, living in the middle of nowhere, it was a similar thing. The bike allowed freedom and self-sufficiency. if you wanted a job, you’d have to ride to it. Need to get to see friends? bike. Party? bike. Bad weather? A bike will get through.
CR – I live in East London; and honestly speaking although public transport has improved a lot (particularly thanks to the Olympics) I still find that bike is king. Most of my rides start on the canals (as I live beside one and the studio also overlooks one) so I find it’s a good way to refresh and focus before work or decompress on the way home.
Graeme, what has been the most difficult challenge for designing apparel for cycling?
GR – We go through rigorous selection, testing and approval processes to ensure we have the best possible material for the job, so I’d say fabric. I can’t believe there’s a more demanding sport in terms of fabric.
Criteria we might expect of a fabric might typically read as follows; Lightweight, stretch, durable to pilling/snagging, easy-care, colour-fast, cross-stain proof, UV light-fast, breathable + good moisture wicking, resistant to salt/sweat, anti-bacterial/microbial, and possibly to dye to bright or high-viz colours, all while having a really beautiful handfeel, looking good, and having great next-to-skin comfort.
Christopher, your eye is clearly drawn to military design. The obvious notes are the Swedish military snow camouflage, the mention of ‘Dazzle’ warship paint, and the reuse of British parachutes, but even the iconography you use in your work bares an inherent simplicity – the ability to convey information in a very succinct way. Form follows function, if you will but how do you then take those precedents and apply them to fashion? Do you look at the garment first and then apply the pattern language or let these military influences inform the garment design?
CR – Often good design is about finding the right balance; I enjoy the research and development side to my work and I find that it’s the mix of archeology (and importantly new technology) that means our final garments are hopefully contemporary, wearable and relevant. Graeme and I both hold the view that what’s so interesting about military design is that “Everything has a reason” and so this is something I try to include in my practice. It terms of graphics and communication I’m proud to have been working with a fantastic art director Regis Tosetti from the embryonic stages of the company; Regis really understood the vision and it’s been fantastic to collaborate with someone so talented who was able to bring clear and cohesive communications to the company.
From Christopher Raeburn’s AW10 line, PREPARE
Graeme, what was the biggest hurdle you had merging Christopher’s unique style into Rapha’s very classic, almost reserved aesthetic?
GR – Good question! Working with Chris was pretty straight forward, having worked closely together for so long, we have an instinctive and intuitive way together. Finding factories to produce the items was the tough part. We spent a lot of time finding and then working with the sources to realise some extremely technical products. In the end we found some brilliant factories, who were interested in what we wanted to achieve, and able to solve some really difficult challenges.
Graeme, looking at the second Raeburn collection, the pieces look much more marketable to the commuter or “city riding” consumer. Is there any reason in particular there wasn’t a performance cycling piece? The wind jackets last year were such a huge success!
GR – As I mentioned above, a lot of the challenge is in how technical the fabric is. For City riding, this becomes even harder, with the expectation of a stylish menswear aesthetic in the mix. All the products have a high degree of performance through the fabrics and design. For instance, the jacket is stretch, highly insulating using a Primaloft synthetic down fill, has a DWR (water resistant treatment), uses Sportwool for comfort and temperature regulation, and all zips away into it’s own pocket for travelling (useful as a pillow on long transfers).
Still from Rapha Raeburn Wind Jacket video
Christopher and Graeme, what first drew me into the Raeburn collection with Rapha was the fact that it was made in England. I felt that the premium pricepoint made this collaboration feel extra special, or precious. Small batch production can take time, both in the initial layout and execution, especially when you’re re-using old military parachutes. Surely there had to be challenges along the way.
Were you able to oversee any of the garment construction take place? If so, was there anything that had to change based on the construction techniques, such as certain details, or were you able to design around those constraints from the beginning?
GR – Certainly, we encountered problems along the way, and as you say, being able to visit and problem-solve with the technicians was essential. We were also able to learn from the skills the factories had and design to them. To take an example, the guy who made the Merino Henley was obsessive about quality and the handling of the fabric. It got to the point where he would refuse to do any more until we visited to understand the problem, look at his solutions and work through it with him.
CR – Made in England is a big part of what I’ve tried to do with Christopher Raeburn as the company was set up; there are massive challenges but also great opportunities. I was able to visit Cooper and Stollbrand and our Merino manufacturer for the Rapha | Raeburn project very early on in order to gauge their suitability for the project. Each of the products went through many prototype stages where testing and improvements were made before moving forward to the final production.
Christopher, what is your favorite piece from the 2013 Raeburn collection? and Graeme, yours?
CR – I’m a big fan of the jacket; Graeme went into some of the detail earlier of course it’s central to the collaboration but I also think it’s been a true mixing of Rapha and Raeburn. The detail and quality is fantastic and the experience of wearing it both on and off bike is great. I’ll also say the jeans – I’ve been wearing my Spring / Summer ones for months and they’re still in great shape so I’m looking forward to getting into a pair of the Winter ones.
GR – It’s all quite unique, but I think the gloves are particularly special. Here we’ve taken a closure and cuff from a horse-riding glove, and married it with our classic padded palm and leather. It looks stunning, but is also perfect for cold weather riding.
Christopher and Graeme, what are other companies or brands you look to for inspiration?
GR – I think Arcteryx make stunning and innovative products, Tom Donhue bikes never cease to amaze me, Killspencer and Hard Graft bags and accessories are something I often find my finger hovering over the ‘buy’ button, and as a brand, you have to hand it to Nike.
CR – I’m lucky that I get to travel a lot these days and it’s always great to see the way that other brands operate and even just to see retail spaces; the new Dover Street Market in Ginza, Tokyo for example or Undercover are always destinations. I always enjoy seeing Helmut Lang or Dries collection on the more fashion level for of course what Freitag are doing is equally inspiring in other ways.
Still from Rapha Raeburn Made in England video
Finally, what is your favorite made in England product?
GR – can I say; ‘Christopher Raeburn’?
CR – Ha, thanks Graeme. We still produce so many great items in England, whether it be Gieves and Hawkes suits, Corgi socks or Kendal mint cake I think there’s a lot of choice out there for people looking for good quality, British made products.