A few weeks after the launch by Marc Jacobs of a bamboo bicycle for city cycling, Hermès has introduced its own $10,000-plus bicycle for fashionable urbanites. There may be more reasons than you think why this matters.
Le Flâneur d’ Hermès, shown above, one of two carbon models that will debut at retail in November, features a lightweight frame, disc brakes, belt-drive transmission and a rear rack — all well-suited to city cycling. The Hermès touches include a bull-leather saddle, handlebar grips, carry handle and rack supports. (Just add a leather-covered U lock.)
François Doré, managing director of Hermes’ Horizons department, told WWD.com, “We set out to make a real bike, not a decorative object. It had to be simple, efficient, easy to use, pleasant and elegant.” The bikes are manufactured by the quality French bicycle and accessories maker Time.
Nevertheless, some may question the significance of fashion-inspired bicycles, wondering if they represent anything more than the gimmicky impulse to capitalize on growing interest in cycling, notably in major cities.
Businessweek reasons that this and other brand extensions that fit in with their customers’ lifestyles make good competitive sense for Hermès: “Luxury retail is a savage game, and finding a new product category is a savvy way to squeeze more sales out of the sector. Selling something like a bike, for example, is probably a lot easier than pitching another cashmere shawl.”
Maybe, or maybe not. But, there’s another, albeit more conceptual, way to look at the relationship between bicycles and luxury brands. Fashion and lifestyle marketing campaigns create some of the most compelling and attention-getting imagery of cycling that exists today. That’s because marketers intuit and appreciate the correspondence between two wheels and the feeling of wind-in-your-hair, sun-on-your face freedom that cycling evokes. In connecting their products with that feeling, they are actually promoting bicycling, and its attendant beauty and sensual pleasures.
Surprisingly, the mainstream bicycling industry in its own promotional campaigns rarely focuses on the joys or the transformative power of cycling, concentrating instead on product features — even as the market for bicycles is changing.
Hermès, for example, recently included the image above, with an earlier, less expensive Hermès Dutch-style bicycle, in its “A Sporting Life” advertising campaign. One of my readers commented at the time: “I want to be that girl.” As an advocate for women’s cycling, I’m intrigued by anything that elicits that kind of a response about pedaling a bicycle. One wonders: Is the industry listening, too?
Bicycle photos: Grégoire Alexandre for Hermès