Fashion and function
Get ready for the latest fashion accessory, the bicycle.
TALK about making an entrance. Intent on arriving at a recent gala in style, Topaz Page-Green swooshed onto the scene on her trusty vintage roadster. She wore, of all things, a scarlet dress with a slinky 1920s feel. “It was to the ankles,” she recalled. “I had to hoist it up.”
Page-Green, who runs a non-profit group that provides meals to needy children, likes to charge around town on her bike. Sometimes she’s done up in sparkly necklaces and towering heels; other times she coasts to appointments, sans helmet, in a blazer and freshpressed jeans. “I get a little sweaty but it doesn’t bother me,” she said. Her bike, after all, is a stylish appendage, “a kind of rustic enhancement,” she said.
She is one in an increasingly visible band of chic New Yorkers whooshing along the greenpainted bike lanes that have proliferated in Manhattan, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Hudson and from TriBeCa to Harlem, clutching BlackBerrys and clad not in spandex, but in fluttery skirts, capes and kitten heels.
Roadways are the new runways for these style-obsessed cyclists, their bikes no mere conveyance but a racy adjunct to their look. More than a few are infusing what used to be an athletic, or purely practical, pursuit with eye-catching glamour and sex appeal. Their style, a modish amalgam of fashion and function, is documented on blogs and emulated by like-minded sisters on wheels.
Women, mostly young, have given the image of cyclists “an extreme makeover,” said George Bliss, who owns Hudson Urban Bikes on Charles Street in the West Village. His store caters to upscale New Yorkers whose aim it is to speed around town on a traditional Schwinn or three-speed Raleigh while sacrificing neither their decorum nor élan. They are a far cry “from the image of the adult cyclist as infantry solider with a helmet,” Bliss said, referring mostly to the athletes and messengers who whiz by in that all-too-familiar forward-thrust posture that has, he said, “alienated every pedestrian.”
Bliss said that his clients tend to be women who almost invariably dress to impress. “They are my best customers,” he said. “They want more things – fenders, baskets, chains, bells and things to carry their kids and their dogs.” And most are turning their backs on the oncecustomary aerodynamic helmets and latex shorts in favour of a look as fetching as it is genteel.
In a city that elevates the pursuit of chic to stratospheric heights, voguish cyclists on vintage bikes are “part of a movement,” said Julie Hirschfeld, the owner of Adeline Adeline, a boutique in TriBeCa that sells bicycles, jaunty vintage-style wicker baskets and canvas bags. Their look, captured on websites like The Sartorialist and Bicycle Catwalk, as well as Cycle Chic from Copenhagen, is part of “that whole sort of blog style,” Hirschfeld said, one that is studied and much copied on Manhattan’s streets.
A desire to look workday glamorous impelled Michelle Tillou, an art dealer, to ride to her gallery on Beekman Place the other day wearing a blazer, elasticised trousers and patent-leather wedge-heel shoes. More often she slips on kitten heels. “The better to hook onto the pedals,” she said.
For designer Lela Rose, wedge-heeled platforms and a khaki shirtdress of her own design are ideal for racing on her custom tricycle from the Union Square Greenmarket, where she picked up a bundle of mint, to her Seventh Avenue atelier.
Rose and her cycling cohorts began appearing in Manhattan in significant numbers a couple of years ago, influenced perhaps by a handful of early adopters, including local celeb- rities like Chloë Sevigny and Naomi Watts, who aimed to burn calories, not fossil fuels.
Not everyone is thrilled. Ross Autry, a blogger in Birmingham, Alabama, noted in an email that multitasking bicyclists are too selfconsciously hip for his taste and, what’s worse, may pose a hazard.
“Fixing your make-up or sending a text message could have catastrophic results,” he said. Such complaints, though, go largely unnoted in an increasingly bike-friendly city. Last year, the city completed 321.8km of bike lanes in all five boroughs, contributing to an increase in the number of daily city cyclists to an estimated 201,000, up 79% from 2008, according to Transportation Alternatives, a bicycle advocacy organisation.
A report by the Department of Planning indicates that the number of adult female cyclists in the city is growing faster than that of men. The male-to-female ratio has dropped yearly since 2003. Some of these women seem to view their bikes, equipped with high-end saddle bags and bells, as a stand-in for a car.
Rose, who moved to New York from Dallas, can be spied any day of the week pedaling uptown from her home in TriBeCa, her children and Stitch, her terrier, in tow in a seating compartment that is attached to the tricycle.
“A bike in New York City is sort of what a convertible is in Los Angeles,” said Bonnie Morrison, a fashion publicist who scoots around the city on a boy’s Raleigh Chopper from the 70s. Its low-riding banana seat, ultrawide handlebars and nonfunctioning speedometer are part of its charm, Morrison said.
So, too, is its off-kilter cool. Morrison once planned an outfit to complement her little chopper: a chambray shirt flat sandals and a patterned 50s-inspired Prada skirt. “I saw myself as this very chic, carefree Parisian on a moped with an Hermès bag and the wind in my hair,” she said. It turned out that her skirt was too snug for propriety. “Besides,” she said, “at times, when I see my reflection in a shop window, I think, Oh my God, I look like a 35year-old on a child’s bike.”
On a blustery morning last week in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Lee Dares, a model newly arrived from Toronto, wore a girlishly bibbed sweater, a navy blazer, Ann Demeulemeester roughrider boots and vintage Gucci sunglasses, her look accessorised with a borrowed Schwinn Le Tour. Dares has her heart set on a Raleigh single-speed, once she settles in. – IHT Alexandra Cassaniti’s
cotton canvas bike
bag straps to handlebars
or seat post.
Pedal power: Fashion designer Lela Rose taking her custom-built tricycle and her dog, Stitch, to her studio.
Lee Dares, a model, adopts the popular mode of travel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Po Campo’s rack tote is water-resistant and reflective.