Editor’s Note: this article published in Oct 2012, before the Ritte Women’s team had begun racing after seeing the first sponsorship materials (reviewed below). Like all good things; the visual representation and team have all evolved and blossomed. For that reason, I no longer want the word “disappointing” to appear alongside anything related to these amazing women and all the incredible stuff coming out of Team Ritte. An update is currently published here.
FYI – the Ritte Women’s team, images and product coming out right now is STELLAR.
Ritte is one of those cool stories that makes you wish you had thought of it first:
(from Wired 1/30/12)
SANTA MONICA, California — Spencer Canon didn’t set out to start a bicycle company. He just wanted a kit that didn’t suck.
He found the jerseys and shorts road riders wear boring. Uninspired. So he designed his own, black with light blue and red and yellow stripes. The old-school Belgian vibe looked great, but it needed something.
It needed a story.
Canon found one in the life of Henri “Ritte” Van Lerberghe, who once won Belgium’s biggest race on a borrowed bicycle after downing a few pints at the pub. His improbable career underscored everything Canon thinks cycling should be: fun, free and a bit irreverent. He and his friends started wearing the kit on rides.
That’s when things got weird.
“We were riding as a fake Belgian team that doesn’t exist, but the kit looked so cool we actually got sponsors,” Canon said, laughing at the recollection. “It took a few months, but our fake team and our fake brand just exploded. I realized I could take a fake team and make it real.”
Ritte Van Vlaanderen Bicycles was born.
So it seems promising that their ladies team should also have a pretty glorious image to portray, as they look for sponsors. To my great disappointment I was contacted by a friend who is also a member of the
team “squad” with the lookbook they’ve put out to promote themselves, women’s racing and … cars?
These are not images that make these women look strong, or beautiful or even capable. Which is a pity because they are all those things. I ran into a fellow in the Burbank airport who is a friend of the photographer who felt compelled to try to explain that there was a theme or some half assed “art direction” (by a dude from LA) that created the idea that these women would “break the mold” and “kick ass” by posing as if they were flinging molotov cocktails around downtown and stealing car while wearing their Ritte jerseys, which lucky sponsors could add their logo to.
Did someone just see the movie Drive and want to make an internet fan tribute? How did a women’s cycling team get hijacked by a car comercial? Why are the profiles shot as if the viewer was hiding in the “to be stolen and destroyed” car? Is that what they will do to us? How is that endorsing things like a fair and level playing ground? Also, they’re all wearing their colorful cycling jerseys so it implies that their not very bright about not getting caught.
Even if I wanted to be a sponsor, the street-light yellow/Black background obscures the written content; which is a good thing, because that sounds like the postulating of an over confident high school senior rather than evocative marketing copy.
and what’s with the overplayed “Keep Calm” meme? Isn’t Ritte inspired by Denmark, not Great Britain? Does this mean a European would get it or make fun of Americans for not being able to keep countries or themes straight? It seems to imply that this joyride of destruction is merely for kicks, they’re not exactly acting on a moral or political motivation. Not sure how that will help advance positive perceptions of women’s cycling.
And of course the big explosion picture. Should I mention their expressions are not their prettiest or most intimidating? Only one of them has a bicycle? To be fair, it seems that such a theme is an attempt to stay away from traditional ‘bimbo’ images of hyper sexualized female athletes, but it might just be misguided.
I think, as someone who also does art direction for lookbooks, I might have lofty standards when it comes to something that has so much potential to be a catalyst for good. A super strong women’s cycling team! Uniquely American, but with more style and room for experimentation than most racing teams. Perhaps this look book is just that: an experimental accident that can be learned from: just don’t fuck it up again, or you might be the Nascar Girls of cycling