The synergy between elite cycling and high fashion is often remarked upon, not least in the echoing corridors of Rouleur HQ, where the work of Sir Paul Smith holds a special place in our affections.It was he, of course, who designed the iconic cover for the subscriber edition of our landmark 50th issue.
Those who know Sir Paul well (and we’ll be bringing you a feature with a contemporary of Sir Paul's when the pair rode together as teenaged members of Beeston Road Club) know that the designer’s love of cycling is a lifelong passion and far from a recently discovered pleasure.
With such an intimate acquaintance with the sport, the greater surprise concerning his new collection of cycle clothing is that it has not appeared sooner. The title - ‘531’ - is a knowing reference to the tubing that was once the flagship of Birmingham specialists, Reynolds: a monicker denoting the ratio of maganese (5), molybdenum (3), and carbon (1) from which the pipes were fashioned. Each garment in the collection features the 531 stripe branding and a yellow triangle bearing the legend ‘Vêtements de Vélo Superior’.
Sir Paul Smith's 531 collection draws on his long association with the sport. As a teenager, he rode with Beeston Road Club. pic: Paul Smith
With an accent on functionality as well as performance (several of the garments are designed to be worn off-the-bike, as well as on), it includes jackets, jerseys, gilets, leggings, and overshorts, as well as more conventional sweaters and t-shirts. Technical fabrics abound, including the Eschler weave from Swiss manufacturer, Schoeller, used by Santini and others.
Serious consideration appears to have been applied to the functionality of the garments, as well as to their appearance. The Weatherproof Jacket, for example, the highest value item in the collection at £550, is equipped with a series of pockets, vents (and pockets that double as vents when not warming hands), as well as a fastener at the collar that allows it to be ridden with the zip down without billowing.
The £175 overshort, to take another example, has lowered rear pockets to prevent saddle wear, but a high waistband at the rear to provide a secure fit. Its four-way stretch comes courtesy of more Schoeller fabrics, including a Coldblack treatment to dissipate the sun's UV rays. They’re water resistant too, and wicking properties are pledged from the use of Schoeller’s 3XDry weave.
The overshort, as the name suggests, is intended to be worn over tights or leggings, and a waisted tight is another feature of the collection. This too is a garment intended to be worn over another: a padded short, in this case. It’s a suitably time-honoured piece, perhaps reflecting Sir Paul's long association with the sport, equipped with elasticated waist band (replete with 531 jacquard), ankle zips, and a zipped rear pocket. There’s nothing of the past about the fabric, however, which is a jersey-style weave from Schoeller with four-way stretch and UV protection, and claimed to be moisture controlling and wicking. They cost £145.
The 531 collection includes a highly visible gilet and long-sleeve jersey with windproof front panels. pic: Paul Smith
In the humble opinion of this correspondent, the Mesh Cycle Jersey is the pick of the collection: another traditonally-styled garment, fashioned from a mix of time-served and cutting edge fabrics: a blend of New Zealand Merino wool and Schoeller’s four-way stretchable 3XDry, with attendant claims for wind and showerproofing. It’s an unquestionably stylish piece, but evidence for functionality can be found in the scooped rear hem, reflective detailing, and classic three rear pocket configuration. It’s available in ‘stealth’ purple or hi-vis orange and costs £250.
The Mesh Gilet is available in orange only, befitting the dual role afforded many cycling vests of providing visibility, as well as protection from the wind. It’s another garment in the 531 collection fashioned from Schoeller’s 3XDRY fabric, and another festooned with handy pockets. The front panel is windproof, and the entire garment billed as fast drying and breathable. At £350, it might be the most upmarket vest we’ve seen.
Further evidence for the 531 collection’s modus operandi as high-performance kit with a dash of around-town style can be found in the Mock Mesh Hoody, a cyclist-friendly take on the ubiquitous, multi-purpose top. Unlike the basic cotton numbers from High Street fashion chains, the 531 gilet is made from a mix of merino wool from New Zealand and a further deployment of technical fabrics from Switzerland’s Schoeller to offer windproofing and water resistance. It’s calling card, however, is the use of a ‘dual-face’ mesh fabric from which it gains its breathability. The ‘kangaroo’ pocket might prove useful for essentials like wallet and phone, and the high neck created by the hood should provide some protection for winter missions into town. The Mock Mesh Hoody is available in the turquoise colourway pictured and a hi-vis orange. It costs £250.
Other garments in the collection include a packable wind and shower resistant jacket (£450), a long-sleeved, merino wool jersey (£225), a merino wool t-shirt (£150), and cycling sweatshirt (£175). Printed cotton t-shirts with a range of 531-themed designs are available at £95 and £85.