Simply brilliant brand

rapha-dm.jpgI received a lovely piece of direct mail yesterday.  And it’s not often that those words pass my lips (or my fingers).

Here’s a picture of it.  It’s from one of my favourite brands – Rapha – which makes fantastic, top quality cycling clothing.  So it’s a bit of a niche thing.  But I’m into my niches. 

Rapha’s very much an aspirational brand for me (I’m into my cycling at the moment, too).  In fact, it’s completely aspirational as I don’t own a single piece of Rapha kit!  It’s quite pricey…but you just know it’s going to be worth the money.  I spoke to a bloke once who’d tried on one of Rapha’s jackets.  He said that on the peg it all looked a little odd – long arms and back, zip off centre – but when you put it on and sat on a bike it was just perfect.  Then his eyes glazed over.  It’s that sort of stuff.

Is this sounding a bit sad?

It’s just that Rapha hits so many spots with me that I can’t think of another brand with which I have the same sort of relationship.  I can remember quite vividly the first time I read about the company – an article in Management Today a few years back.  I visit the company’s website and drool regularly.  And now I’ve got a lovely little A5 booklet I can tuck under my pillow.

Everything about the brand is understated.  The clothing itself, obviously (none of your day-glo lycra here) but everything else reflects that too.  The website’s great.  It captures the passion that some of us (and I’m by no means as bad as it gets) have for cycling with some fantastic editorial content and images.  The DM piece is exactly the same (as you’d expect).  The first 18 of its 31 pages contain some brilliant photos and an article written by Tim Krabbe, a Dutch novelist well-known in cycling circles for his classic book The Rider.  Only then are a few of the products presented.  Cool.  It even smells great.

The fella who founded Rapha, Simon Mottram, used to be a brand consultant, so you might expect him to get it right.  But he’s also a fanatical cyclist, which I think is just as important.  Honestly, I’m racking my brain and I can’t think of another brand that’s so compelling.  Well, to me, at least.  It’s obviously an individual thing based on personality and passions – I’d love to know if anyone else has a similar relationship with any other brands?

Anyway, if anyone’s wondering what to get me for Christmas…

11 thoughts on “Simply brilliant brand

  1. scottdouglas says:

    At least your brand is niche, windswept and interesting.
    ‘Fraid the ones which do it for me are entirely more predictable: Apple computers and Campers shoes.
    I believe that denial in such matters is a good thing.
    So I allow myself one pair of Campers every four years.
    I also use Windows-based PCs so that I can only worship Apple from afar. And therefore incredibly cheaply.
    True worship requires sacrifice.

  2. Matt Ravden says:

    You are an odd one, aren’t you? You are so smitten with this brand that all you have is a booklet under your pillow? That’s rather like being in love with Claudia Schiffer (unless you’re that magician bloke and you can actually have her). Go and buy some kit for goodness sakes.

    I know what you mean, though. The equivalent for me is probably those beautiful ads you see in the ‘affluent’ glossies for hideously expensive watches. There was one for Glasshutte the other day and I actually checked out the watch on the web – a cool $100,000’s worth.

    Maybe I’ll tear out the ad and put it under my pillow. The watch fairy might come ..

  3. Mark says:

    Yes, I think I might be a bit odd Matt. But I don’t actually have the booklet under my pillow – it’s on my desk. That was just a little bit of creative licence to bring the post to life. I’m not sure if you’ve ever done any writing Matt, but if so it’s a technique you might want to try.

    Tee hee, only joking…Matt’s the only person I know who’s ever had a novel published.

    Now, Scott, I know what you’re saying about worship from afar. While there’s a large part of me that would love some Rapha kit, there’s a definite bit that resists it, just in case it doesn’t live up to expectations. Now that is odd.

  4. spanner says:

    I can thoroughly recommend Assos kit, if you can’t bring yourself to fork out for the Rapha stuff…

  5. Mark says:

    Thanks Spanner. I’ve just checked out the Assos website ( It’s technology where Rapha is tradition. Undoubtedly high quality and as it’s Swiss it’ll never fall apart. Brand-wise it doesn’t appeal to me anywhere near as much as Rapha though – it doesn’t get anywhere near my soul. Mind you, not much that’s Swiss does.

    It reminds me of Rocky IV. You know, where our hero trains for the fight of his life in the wilderness; chopping trees, lifting logs, chin-ups in the woodshed…whereas the Russian fella uses all the modern technology available to get in shape. And we all know how that one ended up.

  6. jameswarren says:

    Howies produces similar bumpf. That is all.

  7. Paris Singe Germain says:

    There are some amusing comments in a cycling book, I forget the precise one (think it might be Matt Seaton’s The Escape Artist?) taking the mickey out of all the London poseurs at some time trial race in their trendy retro gear (can only be Rapha), whilst the proper hardcore racers stick to their knackered old lycra. Whilst I agree that this kit looks lovely and panders to the romantic image of road racing’s golden era, I can’t help thinking it’s akin to going mountaineering in a Barbour jacket rather than the latest (much more effective) Gore-Tex. Fair enough, their brochures look lovely, but anyone can do that, surely?

  8. Mark says:

    Yeah, I know what you’re saying. And of course anyone can make their brochure look great – as James said, Howies does similar collateral. But a brand is obviously more than the physical material a company puts out. It’s about whether it appeals to something a bit deeper – whether it grabs you emotionally.

    It’s an interesting discussion though. I’ve had an email from an ex-client, now friend and keen cyclist who said he’s going to comment but has yet to do so. He’s had several bits of Rapha kit and has had quality issues with nearly all of them. As someone I trust, his comments have seriously impacted my perspective. Word of mouth in action.

    Personally I’ve bought a few bits of kits from the Convicts of the Road shop on eBay –

    It’s genuine, second-hand kit from the 70s/80s/90s. Small stock and it changes all the time, but it’s worth keeping an eye on as they have some very cool stuff and you can pick it up for a few quid.

  9. spanner says:

    second-hand kit..??? nein danke.

    You can buy good quality, high performance kit from mid-tier brands like Lusso and Alexa – I’ve ridden many thousands of winter miles in their kit and it is excellent value.

    Funny, I’d never really viewed cycling as a ‘fashion sport’. But, after a 90-mile winter club run – when everyone is covered in a layer of nasty brown road dirt – you can’t tell who is wearing what anyway…

  10. Mark says:

    It’s only second-hand jerseys. Obviously I’d never consider a used pair of nut-huggers.

  11. […] always done some nice marketing. Its direct mail (as I’ve blogged about before in a different place) is beautiful and something you tend to hang onto. It also recently opened a […]

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