With some thought-provoking content and an aesthetic inspired by Twen and vintage cycling magazines, Rapha's new publication Mondial offers a stylish alternative to sport and gear-focused titles, and a beautiful showcase of the brand's products.
Rapha was founded by Simon Mottram in 2004, with the aim of providing a more subtle and minimal alternative to cycling apparel in clashing colours, swirls and racing stripes. Its early collections were heavily inspired by the jerseys worn by professional cyclists in the 1960s, the brand is named after a French team sponsored in the same decade by aperitif brand Saint-Raphaël, and its logo is based on hand-painted lettering spotted in a vintage book about the Tour de France.
Since its launch, Rapha has demonstrated the same understated approach in everything from its store design to products and marketing. Its brand photography by Ben Ingham has more in common with documentary and reportage imagery than glossy catalogue shots, while short films following its cycling teams – such as a series made by Andrew Telling, which we featured in our December 2013 issue – document not just the gruelling intensity of races, but the quieter moments in a cyclist's day, and the stunning scenery passed along the way. It's a strategy that has been hugely successful for the brand (if occasionally mocked), so it comes as no surprise that Rapha's new print magazine features a similarly refined design and romantic view of the sport.
Produced in-house and art directed by Jack Saunders (Rapha's in-house art director), Mondial is a bi-annual title, and Rapha's second venture into publishing. It launched cycling magazine Rouleur in 2006 but sold it to Gruppo Media in 2012. It may seem strange to launch another mag so soon, particularly given the amount of competition that has sprung up since Rouleur's launch, but in an introduction to Mondial, Mottram says the new title aims to offer a unique take on the sport. "Our ambition for Mondial is to broaden the horizons of what road cycling is and what the sport can be," he says, describing cycling not just as a sport, but as "a lens through which to view the world".
"Familiar cycling subjects are given a new angle.... But Mondial also brings a cycling viewpoint to broader cultural subjects and helps expand the sport's reference points," he writes, adding that readers "will find features on travel, driving fashion and wine that show just how relevant our sport is to the world around us" in each issue.
It's a grand ambition, but in the inaugural issue, Mondia succeeds in coupling features on riders, races and the sport's history with fashion, travel and wildlife content, resulting in a mag which has more in common with broadsheet supplements or men's style titles than most mainstream cycling mags.
There's a fascinating article which attempts to delve inside the mind of Sir Bradley Wiggins, looking at his fears and motivations; another on early 20th-century cycling clubs in New York, and another about the journey that inspired the brand's annual Manchester to London charity cycle. Alongside this, there's an interview with Mad Men writer Tom Stutts on TV, creativity and cycling to work in Los Angeles, a look at the use of big data in business and an essay by Tim Dee on the falcons, owls and other birds of prey which reside in various mountain ranges around the world. There's a great deal of content around famous cyclists and races, but just as much about fashion, travel and design.
The magazine's aesthetic is heavily inspired by old issues of Gazzetta Della Sport, the Italian newspaper which launched the Giro d'Italia race (Saunders says the pink cover is a homage to Gazzetta). Twen magazine, and more recent editorial design by Matt Willey, has also been a big influence, evident in the bold typographic feature openers throughout. The use of a custom typeface created by Colophon, however, gives Mondial its own distinct identity.
"We worked with Colophon foundry to develop the Mondial masthead and headline typeface," Saunders told CR . "Our brand fonts Trade Gothic and Adobe Caslon have always served us well but we felt there was space to do something new for Mondial – editorially, we wanted to bring more character to the pages.
"The final font is a dense condensed typeface with lots of quirky characteristics – it has an almost woodblock style with slightly rounded edges. Again, as with the other design cues in Mondial, there is an Italian influence. Lots of our research was directed at the Gazzetta and some old Italian type specimen books we have in the studio," he explains.
Inside, the magazine features a range of paper stocks and some beautiful photography: archive race imagery (including some from back issues of Rouleur) sits alongside new series from Ingham (who will be publishing photo essays from his travels with the brand in each issue) and some brilliant portraits of Wiggins by Jack Davison.
Dee's article on birds of prey is accompanied by Spencer Murphy's beautiful series Traces. "We intend to use Mondial as a way of championing long term collaborators and as a means to create new relationships with others that we admire," says Saunders. "We hope to work with photographers that come from outside the world of cycling as a means of gaining new perspectives on the sport."
Rapha's own archive was also a key source of inspiration for Mondial's design, and Saunders says that everything from early catalogues "through to the most recent expressions of our brand in-store and online provided a rich pool of creative work to reference and reinvent."
Design is a key focus within the magazine: features include an interview with architect and urban design consultant Jan Gehl, whose work is focused on improving cities for pedestrians and cyclists and another on Christopher Raeburn. This is also reflected in its advertising, with Paul Smith, Bang & Olufsen and Vitra among those who have placed page ads in issue one.
Particularly interesting is the brand's approach to promoting its own products. There are several features on Rapha collections, but the approach is subtle: there's a short article on the making of a data print by Accept & Proceed for Rapha's Pro Team collection, which uses race data generated by cyclist Peter Kennaugh (read our feature on the collection here) and an interesting article on the making of a commemorative jersey to honour of the 50th anniversary of Tom Simpson's World Champion title (he was the first Brit to receive it). Timothy Everett, a tailor who created a Rapha cycling suit in 2009, and Barbara Agnes, an accessories designer who created silk scarves for the brand this year, have also written articles on their craft and the joy of textiles and tailoring.
While most brands would feature at least a few pages of product shots, Rapha has instead focused on the stories or designers who created or inspired each collection. Most of these articles are accompanied by one or no images, with no prices or links to product pages.
Like all of Rapha's output, Mondial positions the brand as a lifestyle one, rather than simply a place to buy clothing and accessories. The magazine cements its reputation as a label for cyclists who want to look stylish, but it also contains a fascinating mix of content around the sport and broader cycling culture. Few brands make customer magazines people would be keen to pick up on the news stands, let alone pay for, but Rapha have done just that, and Mondial is a great example of branded content for a premium retailer.
Issue one of Mondial is out now and costs £10. For details or to order a copy see rapha.cc