From time to time, though not often, I hear, “Why’d you make him look so ugly?” or, “Man, that’s one ugly dude. What’s up with his teeth?” when I wear one of my replica Roger De Vlaeminck Milano-San Remo T-shirts.
I won’t argue that the image of Roger is unrefined. But ugly? I’d call it poorly executed or chalk his creepy look up to the lack of design and printing technology available in 1973 when the original T-shirt was made. (There was no Adobe Illustrator then.)
Ugly or not, for me, it’s as I wanted it to be—a very, very close copy of the original.
When I first noticed that Silvano Davo, Roger’s soigneur, was wearing some sort of RDV T-shirt while working his legs in the film classic, A Sunday in Hell, I froze the DVD a dozen times until I could clearly make out just what it was. I then snapped a half dozen photos so I could replicate it later. I had to have one.
Since the screen shots were of such poor quality, getting enough detail out of them to remake the graphics was tough and I would have to do a lot of guesswork. I made a few stabs at it and came up with a rough imitation. The face was too difficult to see, so I choose a couple RDV headshots I found on the Internet and worked with them.
My goal was to strip the mid-tones from the images and get them to pure white and blue. From the images I had and what I knew from doing silkscreen prints back in high school and college, in all likelihood, the graphics on a T-shirt made in 1973 were going to be pretty basic. I chose a photo of Roger in a cap that resembled the one the T-shirt, and set to work. Before long, I had a design. It was close, but not what I wanted. Still, it was good enough if an original never surfaced for me to replicate more closely.
A Little Help From a Friend
I sat on the design almost two years before Diederik Degryse at Magliamo hit me up to help him design a Freddy Maertens T-shirt. His sketch was eerily like the RDV design I had done. I mentioned that I had been working on one with Roger. He then sent me an image of his RDV Paris-Roubaix shirt. Like mine, it was based the soigneur’s shirt but with a different photo and celebrated a different race. The photo Diederik chose was my second choice and, I admit, was the better of the two images. His graphics looked great, but they weren’t the replica I wanted to make. (His shirts are now for sale at magliamo.com.)
In his email, Diederik also sent me a couple photos he got from Marco Gios of his personal original 1973 shirt. The 45-year old shirt was stretched out and the graphics distorted, but I now had a very clear example to work from.
I reached out too Marco and asked if I could use his photos to create my own graphics. With this blessing, I went to work. The only thing trick was removing the weird distortion to Roger’s face that resulted from it not being laying flat.
Davo’s shirt in A Sunday in Hell is all-white. Since I’m not a fan of all-white T-shirts, I decided to do my run on ringer T’s with navy blue collar and sleeve bands. (Plus a small number on plain white shirts.) I had the graphics silkscreen printed in two colors, like the original. They look fantastic, even if Roger’s image was less handsome than in real life.
Correcting My Mistake
It was a few days before I realized that somehow, the red stars in the original were missing only shirts. WTF?!? Apparently, after I finalized the graphics, I made a new, clean file and saved it with the layers separated by color—to make it easier for the printer. What I didn’t realize was that when I copied and pasted the paths to the new file, the star paths were locked and didn’t get copied. I was in a bit of a rush and rather than proofing the file, quickly saved it and sent it to the printer. I was gutted when I realized my mistake, a mistake most people would never notice. But in my mind, it was a disaster, an expensive one.
Getting them reprinted wasn’t an option. I sold a handful of them without the stars before found a viable solution—heat transfer vinyl. I did a bunch of research then bought a vinyl cutter and a heat press. I experimented with various types of vinyl until I found a reliable and near-perfect match to the red ink. I cut dozens of stars and transferred them to the remaining shirts.
The shirts now look perfect and are the cheesy replicas I wanted of the shirts Gios Torino made to celebrate Roger’s win at Milano-San Remo in 1973. I have washed my personal shirts dozens of times and the ink and stars continue to look awesome.