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Archive for the ‘fashion’ Category

When I first met Rich Hincapie, Hincapie Sportswear was still in its infancy. Rich had just hired Roby Di Giovine – his first employee. Back then, the only place I had ever seen or heard of Hincapie Sportswear was at local races, where the Les Amis cycling team wore Hincapie’s first generation custom cycling bibs and jerseys. They swore by the quality of the fabrics and chamois, and I have to admit that the design looked pretty darn good. I had just gotten into triathlon a year before and was in the process of putting together a triathlon club in Greenville. We needed custom uniforms to help get sponsors and increase visibility for the club. I got Rich’s contact info from some cycling buddies and looked him up. Back then, Rich rented a tiny little office just two blocks from Main Street Greenville. Even in the early days, I remember Rich’s sense of taste: He had a flat screen TV in that small office. And a fully stocked Red Bull display fridge. 😀 Rich’s desk occupied one wall, and Roby’s the other. The rest was a mix of fabric samples, prototypes and boxes of uniforms in transit to Rich’s first clients. Hincapie Sportswear was as grassroots as a company gets. A lot of us (teams, clubs, etc.) could have opted to go with larger, more established custom uniform vendors, but we opted to give Rich our business. This is a decision that I have never regretted, and as much as I can, I continue to support Hincapie Sportswear in any way that I can to this day… although I have to admit that it’s been a good few years since my help became pretty irrelevant to Rich’s success.

Fast forward to today’s Hincapie Sportswear: International design, manufacturing and quality control. Teams equipped on at least three continents. A trendy HQ in a renovated mill just a few blocks from downtown Greenville – the US East Coast’s booming new cycling Mecca. Print ads in every major cycling mag in the US. It took a few years, but Rich is a patient guy and he wisely decided to take his time and do things right. Patience paid off.

Many of us cyclists and triathletes have enjoyed Hincapie’s performance apparel for years now. Shorts, jerseys, socks, gloves, jackets, tights, summer wear, winter wear, underwear, headwear… But I have to admit that one of my guilty pleasures has been to wear the few odd non-performance pieces that Hincapie has put out over the last couple of years. (They have killer Merino wool T-shirts and vintage zip sweaters that look pretty sweet with jeans, khakis, etc.) In other words, one of the cool things about the Hincapie brand is that it started to bridge the gap between cycling/performance apparel and… well, what happens between bike rides. In doing so, it started to truly embody a particular lifestyle as opposed to just… being quality gear. I, for one, started asking Rich, Steve and Roby for more casual off-the-bike clothes and accessories, buying up every new design they came up with. I even got my parents hooked on Hincapie Sportswear’s Merino wool T-shirts a year ago, and I think they’re planning on buying a box of them to give away to their friends as Christmas gifts this year.

Well, Hincapie Sportswear just took a giant leap forward this summer by finally announcing that it will be adding denim to the list of branded off-the bike apparel this fall. (Booyah!) Sunday night, just a few hours after Tyler Hamilton won the US National Road title just half a mile away, the Hincapies put on a pretty kickass fashion show at their galactic HQ (superbly managed by Courtney Lewis) during which Rich’s vision for the cycling lifestyle’s crossover fashions was made crystal clear to a very full house. Roby and I were there to snap a few shots of the new designs.

It isn’t every day that you get to enjoy front row seats to this kind of brand evolution.

Looking forward to sporting some Hincapie jeans in the next couple of months… and discovering what Rich and his growing apparel juggernaut have in store for us next. ;D

Here are a few shots from the Hincapie fashion show:

More shots from the fashion show here. (Or go to the quick slideshow here.)

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Here’s some context for you (and some culture too, while we’re at it):

The Years of Cristobal Balenciaga

1918 saw the founding of Cristobal Balenciaga’s first haute couture house in San Sébastian, Spain. Local admiration for his designs was so strong that a second haute couture house was opened in Madrid and a third in Barcelona. In 1937, 10, Avenue George V became the Parisian home of Cristobal Balenciaga’s creative influence. Balenciaga’s Paris flagship store is still located at this address.

Balenciaga soon came to embody Parisian elegance. Cristobal Balenciaga was hailed as ‘The Couturier of Couturiers’ and ‘The Master of us all’’ by designer Christian Dior.

In 1946, the House of Balenciaga launched its first perfume, ‘Le Dix’, aptly named after its first atelier, 10, Avenue George V. ‘Le Dix’ attracted the same acclaim as the famous Balenciaga couture pieces, and the perfume soon even rivalled that of Coco Chanel herself. In 1968, Balenciaga closed his couture house, to the deep dismay of his favourite clients. Countess Mona Bismarck lamented the event by locking herself indoors for three days.

Transitional Times

Cristobal Balenciaga died in his home country of Spain in 1972. His nephews then took the helm of the business. In 1978, control of the House of Balenciaga, including the important fragrance business, passed to Hoechst and then to Groupe Jacques Bogart in 1986.

In 1995, Nicolas Ghesquière was hired by the House, initially as a designer for the licensed products activity. He became creative director for the House’s own ready-to-wear and accessories collection in 1997.

Balenciaga Today

In 2001, Gucci Group, in partnership with Nicolas Ghesquière as creative director, acquired the House of Balenciaga, now well on its way towards recreating the influence and respect that the house commanded in its former heydays.

Today, the House of Balenciaga creates women’s and men’s ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories, sold worldwide.

Years ago, when famed couturier Yves Saint Laurent was asked how many true Haute Couture houses there were, answered “only two: Balenciaga, and Chanel.”

It’s safe to say that Yves Saint Laurent and Dior have now added to that count. At any rate, it’s pretty much a given that the house that Balenciaga built is still the house of houses when it comes to the world of Haute Couture.

Perhaps Cristobal would scoff at the idea of creating accessories for a techno culture icon like the iPod were he still around today, but… here we are: Balenciaga is now selling iPod cases.

Are we seeing the bastardization of once proud couture houses, (catering to a new breed of customers) or is this simply another illustration of the impact that iPod has had on our culture? I’ll let you decide.

My two cents: Relevance by association may sometimes be a good strategy to attract new clients/customers, but in the case of very high level luxury brands, the trade-off can be dire. A house like Balenciaga was never about attracting the spoiled offspring of the super rich. It was about class and exclusivity, not selling out to a fickle crowd with money to burn.

This is how great brands choke and die.

Balenciaga “execs,” here is my advice to you: More haute couture and less marketing. Your brand is about design and quality, not gimmicks and gateway products.

*sigh*

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