18 June 2010

Castelli-An Italian Legend With A History Of Innovation

BicyclingHub.com's writer Lucy Burningham visited Castelli's offices in Northeast Portland to find out more about the company's history and the Spring 2010 line. Below is part one of our story about Castelli.

Castelli's tradition of innovation in cycling apparel started nearly a century ago. In the 1940s, Italian tailor Armando Castelli, who'd been making apparel for a small clothing company in Milan, began sewing clothing for cycling legend Gino Bartali. Fellow cyclist Fausto Coppi, Bartali's rival, asked the tailor to make him something better: a piece of clothing that would make him faster in a race. Castelli delivered with the first-ever silk cycling jersey. In the iconic black and white photograph of Bartali and Coppi--the one where they're sharing a water bottle during the 1952 Tour de France--both are wearing Castelli-crafted clothing.

Using silk led to a series of jersey innovations: pockets, zippers and collars. Eventually Armando Castelli’s son, Maurizio, took the company’s helm. By 1977 Castelli had released the first Lycra cycling short. The Italian company dominated the cycling apparel industry from the ’70s through the ’90s and became the leading brand for many consumers in Europe. Unfortunately, distribution in the United States became inconsistent, and sometimes nonexistent. Castelli U.S. offices had been operating in Minneapolis, when Greg Cowan decided to right the company's course and relocate it to Portland, Oregon, in November 2005. In recent years the company has experienced unexpected growth despite tough economic times for retailers.

On a recent visit to the Castelli warehouse and offices in Portland, USA Brand Manager Peter Kukula, who started with Castelli in 1998 as one of the first five reps in the U.S., explained why Castelli has become a standard for top-quality cycling clothing.
What drew you to Castelli in the first place?

Growing up, I saw the scorpion and knew it meant quality. The true cyclist who loves the sport knows this brand and they’re cheering for it every day. To be able to say I work for them is pretty magical.

What happens here?

Besides stocking our entire product line in the warehouse, we do things like wash testing new products. We keep a history of all our lines here as well, so we can look back at where we came from and how Castelli has evolved. And we hold some of our meetings on stationary trainers. When we can’t get out and ride, it’s a nice way to talk business.

What’s the significance of the scorpion?

When Maurizio took over the company from his father in 1974 he created the first Lycra short, among other innovations, and designed the famous scorpion logo. The company went on to create the very first synthetic seat pad, the first sublimation printed jerseys, the first colored shorts, the lightest jersey ever and the first fleece fabrics used in jerseys and kits. Many of the innovations you see in cycling apparel today came from this family. Maurizio set the bar high by making innovative clothing unmatched by anyone else.

Maurizio Castelli died in 1995 while cycling up the Cipressa climb, the next-to-last hill in the Milano-San Remo course.
How does Maurizio influence what you do today?

It would be a travesty if we didn’t pay homage to the guys who made this brand what is was, in all our products. Right from the start we knew if we didn’t innovate, we wouldn’t be true to the Castelli brand and how the company got its start.

Peter, tell us what's new for Castelli in 2010
Castelli has long been known for its top-quality cycling apparel, which means innovative designs and top-of-the-line technical fabrics. The lineup for 2010 won’t disappoint long-time Castelli fans or first-time buyers.

Tell us how Castelli Free and Body Paint bibshorts differ from others.

On a typical bib, the strap comes down through the body so it covers a good part of the stomach, which is a high-sweat area. We thought, ‘What if we could take some of that fabric out and streamline the fit?’ The first bib to be constructed this way, the Free Bibshort, was introduced in 2006.

We’re excited about the Body Paint bibs. What makes them special?

After three years in development, we came up with the Body Paint bibshort, a huge leap forward toward what a bib should be.

What else makes these bibs unique?

It’s the first time we’ve made a short out of one piece of fabric. It’s as seamless as we could make it. Even the gripper around the leg is integrated into the single piece of fabric. It’s a neat technology for us. It’s also 43% Lycra, the highest amount we’ve ever put into a short. And this is kind of cool—the reflective materials are baked onto each thread of the short, so they won’t crack. Most companies wouldn’t want to take the time and effort to refine a detail like this, but we feel like it’s a great technology the market should have.

This year you’re adding all new chamois pads to your shorts and bibs. Why?
We figured if 95% of saddles fit 95% of customers, why create a pad that doesn’t match up with the saddle? That’s the connecting point between rider and saddle. These new pads are in every short we make, because we believe every type of Castelli customer should get a beautiful short with our top-of-the-line technologies. It costs us more, but we think it’s worthwhile. We’re finally releasing the Progetto X2 pad, the culmination of three years of work. Most pads are made up of layers of foam glued on top of each other and pressed into a mold. In the X2, a computer cuts one piece of foam three-dimensionally, so no glue and no compressed foam. You end up with very cushy pad that has great rebound and better breathability. That technology also went into making the new Kiss3 chamois.

Tell us about the Prosecco technology, which is used in your men's and women's jerseys.

Basically, it’s like a base layer has been bonded to the jersey. You can wear our jerseys without a base layer on a hot day and you’ll appreciate it like you have a base layer on. The treatment is applied to half of each fiber, the half next to the body. When you start to sweat, the treatment doesn’t allow moisture to sit on the thread. It moves the moisture out. When you wear our jersey on a hot day, all of a sudden you’ll realize, “Hey, I’m dry and I don’t smell.” When you actually ride in our garments you start to appreciate the subtle technologies.

Which Castelli pieces are the pros testing right now?
The Cervelo Test Team is wearing Nanoflex, a water repellant fabric made from tiny hairs, like those on a peach. Those hairs make the water turn into little spherical balls that just roll off. You’ll see the fabric on pros in early season races, including the Paris Roubaix, then in a few of our garments this fall.

Award-winning author and writer Lucy Burningham has been working as a journalist for the past twelve years. She covers travel, food, and craft beer for a variety of magazines, newspapers, and guidebooks. Her work has appeared in Sunset, Imbibe, Outside, Men's Journal, VIA, Edible Portland and Beer Northwest, as well as The New York Times, The Oregonian, and The Los Angeles Times. She has contributed to Lonely Planet guidebooks to the Pacific Northwest, USA, and Ecuador.
Lucy lives in Portland, Oregon, speaks Spanish, brews her own beer, travels by bicycle as much as possible, and enjoys foraging for truffles and mushrooms. She holds a master's degree in nonfiction writing from Portland State University and is represented by the New York-based Tessler Literary Agency.

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