Monday, August 11, 2014

Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Denim Aficionado

An excellent documentary about the life of Marco Pantani was released in May this year. It chronicled Il Pirata’s rise to the top of professional road cycling in the 1990s and the cocaine-fuelled demise that ultimately led to his lonely death in a hotel not far from an enclaved microstate known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino – seriously, that’s actually an official title. Although the film, Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist, chiefly deals with depression, drugs, scandal, corruption and passion for cycling, when you start scratching below the surface, an intriguing subplot emerges about one man's profound love of denim.

Even from a very young age, Pantani showed a keen eye for fashion.

When he turned professional at 22 it started to become apparent that his somewhat unorthodox fashion sense might conflict with his cycling ambitions. His mother recalled how 'he was going to quit cycling…He said, "It’s a Mafia." ' This was obviously a reference to the unwritten (and very conservative) fashion code in professional cycling at the time. Pantani was persuaded to continue riding by the manager of his team whose title sponsors were Italian fashion label Carrera Jeans and Vagabond Sportswear.

This alliance ultimately helped foster Pantani’s fashion interests and also introduced him to the world of denim (in all its wonderful forms), culminating in what is widely regarded as the pinnacle of cycling fashion – faux-denim lycra.

Whether herding cows or climbing cols, Pantani helped demonstrate that denim was a versatile fabric. 

This look has endured the cruel test of time that spells the end for many fashion trends, with Nalini releasing a retro version of the faux-denim Carrera kit in 2011 and Melbourne cyclo-fashion-lifestyle website also paying homage in one of their latest offerings.

By 1994, Pantani’s fashion statements had begun to garner a lot of attention at the Giro d’Italia.

Off the bike, Pantani’s passion for denim, and in particular denim overalls, was no less intense.

He flaunted these during an appearance on popular (??) 90s Italian comedy show Mai Dire Gol, taking part in an awkward interview with Giovanni Storti’s character Johnny Glamour – an energetic presenter with a smashing pink blazer, imposing pony tail and rather suspicious moustache.

Here's the link to the video on YouTube.

After what was initially thought to have been a career ending crash at the 1995 Milano-Torino race, Pantani began a torturous year-long rehabilitiaion. As this progressed through 1996, it became apparent that he would ride a bike again.

But would he ever ride a bike in denim again?

Answering that question in typical Pantani style, a publicity event at his team sponsor’s warehouse was used to unveil this groundbreaking denim tracksuit.

Even after a year off the bike, Pantani showed he wasn't ready to quit cycling in denim. 

Following this he took faux-denim lycra to previously unseen heights with an incredible cycling kit that served as a pre-cursor to modern jeggings, pre-empting this fashion trend by some ten years.

Unfortunately Carrera ended their sponsorship and a new team was built around Pantani in preparation for the 1997 season. The naming rights sponsor, Mercatone Uno, was an Italian supermarket chain, and it quickly became clear that Pantani’s denim obsession might no longer be so easily accommodated.

A memorable win at Alpe d’Huez at the 1997 Tour de France offered little respite from Pantani’s obvious anguish over the lack of denim in his new team kit, and he had to look outside of cycling to get his fix. A new love affair with a woman sympathetic to his obsession provided just what he needed.

True love for Pantani meant finding a woman who understood that a matching denim cap and shirt accents were not a crime against fashion.

The next two years were a tumultuous time for Pantani with highlights that included winning both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in 1998 – completely free of doping too, if you believe this guy:

He led rider protests at the 1998 Tour and it became clear that he was suffering from a growing angst triggered by denim-withdrawal. Pantani’s mental state finally deteriorated to the point where, after being forced to leave the 1999 Giro d’Italia due to an elevated hematocrit, he was seen wearing no denim at all. It appeared that his passion for the fabric was finally gone. Where once he would have proudly outfitted himself in jeans, a denim jacket or overalls, he now seemed resigned to tracksuits and slacks.

With no denim in sight, was Pantani finally (stone)washed up?

Many cycling fans stood in solidarity with Pantani, even after his denim-less early exit from the Giro, but the events had affected him in a profound way. A recreation from the Pantani documentary shows him descending further into depression rather conspicuously clothed in a leather jacket.

Managing to pull himself together one last time to battle Lance Armstrong at the 2000 Tour de France, Pantani won two stages but then suddenly pulled out complaining of stomach cramps and went home. Leaving the race, he was seen in a striking blue shirt that subtly hinted at the fabric he once loved.

The doping scandals and investigations that followed over the next few years sent Pantani spiralling further downwards, and eventually he found himself substituting the fine blue cotton twill for a fine white powder that falsely promised to ease the pain of a denim-less life.

Pantani died at 34 years of age on Valentines day in 2004. The official cause of his death was listed an accidental cocaine overdose, but the case has recently been reopened by Italian prosecutors as some people believe he was murdered by cocaine poisoning.

Needless to say, there was a lot of denim on display at the funeral.

Cycling will forever remember you Marco - may you always rest in denim.

I know what I’ll be wearing next Valentine’s day.

No comments:

Post a Comment