Helio Ascari: powerful roots and a love for Italy

At eight he develops a passion for custom-made bicycles, at ten he learns how to work iron and wood. The story of Helio Ascari begins with the heritage of his Italian origins and it even reaches runways halfway across the world. At just 19 Helio is spotted on the beach of Ipanema by a talent scout of Elite agency. Since then he has posed for world-famous photographers such as Mario Testino, in the company of super top model Gisele Bündchen and traveled between Milan, Tokyo and New York, working as a model for brands like Ferragamo, Zegna and Ferrè.

In the 2000s though he discovers his true passion, which will take him even further: building custom-made bicycles. Unique pieces that big names in fashion are fighting over, such as Ralph Lauren who bought the first model branded Ascari Bicyles. Today Helio lives in New York and together with his wife Maria Thereza he continues developing the brand without ever forgetting his roots, a passion for finely crafted things and Italy's design heritage.

How would you describe yourself to someone who knows nothing about you?

This is a tough question, I always find it hard to talk about myself. I would say I am a designer and craftsman and I enjoy expressing my artistic side mostly through my bicycles. I am someone who likes designing and building things from scratch. I enjoy making objects with my hands, knowing that these handmade objects have so much quality, character and personality. 

How did your passion for bicycles begin?

When I was 8 I found an old bicycle in my basement and immediately started taking it apart and figuring out how to restore it. I believe I already had this special ability to design and customize objects at that young age. When I started developing the Ascari Bycicles brand I was drawing from my past, my Italian heritage. I wasn’t planning on developing something that intricate, I just had a strong desire to build something unique that came from my heart.

How important is the heritage of the Ascari name?

My identity was deeply influenced by my Italian heritage. I have such fond memories of my father telling us stories about his relatives back in Italy. It was extremely important to him that we respect our origins. The Ascari name has always pulsed inside of me, it gave me the determination and courage to write my own story. My father didn’t have much money, but he made sure before he died we understood he was leaving us with something more important than money; and that's a prosperous legacy.

How would you define style?

Simply put, it's an incredible sense of creativity without rules.

What do you think of the fashion industry, now that your career is going in a different direction?

I see fashion as a great communication tool. I consider myself very fortunate for the opportunity to have worked in the fashion industry for so many years. It opened my eyes and mind to beauty and quality of design and craftsmanship. Fashion to me represents a mixture of many things, including an expression of personality.

What's your relationship with Italy and its heritage in the fields of fashion and craftsmanship?

Italy was all I had as a reference growing up in a small village filled with Italian immigrants. It was everything to me as a child. I started working in steel and wood factories assisting metal and wood craftsmen, all Italian immigrants. This was probably how I developed my passion for building objects using different materials, like metals, wood or leather. When I started my career in fashion, I had the opportunity to work for legendary Italian designers, and that was the refinement I was missing when conceiving Ascari Bycicles. I can say that they are all connected: my Italian heritage, fashion and craftsmanship.

What do you think of Lancia and the idea of a trend-forecasting platform like Lancia TrendVisions?

What Lancia Trendvisions is doing is brilliant, with such a strong legacy bringing new talents together. I deeply admire platforms that promote artists and lifestyle in such a fresh yet consistent way.

What kind of advice would you give young talents who want to follow in your footsteps?

Intuition. Follow it and explore it, I always have and I have never regretted it. Also be curious, only curiosity will make you discover new possibilities and their answers. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, you're young and are supposed to make them, only by making mistakes will you become stronger and wiser.

What are your sources of inspiration?

Fabergé, Cartier and Bugatti. I am also inspired by architecture and vintage furniture such as from mid-century, and Danish pieces. I find great inspiration in 18-century guns and rifles.

Do you have a life philosophy?

Be true to yourself, never pretend to be what you are not. As an artist, I constantly question my creations, so it is important for me to remember who I am and where I come from. I like to think of honesty as my life philosophy. With an honest heart and spirit I allow myself to pull out the best of me.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Spending a lot more time in Italy, making art, growing my brand, seeing my electric bike project come alive on the streets, and creating new things.

Interview by Barbara Palladino

© Ascari Bycicles

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