Cycling Mad Johanna Parv is one of Sarah Mower’s Six Designers to Watch
Talk about a designer whose ideas are fit for purpose in our post-Covid world. Long before fear of public transport caused such a surge in urban cycling that the demand for bicycles started outstripping supply, Johanna Parv was already studying how dismally design serves female cyclists in cities. “I like the aesthetics of bikes. And the power, freedom and happiness you get when you’re speeding through a city, the independence it gives women,” she says. “But all that sportswear in black and neon makes everyone look the same. And what do you do if you have a nice handbag you want to carry?”
For her MA graduation collection at Central Saint Martins, Parv, who is from Tallinn in Estonia, came up with some startlingly game-changing solutions to liberate women from the standard Lycra designed for male racers: elegance allied with activewear, and a genius hands-free system for harnessing classic handbags to the shoulders of women – “action bags”, as she calls them. “I thought, what if I can fuse haute couture drape with something that functions and performs – and has a sense of movement and protection in it?”
Like scientific breakthroughs, advances in fashion come when somebody intelligent poses questions that nobody thought worth asking before. So why not a wardrobe that could coolly, chicly get off a bike and walk into a meeting? Why not a supple, athletic, one-shouldered dress with built-in leggings, an asymmetric side-slit skirt with integral cycling shorts?
Parv applied social observation on the street, feminist psychology and her own experience as a cyclist. After spending months “watching working women passing through King’s Cross, London Fields, photographing how they wear their bags, people going by with capes on bikes in the rain”, she trialled looks on herself in cycling poses. “Feeling the muscular tension,” she laughs. Her action bag eureka moment came when she worked out how to retrofit backpack straps onto vintage top-handled leather bags. “And you know what, if it rains, you want to protect your favourite bag. So I also designed these covers for them, where it looks as if the dress and the bag become one, ergonomic, sculptural form.”
Photography courtesy of Johanna Parv. Taken from Issue 65 of 10 Magazine – FAMILY, FOREVER, LOVE – available to purchase here.