Fun fact: I lived in Italy for three and a half years. The first two I spent in Fashion School and for my last year and a half I worked as an assistant designer for a luxury handbag company. No, not this one or this one. This one. Don’t laugh: those are some of my designs in that horrible flash slide show.
Speaking of which, most of the Italian design I saw during my time abroad was tacky as poop. Seriously, ordinary people were physically incapable of wearing a pair of jeans unless a giant pair of angel wings were appliquéd over the butt and thighs.
Have you ever seen those Ed Hardy, rhinestoned skull t-shirts and wondered who was actually wearing them? The answer is
bronzed statue torsos 50 year old Italian men. Straight men with, like, actual mistresses and, um, cars. One of our leather reps used to dress like this all the time. (These men don’t buy the shirts themselves though, their moms still pick out all their clothes.)
It wasn’t until I had been back in San Francisco for a couple of years that I discovered Umberto Dei, an Italian manufacturer that has been crafting exquisite bicycles, components, and accessories for over 100 years.
It happened in the year 1896. The Lumiere brothers had just invented cinematography and Guglielmo Marconi had created the wireless telephone when a little artisan, fond of cycling and extremely meticulous, made his first series of bicycles. His name was Umberto Dei.
That was the beginning of a marvellous adventure that led him to create a collection of bicycles which were considered among the best in the world. Their level of quality and perfection was so high that the brand Dei became world-known: everybody longed to have a Dei bicycle and win by riding it.
Umberto himself had a leading role in the track World Championships which was held in Berlin in 1901. The Dei racing bicycles won everywhere and were on top of the scene for nearly half a century, receiving many honours in the most important cycle tracks of the world.
As Copenhagenize.com pointed out in a post from four years ago, there wasn’t a lot of information about these bikes on the Internets, which is still true today. Good investigative journalists that they are, they managed to unearth the above quote from a 1988 catalog (printed on real paper, presumably).
But I didn’t fall in love until I saw Umberto Dei’s gorgeously simple leather saddle bags and panniers. I sat there slack-jawed and drooling onto my keyboard, soaking up their exquisite detailing, minimal trim, and my own saliva.
Finally, an Italian company that understands good design.