The former party boy of the peloton has turned his attention to kit and released a collection designed for cafe rides
Even as a professional cyclist, David Millar was regarded as one of the better turned out in the peloton. So well dressed was he that the French press named him Le Dandy, which could be considered a compliment from one of the most stylish nations in the world.
A year after his retirement from a career tainted by a two-year doping ban, the former rider for team Garmin Sharp, which he also part-owned, has drawn on his penchant for putting together a decent outfit and launched his own cycle clothing brand.
Working with Italian manufacturer Castelli, Millar, 38, has launched dm: Chpt III (to give it the full title), or Chapter 3 - a reference to what he sees as the next chapter in his life, with the first being his ban from the sport for doping, and the second his redemption and subsequent return to racing.
The only clue to Millar’s involvement from the brand name is the initials: DM - a move Millar says was entirely intentional. “My own name carries so much history and it’s a bit ubiquitous and clichẻd to use your name anyway, it’s like there’s not much thought has gone into it. Plus it confines my brand to the cycling world,” he says.
The collection marks yet another iron in the fire for Millar. He has become a regular face on television, commentating on cycle races such as the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100, is an ambassador for Maserati cars - “I’m still driving one, living the dream” - and has written a follow-up to his book, Racing Through the Dark - “It’s about the racing this time.”
He says he regards his new kit venture as a labour of love: “This is the sort of thing I enjoyed most about being a professional - the design side of things, testing kit and having an input with development of equipment.”
Millar has been working with Castelli on the venture for the last 18 months after identifying a “gap in the market” for cycle clothing. “I wanted something that didn’t exist so I said why don’t I try and create it? I had this great relationship with Castelli which I have had for years.” The result is a nine-piece capsule collection which together comprises a full cycling outfit. “I wanted something that represented what I like off the bike but could wear when I’m on the bike.”
Each item is designed to function together with the other and draws on elements of tailoring. As well as working with Castelli, he has enlisted his friend and Saville Row tailor Timothy Everest for some of the finer details. “He has helped me cut some of the elements, such as the collars to make them fit properly. I think people forget how hi-tech bespoke tailoring is, making one of those suits is engineering, it’s architecture and I think that’s what we do with cycling clothing.”
It is some of these details, such as a button collar on the jersey, that have raised eyebrows among rival brands, who wasted no time offering opinions over Twitter. Millar is unrepentant: “We’re not racing, these are not racing clothes,” he says. “We’re using racing tech, I mean some of the materials we are using are materials that they can’t even use for racing because they’re either too expensive or can’t be justified. For example the jersey is a third lighter than the lightest TDF jersey - something like 50g per sq m. They can’t use the fabric for racing because you can’t put sponsors’ names on it.” The shorts, Millar adds, are manufactured from the “highest quality lycra, which is slightly heavier. Again you wouldn’t use them for racing because you would overheat but they’re incredibly comfortable, almost like compression.”
Millar has based the palette of the collection around muted blues, greys and greens, as if someone went to town with a Farrow & Ball colourchart. “You look at mens’ suits, the polos we wear, the shirts, we are always using similar palettes, and I thought why don’t we do that with our sportswear?”
He has a long-running interest in all things sartorial. He cites Paul Smith, and Sunspel as influences and likes the way Hermés has maintained references to its saddlery background. It is evident that Millar has had more input than simply putting his name to a bit of Castelli kit. It’s a whole new direction for the Italian brand, which is known for producing out-and-out racewear.
“Castelli stuff is very much pure performance whereas this is more cafe-stop kind of stuff. I mean you could race in my clothes but it is more … essentially to go back to the origins of this, we designed a kit that I wanted, and I needed now I’m retired so we designed it as one set of kit.”
One of the oddities of the collection is the coding. Each piece is given a number. The shorts, for instance, are numbered 1.11, which signifies the first piece of the first generation of Chapter 3 clothing, or something like that. It is a system which at once marks each piece out as a collector’s item while bestowing upon it the sort of grandiose which will make it a prime target for ridicule among budget-conscious cyclists, the type who source their kit from German supermarkets.
But before you write Chapter 3 off at this point for disappearing up its own backside, there is method in the numbering system. “One of the things I found as a pro was I had sets of clothing designed to go together and I wanted to maintain that simplicity. Even the colour schemes we’ve got, the greyish blue shorts, the green jersey, they can all interchange and they all look great together.”
Millar’s experience as a racer has led to some clever detailing on the kit. The jersey has armwarmer pockets on the inside back, for instance: “We’d take our arm warmers off and stuff them up the jersey before we’d throw them in the car except we can’t drop them off in the car anymore so I put arm warmer pockets in.”
The Rocka, however is the clear standout garment, the one that will have purveyors of cycle kit salivating. This is essentially a version of Castelli’s famed Gabba jersey “but it is made from a material which is 30 per cent lighter than the Gabba so it can fold up and go in the central back pocket,” says Millar. “Normally the Gabba is a bastard to carry so people end up wearing it all day but it was designed as a protective outer layer so we have gone back to the roots of what it was supposed to be.”
It might have been developed with Castelli, but it is clear that Chapter 3 kit is as different from its parent as you can get. This fact goes as far as the sizing. Kit will not be labelled as small, medium or large etc, “because I got a bit sick even as a pro of all the sizes being different between companies.” Instead Chapter 3 will be sized as per suit and shirt sizing. “We go from 36 to 44 which gives you a massive spectrum and very accurate and consistent sizing.” It’s the same with the shorts, “It’s essentially a jean size because everyone knows their jean size.”
The Chapter 3 collection will be limited in production and availability, with runs restricted to 300 of each size and retail partners carefully selected. Mr Porter and Rouleur will be the only online stockists. The kit comes with a price tag to match the exclusivity - the full outfit will set you back more than £1,000. Millar, however, insists this does not mean big profits: “We really have pushed the boat out, it is almost the most expensive cycling jersey in the world to manufacture. We just had to say it’s going to be this expensive and people are going to buy it or they’re not.”
Whether they buy it or not, Millar’s foray into premium clothing is unlikely to stop there. More lines are planned, with off-the-bike essentials such as tracksuits and jeans being considered.
“I do believe that cycling clothing is now the most cutting edge sportswear in the world, the punishment we have to put it through in races is bonkers, hence why it has got to the level of tech we now have and I don’t see why we can’t take that tech and know-how into every area of fashion.”
The cycle racing might be over but for David Millar a whole new chapter has just begun.
The article first appeared in The Times on August 14 201