only a matter of weeks after arriving on islay, i attended a talk by an artist who's career spanned the twin locations of islay, and edinburgh, though i think only the former appeared in her paintings. during one of her islay sections of the year, she had been persuaded to offer some illustrated words on a recent expedition to the sahara and the resulting artworks. the talk was, as i recall, most illuminating, particularly for yours truly, having artistic pretensions of my own.
in order that i might further discuss the ins and outs of applying oil paint to canvas or primed board, the following day i headed off on my bicycle in the general direction of where i had been told was her islay abode. i mentioned above my relative newness to island life, one aspect of which had passed me by completely. whereas a placename on a map of more urbanised locations would almost without question relate to a town or village, on islay those placenames are quite often individual houses. so as i rode along three miles of singletrack road, stopping only to avoid a large truck returning from one of the distilleries, i was on the lookout for a village rather than a house, one that i had unknowingly passed some two and a half miles previously.
as i have pointed out on many previous occasions, my geographic skills leave a lot to be desired, extending as far as being unable to read maps as well as i probably ought, as at least a part of the following tale will reveal.
those very nice people at rapha had not only invited me to their tenth birthday celebrations which coincided with the arrival of the tour de france from cambridge to the mall, but extended that invitation to visit the second incarnation of imperial works in london's tileyard road. a google map indicated that this was situated off the road passing to the right of kings cross station, itself cowering in the shadow of the utterly magnificent st pancras. i fail to understand why these two stations exist in such close proximity, given that they both live not all that far from the architecturally abhorrent euston station.
i mean, how many major railway stations does a city really need?
anyhoo, i woefully miscalculated how long it would take me to walk from euston to imperial works, and it was only the saving grace that the busy folks at rapha commence their working day around 8am that saved me from hanging around an area of london that has little to commend it other than its being where rapha lives. it is worth my mentioning, i believe, in conjunction with the foregoing railway discussion, that there appears also to be an abandoned york station en route. with so many overground and underground railway stations, some really cool double-decker buses and reasonably advanced cycle facilities, i really cannot fathom why central london still has its roads congested with so much motorised traffic.
those of you who made it to the original imperial works in kentish town's perren street, will find a huge difference between the old former piano works and the new rapha headquarters. admittedly, perren street had a lot more going for it by way of external architectural features (i believe it is now being converted into luxury flats), but the inner space at imperial works 2 is far more impressive. though the plate glass automatic doors let me pass without question, office manager, fenella reed told me that they're normally set for egress only, requiring appointed and unannounced visitors alike to make themselves known prior to gaining access. however, on the day of their tenth anniversary celebrations, with so many comings and goings of a delivery nature, they'd decided to leave them unlocked to marauding scotsmen.
the front door of rapha's original home opened to a darkened metalled stairwell, one that exhibited a gradient greater than the upper slopes of the ventoux. with the company spread over more than one floor, it's a wonder any of the staff had need of riding a bike to keep fit. i2 as i have abbreviated it, opens to a downward sloping ramp leading to reception and a coffee bar (stunningly potent espressos are served; you have been warned) just past tables and chairs at which staff and visitors alike can sup and munch. this, i'd imagine, must be particularly efficacious when they'd prefer that said visitors, for one reason or another, make no further inroads to the black and pink nerve centre.
the second half of the ground floor, to the left of reception was, on my visit, filled with staff bicycles hanging from custom wooden racks. for the naysayers who still contend that the whole affair is one grand marketing exercise, this rather physically demonstrates the converse. not only are there lockers and showers, but a workbench and park tool stand for any fettling found to be necessary.
from here 'tis but a hop, skip and a jump to the customer service centre which occupies a substantial portion of the ground floor. my guide for the morning, press officer kati jagger, said that the customer service team's dismay at being sited below decks had turned to a more joyful disposition on discovering how much cooler and quieter it is than upstairs.
at the top of a stairwell bedecked with yellow musettes is not only a board containing all the story labels that you'll find inside nearly every rapha garment, but access to everything that makes rapha tick (i do not, however, wish this to sound as if their rather excellent customer services team downstairs are not a part of this process. i think you catch my drift.) spread all around this essentially open plan workspace are uk marketing, international marketing, a self-contained information and web technology department as well as a whole half floor dedicated to the design and pre-production process. kati also told me they had now brought the sample prototyping in-house, allowing faster turnround of new rapha apparel.
there are also a few select areas designated for informal and formal meetings as well as several racks of clothing that i'm not allowed to mention yet. to avoid arguably less scrupulous observations, the design department is concealed behind partitions, as is mr mottram's office, thus curtailing any of those inadvertant 'oops!' moments. i'm not much given to investigative journalism, so i didn't push my luck in this instance, but i can only hope that somewhere behind those partitions lurks a pink sofa.
you can take imperial works out of perren street, but you can't take the pink sofa out of imperial works.
a genuine thank you to all those who made me so welcome at imperial works, despite obviously being in the middle of far more important necessities than fending off a ponytailed hebridean with a camera.
wednesday 9 july 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................