Simon Mottram: On Passion, Obsession & Why Your Brand Should Take Sides

Simon Mottram: On Passion, Obsession & Why Your Brand Should Take Sides

by Jocelyn K. Glei
Rapha Tailored Jacket created in collaboration with bespoke tailor Timothy Everest.
Road racing is a grueling sport that demands intense focus, strategic thinking, and a very, very high tolerance for pain in pursuit of the greater glory. It’s never been a sport for the faint of heart, and - until recently - it hasn’t been for the faint of style. (We’ve all seen that guy clunking around the coffeeshop in an eye-blistering neon jersey with 23 logos on it.) But in 2004, the UK-based performance roadwear company Rapha changed all that. They brought high style to cycling.Since their launch over seven years ago, Rapha has evolved into a vibrant ecosystem for road riders around the world. Beyond their 100+ product line of high-performance clothing and gear sold online, the brand encompasses a world-class cycling team, a super-cross racing series, a bi-monthly cycling magazine, a gallery and shop in San Francisco, and multiple blogs covering the sport.

Behind it all is road racing enthusiast Simon Mottram. Prior to launching Rapha, Mottram worked for 15 years as a marketing and branding consultant, collaborating primarily with luxury brands. And the experience shows: Since day one, Rapha’s branding has been executed with flawless panache. 

I chatted with Mottram via phone about how he geared up to launch Rapha, the challenges of evolving the brand, and how he makes it all hang together so beautifully.

I heard you did research for about five years before starting Rapha. Can you tell me what happened during that incubation period?
I think I was at the right point in my career: I was in my mid-30s and had some experience, and I was ready to do something for myself that wasn’t just an agency. I wanted to do something that mattered, and at the same time I’d always been obsessed by road racing as a sport. 

The whole idea came out of my own frustration with the cycling kit that was available. You know, you’re frustrated as a customer, and you think: “Someone could do this better.” And a nagging frustration became a sort of full-on obsession over a few years.

As I went around the world working at my day job — which was marketing, brand, and identity consulting — I was looking at the market thinking, “Hang on, there’s something in this.” There are more people like me out there who are frustrated. There is a gap in the market, and I think actually there might be a way of doing it.
 
 
simon_550
Simon Mottram ready to ride.
-
 
So Rapha is a sort of curious train smash of personal passion, a perceived gap in the market, and some professional expertise in that I did lots of branding for luxury goods businesses. I had some insight into how you do that kind of brand — a sort of specific, authentic, exclusive brand for a very particular type of discerning customer. 

I didn’t know anything about garments, didn’t know anything about running retail, or running online retail. And I had never set up my own brand before. So there was a lot to learn and a lot of risk.

But the key thing is it came out of me being the customer. You understand the customer, because you are the customer. And as soon as you have deep customer insight, it really gives you a massive headstart. It liberates you to build around something very real rather than just research and a perceived sort of market plan.
 
Rapha is a sort of curious train smash of personal passion, a perceived gap in the market, and some professional expertise.
 
 
How did you start to ingratiate yourself into the cycling market?
I would call up editors of magazines and go see them. I would go into bike shops and talk to bike shop owners. I started to learn about fabrics and garment technology. I read the magazines, I went to trade shows. I talked to the fabric manufacturers. 

Because I was a little bit older, mid-30s, not straight out of college, I had a quite good network of contacts already: people who ran brands or clothing businesses. So, just through my network, I managed to get into people who were relevant — people who ran outdoor brands or outdoor retailers. And, before long, people were introducing me to other people. 

I found all the way through that people were incredibly helpful with time and advice. I think that people know how hard it is if they’ve done it themselves, and they really want to give you the time to help you succeed. So it was just through persistence really, and networking, but that sort of good old-fashioned networking.
 
Rapha Riders trace the route of the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge before the pros.
-

When did you actually decide to pull the trigger? How did the financing, the team, etc, all come together?
There was never a moment when I thought: “OK, now I have to take the plunge.” The drip drip of obsession took me over, and before I knew it I was doing it. So there was no sense of having to make that big leap. Which is good really, I mean, I’m not particularly brave as a person. If I had had to sit there with everything laid out, maybe I wouldn’t have made the decision. It was just a driving passion.

I wrote a business plan, having done all this research, and at the time I was working with Sapient. Luke [Scheybeler] was a creative at Sapient. And I said, “Can you come help me do this? I need a graphic designer to work with me.” So he came on effectively as employee number one. He helped me with the brand development, with the website, and designing the first products. He was really central to getting that whole thing launched. I also hired a woman named Claire who did everything else — customer service, the administrative side, and so on. At launch, it was a 3-three-person company.
 

brevet_550
Rapha brevet jersey.
-
 
jean-550
Rapha rider-specific jeans.
-
 
On the money side, it took me two-and-a-half years of hard fundraising to just enough to build the first five or six products, put the website together, set up the marketing, do a launch event to show people that I could get that far. After that, I went off and raised another half a million or so, and have done it twice again since. Just in small amounts from the same kind of people. All our money is raised from individuals and lots of them have been there from day one. They saw the risk, but thought, “There’s an opportunity here.” 

It was such a risky proposition to say you could go into a market called cycling apparel and accessories, which nobody knew. Ten years ago, people just weren’t thinking about it. And to say that, with no experience of garment manufacturing or Internet retail, I could come in and sell clothes to men online around cycling, and do it at a price that was 30-50% higher than anybody else in the market using the principles of luxury branding.

It was classic risk capital. The investors had to believe in me, and the team I had with me. I think they were backing that fact that I was prepared to do everything, and anything, to make it work.
 
The drip drip of obsession took me over, and before I knew it I was doing it. So there was no sense of having to make that big leap.
 
 
What was your vision for Rapha at launch? I’m curious about how that differs from how things actually unfolded.
As a consultant, there are lots of tricks that you use with clients to help them work things out and see the future. I used to do this little thing where you would ask clients to envision the future — which clients actually find very hard. You know, “Describe your business in five years time…” One thing I used to do is write faux business pieces,Financial Times or Wall Street Journal articles, about a company in the future. So you can sort of say, “That’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

I wrote one for Rapha in early 2005, when we’d been going for about seven or eight months. I wrote a piece that I pitched as being December 2010 in Fortune magazine. (Obviously the world’s a bit different now, and Fortune magazine isn’t quite what it used to be.) But it talks about Rapha revolutionizing the cycling market and leading more people to discover road racing as a lifestyle and a fundamental part of their lives. It talks about 25,000 Rapha customers meeting at Rapha cycling cafes, going for rides together, consuming Rapha coffee, being all part of a club. It talks about some of the products, reading magazines that Rapha publishes… Five years on, the way it described the business was actually very accurate to where we were last year in December 2010.

We’ve now got about 40 people at Rapha, and I gave a presentation at the end of last year where I said, “Here’s where we’re going in the next five years. This is how big I think we can be, here are the things we want to do.” It was quite a scary presentation because it was quite ambitious. But I said, “Don’t worry because this is what I wrote in 2005 about today, and you’ll see this is actually what we said we’d do.” So I’ve written another one now for 2015, just as aggressively.
 
rapha_club_550
Exterior of the Rapha Cycle Club, San Francisco.
-
 
sf_store_550
Interior detail of the Rapha Cycle Club, San Francisco.
 
What we wanted to create was a brand for a certain type of person that was absolutely for that person. So it was everything to some people and nothing to some people. I didn’t want to be something to everyone. I’ve spent so much time with clients trying to explain to them that you can’t sit on the fence — you want your brand to have a bit of side to it, a bit of tension. We’re lucky to have customers who really like what we do and are like friends. But we also have a lot of detractors, and that’s really good. It means we’re getting things right, that we’re creating impact in the right way, that we matter to people. 

But the ambitions for the business were always much bigger than creating a little niche and selling some expensive road cycling gear. The business is all about the sport. I think road cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world, and the toughest sport in the world, and I think it should be the biggest sport in the world. I think more people should do cycling than watch football, or play baseball, or whatever.

So that’s the crazy vision that drives me forward. It’s not to create a luxury brand and sell it. Or to create some nicer products because I didn’t like the jerseys that were on offer. That was definitely part of it, but it was all heading toward this idea of celebrating the sport and making it a more popular thing.
 
What we wanted to create was a brand for a certain type of person that was absolutely for that person.
 
 
There are so many things that you do with Rapha — the Rouleurmagazine, the cycling team, etc — that aren’t directly related to selling a specific product. How does that fit in?
I think there are some roots for it. But I should say that the main thing that drives that is pure enthusiasm. Imagine if you’re in love with leather goods, and you’re given the job of running Hermès. I mean, you would just go mad. You know, anything you’ve ever wanted to do in leather goods. And that’s what I have. Essentially, I have the keys to a nice part of the cycling market, and I’m a road cyclist. I can do anything — within reason. We have the freedom to indulge our passion. I think if you do that more you build a stronger brand. One that has a much more rounded platform than a brand that’s just built on one attribute, or that plows one particular category.

So part of it was about building strength by having a more rounded offer. But I’ve also always been taken with emporia, the idea of an emporium is really central to what we do. We’re not trying to create a shop, or an offer, or a set of products. It’s an emporium. It’s the sort of place where you walk through the door, and the doorbell jangles, and everything to do with the subject is there. It puts you right in the heart of the thing that you’re to do with. 

In our case, that’s road cycling. You look around and there are clothes, and there are accessories, and there is stuff to read, and there are people to talk to, and there are things to do, and there is a film to watch, and there is a smell and a taste and experiences to be had that are all about that one subject. I’ve always been keen on those things. 

In a mild way, Paul Smith, who’s now a friend of ours, was an inspiration for me. I used to love going to his shop because you weren’t just walking into a clothes shop, you were walking into Paul Smith’s mind of curios. I find that fascinating. Colette is the same kind of thing. I think it’s a much more interesting experience for the customer. So I always wanted to create an emporium. I think brands that equal an emporium have quite a good platform to connect with customers.
 

rouleur_550
Rouleur magazine, issue 24.
-
 
skincare-550
Rapha skincare: Winter Embrocation.
-
 
You talked about how you were the customer at the beginning. Now that you’ve grown to over 40 people, how do you maintain that level of customer insight as you evolve the brand?
It’s definitely one of the challenges. Because, now 7 years in, I don’t go into bike shops with the eye of a customer so much anymore. Often, I’m sent a product by someone in the industry. You become part of the industry. One of the things that we talk about internally is how it’s really important that Rapha is an independent spirit. 

I think one of the huge advantages we had starting out was that none of us were from the industry. So we didn’t think like cycling brands, didn’t think about what would we normally do here. We could look at it completely afresh, and with a customer’s perspective, totally unencumbered. So I’ve tried to enshrine in our values the idea of the independent spirit. It’s important for brands, and it’s important in road racing actually. So I can link it back to the sport.
 
The guys, the characters, in cycling that we love and want to watch, who have panache and charisma, are the guys with independent spirit. They follow their own path, and they surprise people. They don’t follow norm. It gets harder and harder to do as we become part of the industry. So we’re now starting to have to make sure we adopt a customer view on things.
 
We’re not trying to create a shop, or an offer, or a set of products. It’s an emporium.
 

We spend a lot of time with our best customers, and our new customers, to make sure we keep up to date with what they want and their perspective. That’s the great thing about being a direct business. We talk to these people all the time, and they offer us amazing insights.

We had a meeting this morning… the women’s market is a new venture for us over the last year. And, I’m not a woman. There are women who work here, but not that many. We need to make sure we get deep in the psyche of women riders, and they are very different in many ways to male riders. 

As the brand develops, and the business develops, we’ve got to get better at that stuff. We don’t have the luxury any more of it always being completely instinctive, of me being able to say, “You know what? We’re going to do that because I know it’s right.” That’s still the case sometimes, but not always. It’s tough.

Asked & Answered | Paul Smith

Daniel Stier

Sir Paul Smith might be fashion’s biggest cycling fan. Long before he took up tailoring, Smith raced bikes, as a teenager in Nottingham, England. Though his competitive career ended early, after a bad accident when he was 16, his enthusiasm for the sport never wavered. A lover of cycling design, Smith has collaborated with Rapha on clothing and with Mercian on a limited line of cycles. Here, he offers sartorial tips for city cyclists.

Q.

When did you first fall in love with cycling?

A.

When I was 11, my dad bought me a pale blue Paramount bicycle. The man he bought it from was a member of the Beeston Road Club. The man suggested that if I wanted to join some of the club riders on a Sunday for a ride, he would make sure I was O.K. I joined the club and slowly started to understand the world of cycling and especially racing. At the age of 12, I rode my first race as a schoolboy and got completely hooked on the competitive spirit, the teamwork and of course something called the Tour de France and all the great riders, like Jacques Anquetil and Fausto Coppi.

Have any of your clothing designs been inspired by cycling?
Over the years, many times. Especially the projects we did for the cycling companyRapha.

How many bicycles do you own, and what kind?
I have several Mercian bikes. Mercian is a 66-year-old company, and they still make handmade bikes — with a staff of only nine! I also have a Pinarello given to me by Team Sky; a Condor given to me by Condor; a Danish town bike; a bike I designed for a Danish cancer charity made by Principia; and, at my home in Italy, Bradley Wiggins’s old race bike, made by Giant.

What makes for the best city bike?
For me, a classic bike without dropped handlebars. The Dutch and Danish brands are normally perfect.

What sartorial tips might you offer to the urban cyclist?
This depends solely on what your profession and lifestyle are. If you cycle to work and can change clothes when you arrive, classic cycling clothing is perfect: windproof, breathable, waterproof. Of course, I am biased towards the Rapha brand. If you are cycling in regular clothes, carry a lightweight waterproof jacket for that sudden shower and some form of high-visibility clothing or accessory for safety.

How should New York’s commuting cyclists keep warm in winter?
Lots of layers, with the outer layer being windproof, waterproof, breathable and with lots of pockets.

What about trouser length?
From a fashion point of view, the trend right now is for short, cropped trousers, and this also works for the bike.

Any particular socks?
Rapha’s Merino socks are great, as they are made in a heavier yarn for increased insulation.

Do you have a favorite kind of helmet?
I always wear a Giro helmet.

What about bags? Do you have a favorite shape or design?
Any backpack or cross-body bag will do.

What materials were cycling kits made of when you used to race, and how have they changed over time?
They initially used to be made with lightweight merino wool, which of course was difficult when wet as they got very heavy. Then they changed to rayon, which was a lot better. Of course today’s kits work really well, but visually I prefer the original merino wool with with buttons and a collar — very cool.

Cycling jerseys are subject to their own fashion trends. Leopard-Trek seems to be leading a movement toward a very simple, almost old-fashioned aesthetic, while Footon-Servetto jerseys have been heavily criticized for adopting a busier look. What dictates these shifts?
One of the big issues is the amount of advertising and sponsorship that you have to get on a jersey, and company logos related to the sponsor, which can often be in inappropriate colors. The simplicity of Rapha’s jerseys is great, and, yes, I do like theLeopard-Trek jersey.

Which pro team has the best jerseys?
I’m not sure about worldwide, but the U.K. Rapha pro team jersey is really great, followed closely by the new Sky Team jersey.

Who is the best-dressed person in cycling?
On and off the bike, Bradley Wiggins takes some beating. He’s a very good Paul Smith customer, so I’m biased.

Where is your all-time favorite ride?
Anywhere in Tuscany.

The Story of Keep Calm and Carry On

A short film that tells the story behind the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster. Its origins at the beginning of WWII and its rediscovery in a bookshop in England in 2000, becoming one of the iconic images of the 21st century. Film, music, script and narration by Temujin Doran.http://www.studiocanoe.com/index.php?/profile/ Concept and production by Nation. http://www.wearenation.co.uk/

To find out more about Barter Books visit http://www.barterbooks.co.uk to download the ‘Keep Calm’ iphone app visit http://bit.ly/keepcalmapp

Guardian open journalism: Three Little Pigs advert - video

This advert for the Guardian’s open journalism, screened for the first time on 29 February 2012, imagines how we might cover the story of the three little pigs in print and online. Follow the story from the paper’s front page headline, through a social media discussion and finally to an unexpected conclusion

Put This On: How to Dress Like a Grownup

Your dress isn’t just about yourself, it’s about your respect for the others around you.

Jesse Thorn, Put This On

Jesse Thorn is a public radio host, the founder of MaximumFun.org, the bailiff on the comedy podcast Judge John Hodgman, and the genius creator of Put This On – a popular site and Web video series for men about dressing like a grownup. Among the sartorial mysteries he solves for men on Put This On are what you need to know about business casual basicswhite shirts vs. blue shirtswhat to wear to a summer wedding and hats for non-douches.

Jesse will be launching season two of Put This On this spring, with episodes shot in New York, London and Milan - the cities his viewers chose as the capitals of men’s style. Jane Pratt of xoJane also named Jesse as one of her favorite finds in the SAY 100 style channel. A native of San Francisco’s Mission District, Jesse is fast becoming a new media force in L.A.

Just in time for New York Fashion Week, we checked in with Jesse about his favorite style finds of the moment, his essential style tips for men and his all-time favorite places to shop.

You’ve always got fresh ideas for men’s style. Where do you go for inspiration? When I’m worn out, I like to go to the thrift store. There’s something about the fact that anything I find that I like I can have that’s exciting to me. And that you never know what you’ll find. I’m completely comfortable with coming home with nothing, but sometimes there’s something totally amazing.

In terms of media, I read about a billion menswear blogs. I really like the ones with strong points of view. Heavy Tweed Jacket is a favorite of mine, though the author keeps taking it down for long stretches of time. I like An Affordable Wardrobe, about thrifting. My colleague Derek Guy’s blog Die, Workwear! is great, too. I think Graeme from Most Exerent might be the best-dressed guy in blogdom.

I also love to read old copies of Apparel Arts magazine. It was a trade publication for the menswear business in the 1930s and 40s, and has tons of beautiful illustrations from the greatest era of menswear. Fabric swatches, even, if you can find a copy where they haven’t fallen out.

What are your favorite men’s style items of the moment? I bought a few lengths of Donegal tweed from Molloy & Sons in Donegal, in the Northwest of Ireland. I had one made into a suit, and once my bank account rebalances, the other two will become sportcoats. I wore the suit a lot when we were traveling, shooting season two of Put This On. The mill is a father and son operation - they’re hoping to hire some more folks soon, but for now it’s just them. They’re operating their father/grandfather’s equipment from the 60s and 70s in an outbuilding of their house.  

What other men’s style voices do you admire? Who’s doing it right? I love G. Bruce Boyer. Will Boehlke from A Suitable Wardrobe. John Tinseth from The Trad.

What are your all-time favorite places to shop? If I had all the money in the world, I’d say London. Right around Mayfair, Savile Row, Old Bond, the Picadilly & Burlington Arcades, I could do some serious damage.

I don’t have all the money in the world, though.

My favorite places to shop are probably my favorite thrift shops in San Francisco. My favorite store in the States is probably Bobby From Boston, which is the best men’s vintage store I’ve ever been to, by about a million miles.

You’re a champion of New Sincerity – how do you see that reflected in men’s style?Especially in a creative context, you can’t be afraid to be a little larger-than-life. If you can be a little ridiculous, but still elegant, like Andre 3000 or Hamish Bowles, I think you’re a real New Sincerity style hero.

How has being a father changed your sense of style – at least so far? I’m not the kind of guy who’s precious about his clothes. I wear my clothes. I try to hold my son facing outwards if he just ate and I have the option, but besides that, I’m just living my life. He’s an awesome kid. 

What are your essential 3 style tips for the men reading this? 1. It’s always better to be a little bit overdressed than a little bit underdressed. 2. There’s nothing wrong with caring about aesthetics. 3. Remember that your dress isn’t just about yourself, it’s about your respect for the others around you.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @jessethorn and @putthison

 

THE CYCLING AESTHETE
by frank / Jul 20 2010



There are those who are challenged to find the value of aesthetics in a sport which requires eating 11T cogs buttered with chain oil for breakfast and drinking kegs of Rule #5 at dinner. Ye of the Congoscenti, I present you with the following photos of some of the quintessential hardmen of our sport who rode during an era when merely climbing aboard a bicycle – let alone to race one – was an act of stony hardness which, by comparison, casts modern riders into the realm of the indolent.
Indeed, these were men who rode over the same mountain passes that we ride today, but did so on unpaved roads aboard bicycles weighing 20 kilos.  They turned massive gears out of necessity, and rode races that were many times longer than those we see today.  These were men who wore motorcycle goggles for a lack of any cycling-specific eye wear; who wore their spare tires in a figure-eight pattern looped over their shoulders. These were the hardest men imaginable.
Most of them also rode with a comb in their pocket to ensure they always looked their best the moment they stopped pedaling their machines.  These men were Giants who understood that the finer things in life and in this sport are what make it worthwhile to suffer so.
So next time you pack your energy gels and inner tube into your jersey pocket, make sure you leave room for a comb.
A bunch of men, those.

THE CYCLING AESTHETE

by frank / Jul 20 2010

There are those who are challenged to find the value of aesthetics in a sport which requires eating 11T cogs buttered with chain oil for breakfast and drinking kegs of Rule #5 at dinner. Ye of the Congoscenti, I present you with the following photos of some of the quintessential hardmen of our sport who rode during an era when merely climbing aboard a bicycle – let alone to race one – was an act of stony hardness which, by comparison, casts modern riders into the realm of the indolent.

Indeed, these were men who rode over the same mountain passes that we ride today, but did so on unpaved roads aboard bicycles weighing 20 kilos.  They turned massive gears out of necessity, and rode races that were many times longer than those we see today.  These were men who wore motorcycle goggles for a lack of any cycling-specific eye wear; who wore their spare tires in a figure-eight pattern looped over their shoulders. These were the hardest men imaginable.

Most of them also rode with a comb in their pocket to ensure they always looked their best the moment they stopped pedaling their machines.  These men were Giants who understood that the finer things in life and in this sport are what make it worthwhile to suffer so.

So next time you pack your energy gels and inner tube into your jersey pocket, make sure you leave room for a comb.

A bunch of men, those.

You Say You Want a Devolution?

For most of the last century, America’s cultural landscape—its fashion, art, music, design, entertainment—changed dramatically every 20 years or so. But these days, even as technological and scientific leaps have continued to revolutionize life, popular style has been stuck on repeat, consuming the past instead of creating the new.

HOLD IT RIGHT THERE From the fedora to the Afro, styles have changed with the times. Unless you’re living in the 21st century.

The past is a foreign country. Only 20 years ago the World Wide Web was an obscure academic thingamajig. All personal computers were fancy stand-alone typewriters and calculators that showed only text (but no newspapers or magazines), played no video or music, offered no products to buy. E-mail (a new coinage) and cell phones were still novelties. Personal music players required cassettes or CDs. Nobody had seen a computer-animated feature film or computer-generated scenes with live actors, and DVDs didn’t exist. The human genome hadn’t been decoded, genetically modified food didn’t exist, and functional M.R.I. was a brand-new experimental research technique. Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden had never been mentioned in The New York Times. China’s economy was less than one-eighth of its current size. CNN was the only general-interest cable news channel. Moderate Republicans occupied the White House and ran the Senate’s G.O.P. caucus.

Since 1992, as the technological miracles and wonders have propagated and the political economy has transformed, the world has become radically and profoundly new. (And then there’s the miraculous drop in violent crime in the United States, by half.) Here is what’s odd: during these same 20 years, the appearance of the world (computers, TVs, telephones, and music players aside) has changed hardly at all, less than it did during any 20-year period for at least a century. The past is a foreign country, but the recent past—the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s—looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History.

Think about it. Picture it. Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There’s no chance you would mistake a photograph or movie of Americans or an American city from 1972—giant sideburns, collars, and bell-bottoms, leisure suits and cigarettes, AMC Javelins and Matadors and Gremlins alongside Dodge Demons, Swingers, Plymouth Dusters, and Scamps—with images from 1992. Time-travel back another 20 years, before rock ’n’ roll and the Pill and Vietnam, when both sexes wore hats and cars were big and bulbous with late-moderne fenders and fins—again, unmistakably different, 1952 from 1972. You can keep doing it and see that the characteristic surfaces and sounds of each historical moment are absolutely distinct from those of 20 years earlier or later: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the advertising—all of it. It’s even true of the 19th century: practically no respectable American man wore a beard before the 1850s, for instance, but beards were almost obligatory in the 1870s, and then disappeared again by 1900. The modern sensibility has been defined by brief stylistic shelf lives, our minds trained to register the recent past as old-fashioned.

madonna to gaga

Go deeper and you see that just 20 years also made all the difference in serious cultural output. New York’s amazing new buildings of the 1930s (the Chrysler, the Empire State) look nothing like the amazing new buildings of the 1910s (Grand Central, Woolworth) or of the 1950s (the Seagram, U.N. headquarters). Anyone can instantly identify a 50s movie (On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai) versus one from 20 years before (Grand Hotel, It Happened One Night) or 20 years after (Klute, A Clockwork Orange), or tell the difference between hit songs from 1992 (Sir Mix-a-Lot) and 1972 (Neil Young) and 1952 (Patti Page) and 1932 (Duke Ellington). When high-end literature was being redefined by James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, great novels from just 20 years earlier—Henry James’s The Ambassadors, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth—seemed like relics of another age. And 20 years after Hemingway published his war novel For Whom the Bell Tolls a new war novel, Catch-22, made it seem preposterously antique.

Now try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992. Movies and literature and music have never changed less over a 20-year period. Lady Gaga has replaced Madonna, Adele has replaced Mariah Carey—both distinctions without a real difference—and Jay-Z and Wilco are still Jay-Z and Wilco. Except for certain details (no Google searches, no e-mail, no cell phones), ambitious fiction from 20 years ago (Doug Coupland’s Generation X, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow) is in no way dated, and the sensibility and style of Joan Didion’s books from even 20 years before that seem plausibly circa-2012.

an epiphany

The Aeron chair in which you’re sitting is identical to the Aeron chair in which I sat almost two decades ago, and this morning I boiled water for my coffee in the groovy Alessi kettle I bought a quarter-century ago. With rare exceptions, cars from the early 90s (and even the late 80s) don’t seem dated. Not long ago in the newspaper, I came across an archival photograph of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell with a dozen of their young staff at Morgans, the Ur-boutique hotel, in 1985. It was an epiphany. Schrager’s dress shirt had no collar and some of the hair on his male employees was a bit unfashionably fluffy, but no one in the picture looks obviously, laughably dated by today’s standards. If you passed someone who looked like any of them, you wouldn’t think twice. Yet if, in 1990 or 1980 or 1970, you’d examined a comparable picture from 27 years earlier—from 1963 and 1953 and 1943, respectively—it would be a glimpse back into an unmistakably different world. A man or woman on the street in any year in the 20th century groomed and dressed in the manner of someone from 27 years earlier would look like a time traveler, an actor in costume, a freak. And until recently it didn’t take even that long for datedness to kick in: by the late 1980s, for instance, less than a decade after the previous decade had ended, the 1970s already looked ridiculous.

There are, of course, a few exceptions today—genuinely new cultural phenomena that aren’t digital phenomena—but so few that they prove the rule. Twenty years ago we had no dark, novelistic, amazing TV dramas, no Sopranos or Deadwood or The Wire orBreaking Bad. Recycling bins weren’t ubiquitous and all lightbulbs were incandescent. Men wore neckties more frequently. Fashionable women exposed less of their breasts and bra straps, and rarely wore ultra-high-heeled shoes. We were thinner, and fewer of us had tattoos or piercings. And that’s about it.

Not coincidentally, it was exactly 20 years ago that Francis Fukuyama published The End of History, his influential post-Cold War argument that liberal democracy had triumphed and become the undisputed evolutionary end point toward which every national system was inexorably moving: fundamental political ferment was over and done. Maybe yes, maybe no. But in the arts and entertainment and style realms, this bizarre Groundhog Day stasis of the last 20 years or so certainly feels like an end of cultural history.

nostalgic gaze

How did we get here? Coming off the 1960s, that time of relentless and discombobulating avant-gardism, when everything looked and sounded perpetually new new new, cultural creators—designers, artists, impresarios—began looking backward for inspiration. Some 60s counterculturalists had dabbled in the 19th century—the Victoriana of Sgt. Peppers and Haight-Ashbury houses, the folkish fictions of Bob Dylan and the Band, the stoner-cowboy fantasies of the Grateful Dead and the Hells Angels. But starting all at once in the early 70s, nostalgia proliferated as pop culture became fixated on the past: the 1950s and early 60s—American Graffiti, Happy Days, The Last Picture Show, Grease—and to a lesser extent the 1920s, 30s, and 40s (The Great Gatsby, The Godfather, Summer of ’42, Art Deco, midi and maxi skirts). Even the one big new Hollywood species of the mid-70s and early 80s, the special-effects adventure and science-fiction blockbusters by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, was a re-invention of the B movies of the 40s and 50s.

In the 1970s and 80s too, serious architects re-discovered history, creating “postmodern” buildings with classical columns and pitched roofs and pediments and colorful finishes, and set out to build new towns and neighborhoods resembling older towns and neighborhoods. Anti-postmodern architects in turn designed buildings that evoked the styles of modernism when modernism had been new, and architecture devolved into a battle between two fantasias—nostalgia for the 19th and 18th centuries versus nostalgia for the mid-20th-century avant-garde.

At the same time, fine art that recognizably depicted people, the way all art had before the 20th century, became respectable and even fashionable again. Ditto for orchestral music, where seriousness and ambition were no longer equated with dissonance and unlikability. And in pop music, thanks to sampling, even the last genuinely new form, hip-hop, made an explicit and unapologetic point of recycling earlier songs.

Ironically, new technology has reinforced the nostalgic cultural gaze: now that we have instant universal access to every old image and recorded sound, the future has arrived and it’s all about dreaming of the past. Our culture’s primary M.O. now consists of promiscuously and sometimes compulsively reviving and rejiggering old forms. It’s the rare “new” cultural artifact that doesn’t seem a lot like a cover version of something we’ve seen or heard before. Which means the very idea of datedness has lost the power it possessed during most of our lifetimes.

They never used to remake old TV shows, as they did Hawaii Five-O and Charlie’s Angelsthis past season. It didn’t use to be that most Broadway musicals were revivals (Godspell, How to Succeed in Business, Anything Goes, and Follies, with Evita, Funny Girl, andAnnie due any minute) or a movie/TV-derived pastiche (Wicked, Mary Poppins, The Addams Family, Spider-Man, Bonnie & Clyde). The hottest ticket to any straight play last year? Gatz, a six-hour verbatim theatricalization of The Great Gatsby.

loss of appetite

Look at people on the street and in malls—jeans and sneakers remain the standard uniform for all ages, as they were in 2002, 1992, and 1982. Look through a current fashion or architecture magazine or listen to 10 random new pop songs; if you didn’t already know they were all things from the 2010s, I guarantee you couldn’t tell me with certainty they weren’t from the 2000s or 1990s or 1980s or even earlier. (The first time I heard a Josh Ritter song a few years ago, I actually thought it was Bob Dylan.) In our Been There Done That Mashup Age, nothing is obsolete, and nothing is really new; it’s all good. I feel as if the whole culture is stoned, listening to an LP that’s been skipping for decades, playing the same groove over and over. Nobody has the wit or gumption to stand up and lift the stylus.

Why is this happening? In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out. So as the Web and artificially intelligent smartphones and the rise of China and 9/11 and the winners-take-all American economy and the Great Recession disrupt and transform our lives and hopes and dreams, we are clinging as never before to the familiar in matters of style and culture.

If this stylistic freeze is just a respite, a backward-looking counter-reaction to upheaval, then once we finally get accustomed to all the radical newness, things should return to normal—and what we’re wearing and driving and designing and producing right now will look totally démodé come 2032. Or not. Because rather than a temporary cultural glitch, these stagnant last couple of decades may be a secular rather than cyclical trend, the beginning of American civilization’s new chronic condition, a permanent loss of appetite for innovation and the shockingly new. After all, such a sensibility shift has happened again and again over the last several thousand years, that moment when all great cultures—Egyptian, Roman, Mayan, Islamic, French, Ottoman, British—slide irrevocably into an enervated late middle age.

You can see a corollary dynamic operating in politics as well. At the same moment that movies and music and art and design suddenly began reveling in old-fashioned subjects and forms, America became besotted by Ronald Reagan’s dreamy vision of a simpler, happier, old-fashioned America. Today, with our top federal income-tax rates half what they were when Reagan became president and income inequality dialed back up to its 1920s level, the mantra of today’s sore-winner Republicans remains, still, Less Government … Lower Taxes. Likewise, today’s radical grass-roots political movements are remakes. The Occupy Wall Street (and Occupy Everywhere Else) protests are a self-conscious remix of the Tea Party and Arab Spring protests. And, although the Tea Partiers began by nominally re-enacting the pre-Revolutionary early 1770s, they were actually performing a cover version of the New Left’s would-be-pre-revolutionary late 1960s. Meanwhile, the thing driving all the populist rage, right and left, is the unprecedented flatlining of economic progress: Americans’ median income is just about where it was 20 years ago, as unchanging as American style and culture.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose has always meant that the constant novelty and flux of modern life is all superficial show, that the underlying essences endure unchanged. But now, suddenly, that saying has acquired an alternative and nearly opposite definition: the more certain things change for real (technology, the global political economy), the more other things (style, culture) stay the same.

But wait! It gets still stranger, because even as we’ve fallen into this period of stylistic paralysis and can’t get up, more people than ever before are devoting more of their time and energy to considering and managing matters of personal style.

And why did this happen? In 1984, a few years after “yuppie” was coined, I wrote an article in Time positing that “yuppies are, in a sense, heterosexual gays. Among middle-class people, after all, gays formed the original two-income households and were the original gentrifiers, the original body cultists and dapper health-club devotees, the trendy homemakers, the refined, childless world travelers.” Gays were the lifestyle avant-garde, and the rest of us followed.

amateur stylists

Likewise the artists, not so much because we loved art but because we envied the way their lives looked. In the 80s, the SoHo idea—a tatty, disused urban stretch of old warehouses and factories transformed into a neighborhood of loft apartments and chic shops and restaurants—became a redevelopment prototype and paradigm, rolling out like a franchise operation in cities across America and around the world.

Tastefulness scaled. The pivotal decade, from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, can be defined as the one that began with Alessi’s introduction of Michael Graves’s newfangled old-fashioned teakettle, of which more than a million were sold; continued as stylish retail went mega-mass-market in America, with Gap (600 stores then, 1,011 now), Target (246 then, 1,750 now), Ikea (1 then, 38 now), Urban Outfitters (a few then, more than 70 now—plus 135 Anthropologies), the Landmark art-house movie-theater chain (a dozen or so then, 245 screens now), Barnes & Noble (35 then, 717 now), and Starbucks (dozens then, more than 11,000 now) all expanding exponentially; and produced the new magazinesMartha Stewart Living, InStyle, Wired (always as much about cool as useful), andWallpaper.

Then, in the first decade of this new century, came the flood of decorating and fashion and food shows on cable TV—Trading Spaces, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, What Not to Wear, Project Runway, Iron Chef, followed by their scores of second- and third-generation descendants. What really made Mad Men so hot? Not the stories, not the characters, but the “creative class” setting, the 60s-fetishizing production design and wardrobe.

People flock by the millions to Apple Stores (1 in 2001, 245 today) not just to buy high-quality devices but to bask and breathe and linger, pilgrims to a grand, hermetic, impeccable temple to style—an uncluttered, glassy, super-sleek style that feels “contemporary” in the sense that Apple stores are like back-on-earth sets for 2001: A Space Odyssey, the early 21st century as it was envisioned in the mid-20th. And many of those young and young-at-heart Apple cultists-cum-customers, having popped in for their regular glimpse and whiff of the high-production-value future, return to their make-believe-old-fashioned lives—brick and brownstone town houses, beer gardens, greenmarkets, local agriculture, flea markets, steampunk, lace-up boots, suspenders, beards, mustaches, artisanal everything, all the neo-19th-century signifiers of state-of-the-art Brooklyn-esque and Portlandish American hipsterism.

Moreover, tens of millions of Americans, the uncool as well as the supercool, have become amateur stylists—scrupulously attending, as never before, to the details and meanings of the design and décor of their homes, their clothes, their appliances, their meals, their hobbies, and more. The things we own are more than ever like props, the clothes we wear like costumes, the places where we live, dine, shop, and vacation like stage sets. And angry right-wingers even dress in 18th-century drag to perform their protests. Meanwhile, why are Republicans unexcited by Mitt Romney? Because he seems so artificial, because right now we all crave authenticity.

the second paradox

So, these two prime cultural phenomena, the quarter-century-long freezing of stylistic innovation and the pandemic obsession with style, have happened concurrently—which appears to be a contradiction, the Second Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History. Because you’d think that style and other cultural expressions would be most exciting and riveting when they are unmistakably innovating and evolving.

Part of the explanation, as I’ve said, is that, in this thrilling but disconcerting time of technological and other disruptions, people are comforted by a world that at least still looks the way it did in the past. But the other part of the explanation is economic: like any lucrative capitalist sector, our massively scaled-up new style industry naturally seeks stability and predictability. Rapid and radical shifts in taste make it more expensive to do business and can even threaten the existence of an enterprise. One reason automobile styling has changed so little these last two decades is because the industry has been struggling to survive, which made the perpetual big annual styling changes of the Golden Age a reducible business expense. Today, Starbucks doesn’t want to have to renovate its thousands of stores every few years. If blue jeans became unfashionable tomorrow, Old Navy would be in trouble. And so on. Capitalism may depend on perpetual creative destruction, but the last thing anybody wants is their business to be the one creatively destroyed. Now that multi-billion-dollar enterprises have become style businesses and style businesses have become multi-billion-dollar enterprises, a massive damper has been placed on the general impetus for innovation and change.

It’s the economy, stupid. The only thing that has changed fundamentally and dramatically about stylish objects (computerized gadgets aside) during the last 20 years is the same thing that’s changed fundamentally and dramatically about movies and books and music—how they’re produced and distributed, not how they look and feel and sound, not what they are. This democratization of culture and style has two very different but highly complementary results. On the one hand, in a country where an adorably huge majority have always considered themselves “middle class,” practically everyone who can afford it now shops stylishly—at Gap, Target, Ikea, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Barnes & Noble, and Starbucks. Americans: all the same, all kind of cool! And yet, on the other hand, for the first time, anyone anywhere with any arcane cultural taste can now indulge it easily and fully online, clicking themselves deep into whatever curious little niche (punk bossa nova, Nigerian noir cinema, pre-war Hummel figurines) they wish. Americans: quirky, independent individualists!

We seem to have trapped ourselves in a vicious cycle—economic progress and innovation stagnated, except in information technology; which leads us to embrace the past and turn the present into a pleasantly eclectic for-profit museum; which deprives the cultures of innovation of the fuel they need to conjure genuinely new ideas and forms; which deters radical change, reinforcing the economic (and political) stagnation. I’ve been a big believer in historical pendulum swings—American sociopolitical cycles that tend to last, according to historians, about 30 years. So maybe we are coming to the end of this cultural era of the Same Old Same Old. As the baby-boomers who brought about this ice age finally shuffle off, maybe America and the rich world are on the verge of a cascade of the wildly new and insanely great. Or maybe, I worry some days, this is the way that Western civilization declines, not with a bang but with a long, nostalgic whimper.

"

Yet when people ask her for style tips she is flummoxed.

Lindsay Lohan once asked Apfel to be her fashion guru – Apfel declined. ‘I can’t tell people how to have style. No amount of money can buy you style. It’s just instinctive. You can’t try to be somebody you’re not; that’s not style. If someone says, ‘Buy this, you’ll be stylish’, you won’t be stylish because you won’t be you. You have to learn who you are first and that’s painful.’

When I ask her if she has learnt who she is, she answers enigmatically.

'I don't try to intellectualise about it because it tightens you up. I think you have to be loose as a goose.'

"

Article on Iris Apfel in www.smh.com.au

* Lindsay Lohan needs help that even an over stylized VanityFair editorial (WTF WAS Mr Carter thinking) or a PlayBoy cover can’t do..

The ASHINs are COMING!

Wow! Some surprise omissions..

Wow! Some surprise omissions..

When Michael Drake started Drakes London with two partners in 1977, it was a humble scarf-making wholesaler.

Today, the company is England’s largest independent producer of men’s ties. It makes them for fashion brands like Comme Des Garcons and J. Crew, alongside selling them on its website and its recently opened store, which is located just off London’s Savile Row.

Last year, Mr. Drake, who learned the trade at British luxury label Aquascutum, sold the company for an undisclosed price to the Armoury, a Hong Kong menswear retailer. The team he trained remains, but his contract expired at the end of July.

Mr. Drake spoke to The Wall Street Journal from his home in London about lilac socks, well-dressed men and his plans for the future.

Drakes London
Michael Drake

My first job was with Aquascutum. I was a management trainee and was put through an old-fashioned training course. I worked in the shops on Saturdays and the factory outside London for a few months. I learnt about export sales, fabric and made lots of contacts. This [type of training] doesn’t really exist anymore.

Fewer and fewer people are wearing ties because they have to. When you have to, you don’t want to. But within our niche area, our business is holding up. I’ve seen people buying 13 ties at a time from our online store at $144.91 ($155) a pop.

We’ve always been privately owned. I’m the one with the final say [over designs]. I’ve turned down things that might make money if I didn’t want to do them. I’ve tried to keep to a high standard all the time, so if I can’t do it, I won’t. I’m very fussy and particular.

I don’t like the shiny look. I like something that’s more worn, softer and handmade. When things are made by machine, they’re flat. When they’re made by hand, they’re three-dimensional. You don’t want to look like you just got off the boat from Naples. Anyway, the high-class dressers there want to look English.

For men, fashion is for kids. I always thought Prince Charles was a stylish dresser. Lots of Englishmen think he’s old-fashioned, but my Italian friends agree with me. Men should be stylish, not fashionable.

I only have one pair of leather shoes. Everything else is made from suede. I always wear purple socks, which is a bit unusual. I like to match a lilac cashmere sweater with plain but nice lilac socks. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a look.

Ralph Lauren is very talented. Most advertisements are styled by stylists, so anyone who knows anything can find faults. In Ralph Lauren ads, the lapels, cufflinks and ties are [styled to] perfection. It’s great to see someone not overlooking things. I take my hat off to him.

I love Paris. When I first started, I thought that if I could sell a look in Paris and Milan, that’d be ideal. If you can crack those markets, you can succeed anywhere.

I like the fact that Naples is slightly crumbling. But it’s not what it seems. Outside, buildings look like they’re falling down but inside, they are palaces. When you walk out of the front door, you can hop into a boat and Capri is 45 minutes away. And oh, the food is great.

One of my favorite restaurants is St. John. It’s near my office. Fergus Henderson introduced a simple way of eating. Everyone’s trying to be Italian or French. With him, you know it’s English.

I am not actually retiring. It’s just that I have sold the company. I have a few projects in mind, perhaps a bit of consultancy and even a book at some stage. You never know what’s around the corner.

-Edited from an interview with Kristiano Ang

When I started traveling for work, it meant flying to the occasional event in a smaller city, where I would stand for hours behind a six-foot-long table, smiling and handing out countless pork buns, the dish that—for better or worse—my Momofuku restaurants are known for.

Back then, I thought I had my air travel game down. I’d get to the airport as early as I could in an attempt to score an exit row or bulkhead seat—the first class of the common man. Then I would make a beeline for the departure gate so I could hunt down the best spot in which to wait.

The best seat in the terminal for coach-class flyers is the one closest to an open outlet, so you can charge whatever electronic distractions you’re bringing on board with you. It’s also facing the gate, so when your plane is interminably delayed, and you’re nearly unconscious from a combination of dehydration, frustration and exhaustion, if you manage to open your eyes a slit, you can see if the passengers who still have the ability to decipher the departure announcements are piling up around your gate.

I felt tough, like I’d hacked coach flying. But a few years ago—in part because I had to feed pork buns to a lot more people in a lot more places and in part because we decided to open Momofuku restaurants in other countries—I joined that group of people I used to stare down contemptuously as they breezed through check-in: first-class travelers.

I changed my disdainful tune pretty fast. In first class, there’s acres of legroom and endless Champagne, and they never, ever tell you to stop typing on your BlackBerry—even during takeoff! It’s full of surprises. The first time I flew first class on Emirates, headed to the other side of the globe, I saw that it’s Bye Bye Burkas! at 30,000 feet. Not only did the women on the flight shed their coverings—they were dripping in brand-name accessories. Unbelievable. I celebrated by watching every season of “The Wonder Years,” which was, rather miraculously, available on my private television set. I never wanted that flight to end.

Thousands more miles in the air have made me more discerning. Now that I travel enough—too much for someone who, if there were more justice in the universe, would be kept chained behind a stove—I know that the best part of first class isn’t on the plane. It’s in the airport, in the airline lounges.

When I travel, I don’t actually spend enough time in any place to relax and stretch out. I do meetings and events and maybe have a fancy dinner with people I don’t know, and then I go right back to the airport for hours or even days of travel. It’s at the airport that I have a chunk of free time.

I’ve spent enough time in airports to have learned that domestic lounges leave something to be desired—at least, now that I’ve left behind the days of getting blackout drunk for long flights. The liquor served in lounges in other countries is of far better provenance.

The Virgin Atlantic lounge in Heathrow Airport has its own hot tub, massage therapists and barbershop. I got my hair cut there once, and they made a big deal about some kind of bumblebee being behind it. Later, a friend told me they were talking about Bumble and Bumble, a fancy brand of salons and hair products. Sometimes I don’t even know how impressed I should be.

British Airways has a great lounge in Heathrow, too. I love how the amenities—all of which are incredibly posh—are limited only to passengers traveling at the appropriate level of first-class-ness. They card passengers like they’re 16-year-olds trying to buy beer. “I’m sorry, sir, you didn’t pay $25,000 for your ticket, so you can’t pass through this door.” It’s a pissing contest for the privileged. I bet you can get your monocle repaired there if you’ve got enough miles stocked up.

And the food! I was in a fancy Qantas lounge in Sydney that offered a menu by Neil Perry, who is possibly Australia’s most famous chef. I thought, Why not? And it wasn’t just good for airport food—I wanted to push my way into the kitchen and see if there was a full brigade back there, with chef Perry standing over them yelling at them.

But the best airport eating is to be had in Japan Airlines’ spot in Narita International Airport—also probably the best lounge I’ve ever disgraced the inside of. Hell, the food in Narita’s food courts is better than it is at 90% of Japanese restaurants in the States, but the lounge food is especially worth seeking out.

And the amenities: I showered there once when I was traveling through (not even to) Japan, and realized that I have stayed in hotels boasting constellations of stars that were less comfortable and luxurious than that airport lounge. I also learned never to underestimate the restorative power of a shower while traveling.

It was a practical revelation, but also a sad one: I’ve become a travel snob. All the things I thought I’d one day be a snob about—transcendental authors, sports history, obscure rock ‘n’ roll records—and here I am, a pampered jet-setter.

It’s even sadder that I still look like a bum—frayed black Converse sneakers, bloodshot eyes, a tattered gym bag of belongings strapped to me—and act like a cook.

Speaking of which, I’d like to close with a note to the tall, elegant woman who was dressed in expensive-looking head-to-toe white and who flew KLM first class from the Netherlands to New York during fashion week last year: I have no idea how I managed to board the plane in the Amsterdam-induced fog I was in, or how I was able to knock your cranberry juice all over you even though our seats were so far apart.

My offer to pay for your dry cleaning still stands.

FYI - Our company policy is everyone flies coach & this goes all the way to the TOP.

 
It’s been called the “Vancouver riot kiss” and “love among the ruins”.
A photo of a couple lying in the middle of a road appearing to kiss during riots in Canada has become an internet sensation, with online debates over whether the act was staged or if the woman was a willing participant.
The unknown couple’s actions were captured by a freelance journalist, Richard Lam, who was covering the chaos on the streets of Vancouver on Wednesday night following the city’s ice hockey team’s loss in the Stanley Cup final.
Advertisement: Story continues below
"I was trying not to get my ass kicked," Lam told the Ottawa Citizen newspaper about working during the violence that night.
Cars were burned, shops were looted and riot police fired tear gas as they tried to control the mob, which numbered in the thousands, who were livid at the Vancouver Canucks’ loss to the Boston Bruins.
In the midst of the turmoil, Lam said he spotted the couple lying in between the riot police and the angry crowd.
Hoax … some have suggested the picture was made to look like this famous shot of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square in New York. Photo: AP
"The riot police made a charge so we were running. I looked back and there were two people lying on the street. At first I thought she was hurt," he told the Toronto Star newspaper.
Lam, who was shooting for Getty Images, said he didn’t realise what he had photographed until another colleague commented on the “nice photo”.
"I didn’t even look at it," he told the Citizen. “A colleague said ‘nice photo’. Then I went back to the editing room, and looked at it. My jaw dropped.”
Posed … a photo taken by Robert Doisneau outside Paris city hall in 1950 featuring Francoise Bornet and Jacques Carteaud kissing.
Canadian media have called on the couple to come forward, as people speculated online about whether the photo had recorded a moment of romance or something less innocent.
Another photo of the scene, taken from above the couple posted online by a Twitter user, showed the couple surrounded by a few other men.
"Without the context of romance, the above photo could be seen as a group of guys taking advantage of an incapacitated woman," the The Atlantic magazine wrote.
A sports writer tweeted: “I’m sorry, but that ‘kiss’ photo from Vancouver looks like it could be something sinister. How do we know that girl is alert and willing?”
Others suggested that the photo was staged and made to look like a famous shot by Alfred Eisenstaedt of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square in New York on August 14, 1945 during celebrations marking the end of World War II.
Comparisons were also made to a posed kiss between a couple in Paris in 1950, Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, which was photographed by Robert Doisneau.
Internet memes have also emerged since the Vancouver image was published, with one showing the couple kissing in the middle of a busy freeway.
Lam, who has done numerous interviews with other media since the photo went viral, told the Citizen ”he’s been fascinated by [the response]”.
"I don’t want to sound idealistic - but I was just doing my job."

 

It’s been called the “Vancouver riot kiss” and “love among the ruins”.

A photo of a couple lying in the middle of a road appearing to kiss during riots in Canada has become an internet sensation, with online debates over whether the act was staged or if the woman was a willing participant.

The unknown couple’s actions were captured by a freelance journalist, Richard Lam, who was covering the chaos on the streets of Vancouver on Wednesday night following the city’s ice hockey team’s loss in the Stanley Cup final.

Advertisement: Story continues below

"I was trying not to get my ass kicked," Lam told the Ottawa Citizen newspaper about working during the violence that night.

Cars were burned, shops were looted and riot police fired tear gas as they tried to control the mob, which numbered in the thousands, who were livid at the Vancouver Canucks’ loss to the Boston Bruins.

In the midst of the turmoil, Lam said he spotted the couple lying in between the riot police and the angry crowd.

Hoax ... some have suggested the picture was made to look like this famous shot of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square in New York.

Hoax … some have suggested the picture was made to look like this famous shot of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square in New York. Photo: AP

"The riot police made a charge so we were running. I looked back and there were two people lying on the street. At first I thought she was hurt," he told the Toronto Star newspaper.

Lam, who was shooting for Getty Images, said he didn’t realise what he had photographed until another colleague commented on the “nice photo”.

"I didn’t even look at it," he told the Citizen. “A colleague said ‘nice photo’. Then I went back to the editing room, and looked at it. My jaw dropped.”

Posed ... a photo taken by Robert Doisneau outside Paris city hall in 1950 featuring Francoise Bornet and Jacques Carteaud kissing.

Posed … a photo taken by Robert Doisneau outside Paris city hall in 1950 featuring Francoise Bornet and Jacques Carteaud kissing.

Canadian media have called on the couple to come forward, as people speculated online about whether the photo had recorded a moment of romance or something less innocent.

Another photo of the scene, taken from above the couple posted online by a Twitter user, showed the couple surrounded by a few other men.

"Without the context of romance, the above photo could be seen as a group of guys taking advantage of an incapacitated woman," the The Atlantic magazine wrote.

A sports writer tweeted: “I’m sorry, but that ‘kiss’ photo from Vancouver looks like it could be something sinister. How do we know that girl is alert and willing?”

Others suggested that the photo was staged and made to look like a famous shot by Alfred Eisenstaedt of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square in New York on August 14, 1945 during celebrations marking the end of World War II.

Comparisons were also made to a posed kiss between a couple in Paris in 1950, Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, which was photographed by Robert Doisneau.

Internet memes have also emerged since the Vancouver image was published, with one showing the couple kissing in the middle of a busy freeway.

Lam, who has done numerous interviews with other media since the photo went viral, told the Citizen ”he’s been fascinated by [the response]”.

"I don’t want to sound idealistic - but I was just doing my job."