My apologies to regular readers for a tangential line of inquiry I simply feel compelled to explore, if only to put it behind me. Perhaps I’ll read this back over as one might a poem they wrote in their teens.
For at least a decade the fashion world has been gathering cache from that most expensive, most outer layer of clothing, the bespoke work of named architecture. Prada’s patronage of Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron is virtually infamous. And where once the style mysters might have pictured girls draped over convertible cars, it is not cars but bikes they are now bringing into the fashion emporium and onto the catwalk. Many fashion houses actually have their own bike, accessorized as though they were ladies themselves with handbags and gloves—or do I mean panniers and stitched leather grips?
Now unless you would still wear stone wash denim (in which case you’re a junkie) you cannot deny the catwalk’s influence upon your own wardrobe. Fashion week runways really do tell us which clothes—and to some extent which acoutrements, like push bikes—can be worn to show others that we care about people’s opinions, crave acceptance, and thus can be trusted to work the way social beings work. Like fashionable clothing, bicycles, since they have become so terribly fashionable, say: "I have savior faire, am responsible, and am worth that good wage that you will now pay me."
The bike was a natural heir to the car. Just like the car, the bike gets you to work—where you aught to be, say the powers that be. But where the car has become a symbol of waste, the bike stands for ecological concern. What else can symbolise ones concern for the planet—god love her—better than a bike, and be paraded from its owner’s crotch, no less, for an hour or two every day! She, the bike, heralds one’s green credentials more clearly than reusable shopping bags, hemp shirts, fair deal coffee, or even solar panels up on your roof.
With the facts laid out in that way, it also seems obvious that the bicycle would be on its way to becoming a paragon of beauty throughout the design world. Where Modernists like Le Corbusier said the car embodied everything one should strive for when designing buildings or furniture—efficiency, functionality, assembly-line bang for one’s buck—an argument could be made I believe that late-modernist designers have turned to the bicycle as their principle yardstick for excellence. The above paintings by pioneer Modernist/Futurist artists Boccioni, Goncharova, Prampolini and Depero suggest the bicycle might well have remained the design world’s leitmotif, had cars not stepped into that role. So let’s consider ways architecture, fashion and furniture design might have become "bicyclish" in recent years.
Simple though it may seem, a bicycle frame is actually a mind bending three dimensional assembly of tubes. CNC routing, laser cutting, CAD and CAM (sheesk, so many acronyms!) mean this kind of complexity can now be conferred, without breaking the bank, onto whole buildings. Complex exoskeletons infilled with computer-cut glass can be, so are being, built. Does Melbourne’s Fed Square not resemble a tracing of bike frames across the grey sky?
Bicycle design is characterised by fine materials, detailing and the relentless refinement of the tiniest parts. Whenever the design world returns from some foolhardy foray (pirate shirts, inflatable lounge chairs, whatever) it is to a position bicycle designers cannot help but occupy. We are talking a about design culture that is willing to experiment and prototype, but always with due reverence for archetypes. My suit and that table by Emu look pretty plain, but because they’re so refined in their materials and detailing, they’re both worth a monza. The same could be said of the most pricey bike frames.