The man obsessed with physical effort

The antithesis to Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander – although he is ridiculously good looking – engineering doctorate and model, Pietro Boselli tells Helen Clemson why today’s high-tech sportswear is a hotbed for innovation.
Pietro Boselli sportswear

It’s easy to write-off a man who strides the catwalk for a living. But Italy’s Pietro Boselli’s brainpower is just as becoming as his brawn. And boy, does he have a lot going on upstairs. Aside from his PhD in mechanical engineering, Boselli also taught maths at University College London.

During this rigorous academic schedule, he also found time to stay incredibly fit (he started trail running at the age of 14, has always kept up with endurance sport and now hits the gym for intense strength training). It seems natural then that performance sportswear is a subject Boselli knows quite well.

‘Petra Design is a fusion of three aspects of my life: fashion, fitness and engineering,’ says Boselli of his collection. ‘Since the age of seven, I’ve been in fashion as a model, and being very curious and analytical, I’ve witnessed and internalised the whole creative process of fashion.’

Ditto exercise. ‘Throughout my life, I’ve had a passion for working out. Whether it was running, cycling, swimming or strength training, I’ve always had an obsession for physical effort. I’ve also dedicated a huge portion of my life to science and engineering, which has shaped my way of thinking when it comes to design.’ The result is performance-driven garments for sportspeople looking for high-functioning fitness attire.

There have been some clever design enhancements, especially in cycling, says Mike Finch, editor-in-chief of Bicycling magazine, South Africa. And, considering the fervour with which South Africans practise disciplines like mountain biking, accompanying garments need to be carefully chosen. ‘You pay for what you get in cycling,’ explains Finch, who adds that a purchase should never be made for aesthetics. ‘Don’t buy for style; you’ll regret style,’ he says.

So, what won’t you regret as you pedal up a particularly technical section of the mountainside?

Clothing that requires zero attention. ‘Just like good architecture, good sportswear design should combine function and form in a harmonious way,’ says Boselli. And he explains, starting at the drawing board, like this: ‘It is an iterative process sometimes, but it begins with an idea of the overall aesthetics, shifting to anatomical consideration and textile research.’

As for the latter, Boselli has been particularly attentive to us in the southern hemisphere. And with South Africa’s perpetually sunny climate ranking us at number two in the UV-concentration stakes (Australia is number one), we need all the help we can get. He elaborates, ‘All our fabrics have UV protection, and we have a selection of garments such as leggings, raw-cut tees and fitted mid-layers that are ideal for mountain biking.’ Variety as they say…

As for further innovation, which Finch is seeing in all aspects of cycling design – and to suit all body shapes (‘clever design equals a more relaxed fit’) – Boselli’s collection, like the man himself, reveals a thing or two about the excellence of his heritage. The fabrics (Italian, of course) translate to sportswear through ‘a detailed study of the anatomy of the body and its movement. We add properties such as compression, abrasion resistance, lightness and sweat-wicking precisely where needed.’

Why this approach? ‘Sportwear for athletes has always focused on performance, but the increased size of this market now has pushed innovation even further, especially when it comes to textiles.’ Ready to sweat? Enjoy the ride, we say.

Photography by Giampaolo Sgura

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