The bicycle

Cinched-in waists, wide-legged trousers and heavy knits may all be high on the list of autumn trends. But for the style-conscious Parisian, there is one further accessory to add to the shopping list: a bicycle.

Published September 30, 2007 by The International Herald-Tribune
By Tara Mulholland 

PARIS: Cinched-in waists, wide-legged trousers and heavy knits may all be high on the list of autumn trends. But for the style-conscious Parisian, there is one further accessory to add to the shopping list: a bicycle.

The successful debut this summer of the Vélib' – the name given to the city's rental bike program, a fusing of the words "vélo" (bike) and "liberté" (freedom) – seems to indicate the bicycle is ready to reclaim its position as a style icon, with admirers recalling a golden age of cycling epitomized by the bicycle scenes in "Jules et Jim," François Truffaut's 1962 film. More than 20,000 Vélib's are scheduled to fill the capital by the end of the year. (www.en.velib.paris.fr)

"Even in the world capital of fashion, the municipal bikes have quickly become dernier cri," or the last word, wrote the Guardian's Paris correspondent Angelique Chrisafis after the Vélib' launch, going on to praise the understated elegance of the bike's pearly gray color.

In an interview with the free Paris newspaper "À Nous Paris," Mademoiselle Agnès, the pseudonym of Agnès Boulard, a French fashion journalist and producer of the documentary "Signé Chanel," was asked if she felt pressure when she got dressed in the morning and responded, "Enormous pressure, of course," adding, "especially since I have started using a Vélib'!"

Paris blogs have been equally enthusiastic, coining the term "vélibataire" (a combination of Vélib' and célibataire, or single) to describe stylish singles who use Vélib's to find romance. The Web site Blogvelib.fr has even set up a vélibataire forum where self-styled "vélibats" can share stories of romance and find potential partners. "Touched by your smile, your look and your advice on how to detach a Vélib. You were wearing a T-shirt marked '57,' blue, I think," read one post. "It would be lovely to find you again."

Yet it is not just Vélib's that are at the pivot of the bicycle's renewed popularity.

Colette, the modish fashion boutique on rue Saint-Honoré, held a two month festival in the bike's honor this summer, combining an exhibition, "Joy Ride," with Paris's first Bike Film Festival (the festival, which was started in New York in 2001 and shows films with a bicycle theme, moves on to Vienna and London this month). Artists who participated in the exhibition included the quirky French film director Michel Gondry and the New York street artist Swoon, while bike-themed merchandise on display encompassed clothes by the bikewear label Rapha in collaboration with Paul Smith, to cycling DVDs, books and, of course, bikes – from the industrial designer Ben Wilson's glittering Swarovski Low-rider to the sleek new Comète bicycle.

Meanwhile, outside the hip Murano Urban Resort hotel in Paris's Third Arrondissement, the usual front-door accessories of potted plants or liveried porters have been eschewed in favor of a stylish set of Electra bikes.

Cycling fashions look set to follow the trend and Gucci's boutique on Avenue Montaigne currently has a Gucci bicycle parked prominently at the front of the store as a centerpiece to a display of cycling accessories. Meanwhile this autumn's wider legged trousers are already proving a boon to those who found that last season's drainpipe legs hampered their motion.

Yet for loyal Paris cyclists, a new wave of bike-inspired clothing looks unlikely to influence their wardrobes. "It doesn't affect me at all," said Aline Coquelle, a Parisian photographer who has had her own bike in Paris for seven years, "I am a true Parisian; a bike is just part of my way of life."