Monday, October 25, 2010


While best known in the motoring world for his collection of exquisite cars, Ralph Lauren is one savvy character, and it's merely a matter of time before we see his silver-haired visage at Pebble Beach, standing beside some outrageous two-wheeled acquisition.

The only speculation will be, 'which bike?'... and judging by the recent Men's File magazine party at the flagship RL store on Boulevard St. Germain in Paris, I have a pretty good guess what his first purchase might look like.

As noted in these pages previously, not since the late 1960s have the disparate worlds of motorcycles, fashion, art, photography, publishing, and film/video collided in such a spectacular manner.  There's motion afoot, and two recent parties in completely different parts of the world illustrate my point.  The scene in LA (see my Comune post) has already well integrated the vintage and custom motorcycle scene into the world of 'swimming pools and movie stars'; the Men's File party was a checkered flag planted on new soil, the ultra-chic 6th Arrondissement, right across the street from legendary cafés de Flore and Deux Magots.

The connection between Men's File and the Double RL ('RRL') boutique atop the chez Ralph is a natural, as RRL is the 'vintage'-inspired branch of the Lauren empire...yes I know all RL is 'vintage inspired', and some lines fairly dated and bourgeois, but the man has recognized and seized on the late-capitalist-era desire for 'authenticity' and 'heritage' more successfully than any other company. Sticking true to a uniquely Anglo/preppy aesthetic, he has become the authenticity he sought to create, transforming himself in the process from Ralph Lifshitz, a poor Brooklyn immigrant's son, to the scion of American clothing culture.  Such is his success, and such the state of American culture, that no paradox is seen between the 'heritage branding' of the man and his business, and chimerical creation of that heritage from whisps of air and inspiration....such is his genius, and his exemplification of the uniquely American promise of a renewed identity for any striving individual.

Men's File, having recently pressed its third issue, is treading similar ground to Double RL, exploring the worlds of cars, motorcycles, fashion, surfing, bicycling, et al, from a distincly 'vintage' perspective, in search of the Timeless.  As RL has done, MF is digging through grandfather's trunk to find what is relevant today - and that old fisherman's sweater or Red Wing boots or '66 Triumph still looks pretty damn good.

The photography is exceptional, especially the work of Nick Clements, who has a knack for setting up 'situations' with models and vehicles which have the feel of the past, yet are completely contemporary and use mostly clothing which is available in stores, occasionally even designed/sold by Nick himself.  [As I've been privileged to witness one, I'll dive into a Men's File photo shoot in another post].

If you're reading this, you're interested in exactly what Men's File is offering; it's the best magazine printed today exploring how our 'magnificent obsession' can be contextualized in our modern world.  Shameless plug - support quality publishing!

Now back to the party:  the miracle of the situation was the easy mix between very different worlds, from the bemusement of the ladies from 'bonne familles' shopping for the latest RL fashion, to a horde of 60 bikers who rode in for what was clearly a novel event.  The crowd was international, with visitors from the US, England, and all of Europe. The stars of the evening were the motorcycles, which included a plinth display of Yves J. Hayat's beautiful little Velocette MAC sitting beside what is perhaps my favorite production design of all time, a 1928 Brough Superior 'Pendine' with straight open pipes and no street gear.

Three other Broughs, provided by Mark Upham of Brough Superior, sat outside the RL store, lending heavy-hitter caché to the party, and looking completely at home on the Boulevard with the fancy ladies walking by in their minks.  Even rough-knuckled and staggering 'Basil' Brough, swilling a heady brew of pure alcohol in great gulps through wide open bellmouths.  Basil was built for sidecar racing and wears heavy boots, his brawn held in check by steel straps and bars, like Kong.  The ladies got a secret thrill from his 'gorilla in a tux' demeanor.

As the evening wore on, the street began to fill with the creme of the Parisian vintage bike scene, especially the Triton Club of France, whose members brought out some very impressive machinery.  First to arrive was a proper Triton in green, second a covetable Triumph Thruxton - and I'm not talking about a new one, this looked the proper business, ca. '67.

The atrium of the RL compound, as well as the bar and Ralph's restaurant (yes, a bar and resto at retail...civil!) filled completely with hundreds of revellers, and the store was open to browsers, especially the Double RL salon in the penthouse, which had an exhibit of Nick Clement's photos plus other contributors to the magazine.  The photos of course looked completely at home nestled between vintage horsehide 'D' pocket jackets, reproduced shawl-collar sweaters, and native American jewelry.  In truth, RL should just buy Men's File and make it the coolest 'house media organ' imaginable...but for now, we can treasure MF's independence of vision, and the fact that they feature plenty of interesting suppliers of clothing, gear, bikes, accessories, etc.

Highlight of the evening was the 'forbidden' firing up of the Pendine, its sharp crackling thunder banging on the stucco walls of the great House of Lauren, filling the atrium with liquid sound, rattling the thin glass separating fine cashmere and pearls from the healthy roar of motorcycling Life, declaiming to the full moon itself, 'We are Here'.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post! The people, the clothing, the bikes, the brand, the city - all beautiful. Stream of consciousness follows:
- Mark Upham is doing George Brough proud.
- RL is smart to bring RRL back to front and centre.
- RL Magazine will run an article of the Motorcycle Cannonball Race in their December issue.
- RL does own a couple bikes, mostly modern (Ducati).
- Agreed that RL will soon get into vintage bikes (Brough).
- Vintagent mentions Pebble Beach yet still no "smoking gun part 2 report" three months after event; bad journalism; old news is no news.
- Men's File magazine is indeed excellent.
- Vintagent lives the life of Riley; makes one jealous.
Wonderful event, wonderful post!

YZ400BEN said...

What an extraordinary amount of guff.

vintagent said...


Yes, it's true I'm full of hot air - that's a writer's privelege!

But I call it like I see it, no bullshit.

And nobody pays me to write The Vintagent, not even you, kind sir.

My feet are on the ground in the US, England, Australia, France, and Germany, hoping to add Japan to the list, and anywhere else which seems relevant to what's happening Now in the vintage motorcycle scene.

Is there anyone else doing the same?

So, permit me a little largesse.

pipsqeek said...

Thank you for providing what you do. Keep up the great work.

Sleeping Dog said...

Yes, yes, there goes the neighborhood and all that. And yes, the price of old crocks will go up accordingly, but alas that's life. My biggest complaint is that I wasn't there and will only experience the event vicariously through Paul. These mash ups are an evening well spent, a bit of art, some classic tech, lovely women, well turned out gents and all being interesting, curious and some odd.

American motorcycles said...

As always a great coverage of what seemed to be a great (tough a little posh) event. Hope those Brough owners relation to their bikes are in accordance to what you state at the bottom of your blog;

Oh well,


The Vintagent said...

Indeed Sverre;

One hopes the credo of 'ride it don't hide it' applies, as motorcycles are far more beautiful and compelling when in motion than static. That is the essence of their appeal - design object yes, but one with which we have a unique, intimate relationship, the source of our bond with them, and their essential function.

Motorcycles, in 1928 and 2010, are made to be straddled, revved up, and taken places...

Its a funny thing, money and motorcycles. I remember the first time I spent more than $1000 on a bike, for my '65 Velo Thruxton - $8800! For me, in 1988, this was a huge sum, and it intimidated me at first - not the bike, but the expense - but the motorcycle istelf won out, being so fun to ride that I simply forgot the 'price of admission', and got on with developing a 22 year love affair.

The next time I spent a wad on a bike, for a Brough 11-50, I was again intimidated; $15,000! In 1989, this was enormous for me, but I pulled it off, and soon discovered the joys, and limitations, of this legendary marque.

I wonder truly if any new owner of a BS SS100 or SS101 will take the time to discover the true joy of riding this machine, or if the reputation itself is their satisfaction? In my opinion, if they fail to put a few thousand miles on the bike, they miss the point completely, and should be collecting stamps, or paintings.

If you ever wondered, now you know where I stand!

YJH said...

I see Indians but not their bike

American motorcycles said...

Paul thanks for your reply on my comment. Hmm, I dont think I ever did worry on your behalf with regards to use of motorcycles as I`ve been following your writings for quite a while. But as my point was taken, yeah I do worry when motorcycles ends up in glas cages, its not much Zen between a motorcycle and its owner then, is it?
Personally I`m never more allive than when touching the edge with my motorcycles on a curvy road, this beeng a new one or a relic.

Keep up your god work.

Anonymous said...

how come the biker crowd i hang out with doesn't look as sophisticated and svelte?.


David Himel said...

I am just about to throw out a pair of 646 1970s Levis. I bought them new....about 3 years ago..I wore them to work until they broke in, and the denim has now faded and torn. I have other pairs of Levis that I almost never wear...they sit on a shelf, not washed for special occasions. While I am sad I am throwing out this pair it served me well. I will have some of my other pairs forever because I will baby them and keep them in a cage. I imagine someone needs a glass cage for their bikes so that others may ride

Merry Christmacha and Happy Festivus
David Himel