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

I've been testing Rapha's most luxurious jacket (launched December 2017) to comment on its functionality aside from more subjective issues of desirability and value, which I'll come to.

Perceived quality is very high, as befits the price. I expect eyebrows may 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 feels like a generic 'anorak' waterproof, working overtime to sustain its £260 price. By 'feel' I mean only the hand of the fabric.

Rapha wet.jpg
 Hard to gauge the 'blue' from the Rapha website

Hard to gauge the 'blue' from the Rapha website

Without question that is where this new jacket scores big points. It blows all the waterproof stereotypes right out of the atmosphere with a matte yet lustrous fabric, presumably a major part of the purpose of the tie-up with Loro Piana, a famous Italian brand specialising in high-end, luxury cashmere and wool products. Without hesitation, I hope that this is the start of more such tie-ups, because the 'hand' of Rapha's new jacket fabric is very classy indeed. You feel it and you want it. It's leagues away from anorak, and that, surely, is the point.

I've tried to capture the colour in daylight photos, which is difficult to nail down from Rapha's website pictures. The jacket is only available as this single shade of inky blue, a colour that plays brighter in bright light and darker when wet, as I've tried to demonstrate. 

All the seams are taped on the inside and this jacket is just as waterproof as the Classic Winter Jacket. This means that it is a slightly cooler, less-soft fabric to put on initially than Rapha's original (non-waterproof) softshell jacket, a garment which had a indisputably soft, neoprene-ey hand and upon which a considerable part of the company's brand prowess was built in its first decade. Having worked three of the originals to death with non-stop use, I should declare my unswerving loyalty to that formula here and now, which adhered to two things especially (the clue's in the name): it was soft and it was a shell.

Both the Classic Winter Jacket (which carried forward much of the DNA of the softshell when the latter was disbanded) and this extraordinary newcomer are waterproofs, no doubt following loads of moaning from riders who quickly realised that the original was not waterproof despite having a water-repellent coating. The inevitable trade-off is that this is a hotter jacket if you start to work on the bike, perhaps to catch a train or against that westerly headwind. Both the Classic Winter and the Loro Piana will be too hot in many situations come April and beyond.

Another difference from the original softshell are the back pockets. The two flapped back pockets of the Loro Piana have a higher entry point 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, extending right into the centre line of the jacket. They are fabulously capacious but you'd never guess it. The flaps keep valuables and phones 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, the result of aerodynamic considerations that might or might not matter depending on what the garment is for. The Loro Piana is not for time trialling so the pockets could have more accessible.

I've always worn my (black) softshell primarily for commuting and utility riding. So it gets used far more than any other garment. I've always worn a Large when it should be a Medium and typically over normal cotton shirts and smart civvy clothing. Real world stuff such as going to work and not faffing with showering and changing. If the Met Office says rain I take a first generation City collection Rapha waterproof. The Loro Piana is a brilliant upgrade from the latter but It will not replace my original soft shell, which just worked to a wonderfully functional degree with its three back pockets and intense breathability - the right garment for 95% of British riding and still able to repel the odd shower or drizzle.

 Worn with blue Rapha backpack

Worn with blue Rapha backpack

It makes me wonder if there could be a less waterproof, softer/lighter Spring/Summer version of the Loro Piana.

If it's not already obvious, 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 mysteriously works in a changeable climate and for multiple requirements: everything is a trade-off in the end. I mourn its loss and still hope Rapha will bring it back, exactly as it was.

Turning to this new product, the Loro Piana jacket in the indescribably lovely midnight blue fabric, it appears to be doing several things at once. It's re-introducing the (sort-of) 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 a tough retailing atmosphere and Rapha's own product onslaught of late might have congested the unfurling story of this jacket. But at the discounted New Year 2018 price you're getting a simply amazing product for just £40 more than the Classic Winter Jacket, which until now has been the spiritual successor to the original softshell. If I was choosing between them 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. If you're a loyal devotee of the original softshell then join me in hoping that it gets reinstated, as a shell that is soft but not necessarily waterproof.

 Zip's a beaut

Zip's a beaut

On the boring issue of Rapha dividing opinion and the Loro Piana being too posh, granted, there's been a murmur of dissent 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.