January 2015. At a private members club in Soho, David Millar is warming to his theme. It is not professional cycling, however, that occupies his thoughts, but fashion, elegance, and the individual style of sporting greats from bygone eras.
“There was a little bit of frivolity and danger,” he says of his motor racing heroes. “They did what they wanted. Mike Hawthorn wore a bow tie; Stirling Moss with his white polo helmet. They were amateurs, essentially. They all had their looks. They didn’t have to adhere to anything, which I think is lost in today’s world of professional sport.”
Millar is no longer a professional, and no longer wishes to look like an advertising hoarding when he rides a bike, particularly when he stops at a café. It’s an interesting reversal of aspiration - most amateurs strive to emulate the professional - but the Scot has rarely conformed to cycling’s norms.
Anyone who has spent time in Millar’s company knows that he is eloquent on a range of topics, but given his former profession, ended last year after a turbulent but ultimately successful career that included, among other things, a world time trial title revoked and stage wins as a clean rider in each of the Grand Tours, it is cycling that he is most often called upon for his opinion.
Discuss his first major post-retirement venture, Chapter Three (or Chpt. III) - a clothing brand conceived with Richard Pearce, the friend and designer with whom he worked on a range of custom shoes for Fizik (see Issue 54) - and Millar is good value, with the increasingly lost tradition of the glorious amateur only one of a number of topics on which he passes comment.
Others? His total disinterest in a career break after 18 years as a professional cyclist (“This is a self-inflicted challenge. It’s not something I had to do”), the innate style of the British male (“If you go to Italy, everyone’s trying to dress like a Brit - with a man bag! They’re getting it wrong”), and the story behind the Chpt.III moniker.
“I’ve had chapter one, which was starting off as a Hong Kong kid, fulfilling my dreams in the Tour de France, getting into doping, being banned. Chapter two was coming back from bad and the whole comeback, doing it differently, wanting to change things and fix things, and trying to redeem myself, and do it all again.
“Chapter three is now. This is the next phase. This is what I do now. You never forget chapters one and two, but with everything I’ve learned, I move into the next phase, which is why it’s called Chapter Three.”
Pearce has mapped the career path in a clever graphic: 18 bars, each representing a year of Millar’s career: four white (the clean years), three grey (doped), two black (banned), then nine white bars (the comeback). The red stripe – the 19th bar – is now.
The graphic appears in various forms on each of the garments that make up the first collection from ChptIII, realised by Castelli, and comprised of shorts, base layer, leg warmers, lightweight jersey, and a rain jacket inspired by the Gabba (see Issue 53).
So how does a professional cyclist make the outwardly unlikely move into fashion design? Millar is adamant that having had the best job in professional cycling, the more typical avenues for the retired rider did not appeal. Not for him the role of DS, or team liaison.
Instead, the world of fashion appeals to Millar’s desire to improve the sartorial lot of the “civilian” cyclist, as well as to experience a world beyond the only one he has known for nearly two decades.
“One of the bigger catalysts was working on the Lance Armstrong movie, and seeing how they worked. It was very weird, because I spent two months with them, really kind of deep in. I was a bit shocked by the intensity of it, but I enjoyed meeting all those people who were super creative and super disciplined in their work. I realised then that there was a whole different world out there from my world of pro cycling."
He cites the influence of the Velo Club Rocacorba, the “gentleman’s” cycling club, whose membership includes architects, designers and aesthetes, from among whom Pearce has exhibited the greatest influence on ChptIII.
Of similar importance to the project has been Castelli’s Steve Smith, whom Millar credits as playing a key role in restoring the Italian marque to its former glory, in a process begun in 2006 when the two men came together for the first time through a mutual association with the Saunier Duval team. “We were basically both on the comeback trail,” he says of the label founded 150 years earlier by Gianni Vittore, outfitter variously to the Juventus football team and the Milan Ballet.
Millar also cites bespoke tailor Timothy Everest as an influence (the buttoned collars of the 1.21 jersey and 1.61 Rocka jacket might be taken as the keenest examples). The parallel between professional cycling and bespoke tailoring are obvious to Millar, who describes (approvingly) as “ridiculous” the level of detail Everest applies to his creations.
“The years of skill and expertise and talent that goes into making those things is like cycling,” he says of Everest’s work. “Basically, cycling is lycra shorts and a jersey: it’s pretty simple, but if it’s done properly, you can see the difference.”
Now Millar is on a roll. His ultimate ambition, he reveals, is to develop ChptIII as a fashion label, with cycle clothing as only one part, if only to end his search for a well made and stylish tracksuit: the other staple of the professional cyclist’s wardrobe.
“I want a nice tracksuit, and I can’t find one!” he laughs. “All I’ve done for 18 years as a pro cyclist, is worn lycra and tracksuits. I’m so conditioned to it, that when I’m at home, I wake up in the morning and I want to put on a tracksuit, and I’ve still got my team tracksuit: either Team Scotland, or Garmin, or Team GB.
“I’ve looked everywhere, and I can’t find a lovely tracksuit to chuck on in the morning. I’m 38, I’ve got kids, I have to get up early in the morning, and throw something on. I’d rather throw something on that’s had a little bit of thought put into it, and is nicely made, so that my wife won’t look at me with scorn.”
Millar has been accused of many things during a high-profile and often brilliant cycling career, but never of being obvious, and is unlikely to face the charge in retirement. ChptIII may prove to be similarly idiosyncratic.
Armed with a muted palette and subtle tailoring details more commonly found in bespoke tailoring, he may yet confound the public expectation of a professional cyclist’s appearance; or of one retired, at least.
“I’ve always had this strong relationship with Castelli. They’ve always done this cool, cutting edge stuff, but we’ve always had fun doing it. Could we take all this stuff we’ve done, but take it in a way where I could wear these clothes as a normal cyclist?” he asks, rhetorically.
The days when he needed the most aerodynamic fit are past, Millar admits. Now he wants a cut that, while flattering, doesn’t cause his jersey to ride up when he stands up in the café.
Reclining in a leather chair in a Soho members club, Millar looks at home; still lean, if freed from the emaciated look of the professional cyclist. Glances from neighbouring tables confirm this period of transition. "Where do I know him from?” they ask, silently. An actor, perhaps? Millar would probably accept fashion designer. The success or otherwise of CIII’s first collection will decide as much.
ChptIII will exhibit at the Rouleur Classic, an intimately curated show comprised of a collection of handpicked exhibitors and speakers from the top tier of professional cycling, to be held at Vinopolis, near London Bridge, from November 19 to 21, 2015. For more information, visit Rouleur Classic.
Guests are offered the opportunity to ride out with Maserati ambassador David Millar from the Foxhills country club in Surrey on September 15, 2015, and to drive the new Maserati models at the Longcross proving ground. Click here for more information.