Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Rapha's 'Loro Piana' jacket

Product Review: Rapha 'Loro Piana' Jacket RRP £400 (*currently discounted to £300)

I've been testing Rapha's most luxurious jacket to comment on its functionality aside from more subjective issues of desirability and value, which I'll come to.

Actual as well as perceived quality is very high, as befits the price. I expect eye brows might be raised at the 'specialist dry clean' requirement for a jacket made of a fabric comprising 93% wool, 5% silk and 2% elastane, but it does not feel like a delicate jacket. To the contrary, it feels if anything like a beefed-up version of Rapha's Classic Winter Jacket, which for all its careful detail does feel and look a bit too much like a generic 'Goretex-anorak' waterproof to sustain its £260 price.

Instead, the 'hand' of this fabric is exceptionally smart and lovely. It's leagues away from anorak, and that, surely, is the point.

I've also tried to capture the colour, which is difficult to perceive accurately from Rapha's website pictures. It's only available as this single shade of inky blue, that plays brighter in bright light and darker when wet, as I've tried to show here in photos. Personally I love it to bits. It's pure class.

I've tested the jacket in torrential rain, and it's just as waterproof as the Classic Winter Jacket. On the downside, it's a 'hotter' jacket than the old softshell if you're riding harder or to catch the train, and come the Spring and Summer it will be too hot in many situations.

The flapped back pockets number two. Their entry-point is higher than the original softshell which makes them harder to access quickly, but having said that they are large enough to accommodate an iPhone 7+ on its side, the flaps keeping it out of sight and rain: brilliant. But I wish the pocket entry point was a bit lower and easier. You really have to jack your arm around to gain access, and I'm saying that as a yoga-practising person....the ever-higher-pocket syndrome is a casualty of the low fronted style that has swept the board in recent iterations of Rapha jerseys and jackets.

My other criticism here is that the new jacket isn't 'soft'. The one thing you could say about the original was that the faintly neoprene-ey fabric had a soft hand. Here, we have a luxuriously matte, and non-shiny fabric that oozes refinement, but it's not soft as such, a characteristic enforced by the seaming of the tapes on the inner surfaces.

I should note upfront that I have always worn my (black) softshell primarily for commuting and utility riding. So it gets used far more than any other garment. Every day in all weathers except serious rain, when I take an early generation Rapha City collection waterproof. It could always withstand a shower but no more - which suits 95% of British riding.

Hard to gauge the 'blue' from the Rapha website
I have always loved the softness of Rapha's original softshell, in the literal sense; I have always rated its very high breathability at the expense of being waterproof; and I have grown so used to having nice big back pockets (x3) for my iPhone and much besides, that I honestly don't know where I'd be without them. I still have a black softshell, my third since 2004, and I wear it over normal shirts for commuting in what would now seem to be an unacceptably 'loose' look (it's deliberately Large but normally I'd be Med or even Small); yet to the unsuspecting outside world it looks nicely tailored - what's the fuss?

So I remain very fond of the old, original, softshell. It might have been a compromise between aero fit and sloppy fit, between road pockets and smart appearances, and between waterproofing and breathability, but sometimes such a hodgepodge is a brilliant fit for a changeable climate and multiple requirements: everything is a trade-off in the end.

Worn with blue Rapha backpack 
Turning to this new product, it appears to be doing several things at once. It's re-introducing the softshell but at a higher price point and via a very enticing tie-up with a legendary Italian brand. Very Rapha! But it's also bringing the product back to a smarter than ever city/commuter appearance. Discounted less than a month after introduction by 25% suggests that the tough retailing atmosphere and Rapha product onslaught may have made this garment a tough sell, but at the discounted price you're getting a simply amazing product for just £40 more than the ordinary Classic Winter Jacket, which is an outstanding product in its own right but utilitarian compared to this. If I was looking at buying one, it would be a no-brainer to get the Loro Piana jacket - it's  like getting a Rolls Royce for a fraction more than a VW Golf, and for sure you can do the chat laps at Regent's Park in this, and then go to work too.

Granted, there's been a murmur of the usual Rapha hate on a forum I've seen, (* price/ blah/ stupid/ blah) but only until someone else pointed out that Loro Piana suits go for thousands and that the actual functionality of this jacket is far beyond men's fashion items costing far more. Just study that black zip. It's all gorgeous stuff. If you're still wearing bin bags that's fine. If cycling is your religion then like me you will welcome this jacket, especially at it's unexpectedly discounted price so soon after launch.

Zip's a beaut

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Richard Lofthouse

Richard Lofthouse