The first CHPT3 x Castelli collection was launched in the late summer of 2015 with what was, in hindsight, a very quick turnaround (tech apparel manufacturers generally consider 18 months the norm from conception to delivery), the original conversation with the boss of Castelli, Steve Smith, having happened at the 2014 Vuelta Espana. What was amazing through that rapid process was that Steve backed everything that I wanted to do, even the things most people would have thought somewhat ‘out there’, like the buttoned collars and unbranded surface design.
In fact the whole of the launch collection remains very purest in its design ethos and yet, counter-intuitively, very complicated to produce. I was, in a way, rebelling against the lightweight simplicity, sometimes expendable quality, and often terrible surface design of the race wear. I wanted the clothing to keep, if not better the race tech, yet be over-engineered in order to feel more luxurious and look more structured and, to a degree, tailored. One of the first meetings Richard, Steve and I had was at the Spitalfields atelier of the tailor, Timothy Everest, only hours before my retirement party in October 2015.
Steve was always adamant that he wanted CHPT3 x Castelli to be known for making cycling clothing a pro cyclist would wear when not racing. Steve and I had spent 10 years together designing cycling race-clothing, developing some of the game-changing garments that have become the norm in the process, now it was about doing something different with all that shared experience and working knowledge: creating technical cycling clothing that was equally technical – if not more so – than the race wear.
It wasn’t simply a case of curiosity and shared appreciation visiting the atelier of Timothy Everest, it served a purpose: the collar of the Rocka jacket ended up being cut by his head cutter, Freddie Nieddu. I had wanted a reversible collar, something that could be worn flipped around the back of the neck or brought around to fully wrap the wearer’s neck, almost like a neck buff yet a more elegant solution. Freddie had previously cut such collars for riding and shooting jackets, what looks like such a simply cut flap of material actually has origins from hundreds of years of tailoring.
The final piece in the jigsaw regards how we wanted to bring a different look to everything was by working with Nadav Kander who photographed the first collections. Nadav is widely held as one of the world's greatest photographers, he also happens to be a cyclist, and a close friend. It was Nadav that shot the covers for both my books. Each time I've worked with him he has brought a look and style completely different to everything else out there, a look and style that is widely imitated almost immediately afterwards.
Back to the tailoring – the shoulders on the Rocka resemble a shooting jacket, only applied to a different purpose. The Castelli Gabba, from which the Rocka finds its origin, was about as purely race focused as anything Castelli have done – which was great for racing, but not so applicable for day to day non-racing life. Castelli sourced, with great difficulty, a two-tone Gore material using a Rosso Fuoco – fire red – inner surface. The fabric itself was 20% lighter than the fabric used for the race version Gabba at the time.
The jacket was cut differently in shape and bonded with heat sealing internally. The shoulders were a bit of a bug bear for me as I wanted them to be slightly more accentuated and square. Turn to tailoring once more, the shoulders have the overlap and internal extension of a classic shooting jacket. Rocka went through an eight sample process, one of the longest Castelli have endured.
The name Rocka came from the idea of the button collar hanging down, resembling an old motorcycle jacket. CHPT3 has always been a bit more Rocker than Mod anyway.
The jersey was another simple concept: I wanted a simple, beautifully made, practical jersey, and I don’t want to stand out when I wear it, yet I want to look cool when I stop for a coffee. This simple idea turned into one of the most complicated pieces Castelli have ever constructed, involving processes they had never even attempted before.
The darting on the front is laser-cut and heat bonded, there are a total of six pockets: three on the back, two internal, and a storm-flapped front pocket. There is the button-collar with collar bone button to fasten the flap down if having it undone and flapping is too annoying. Then there is the fabric, 50g/sqm stretch woven: it feels like nothing else and has a combination of performance qualities that would have made it perfect for race wear. Well it would make perfect race-wear if it wasn’t such a lightweight material that it’s impossible to sublimate a sponsor’s name on it – because it would bleed, obviously making it useless for a World Tour cycling team.
The chest is embossed with an abstract version of the CHPT3 logo and the buttons and zip were especially chosen for this jersey. In other words the entire piece is a one-off – the most beautiful cycling jersey in the world on many levels.
Those two pieces really exemplify how it all began, everything else was created with the same attention and care, the shorts were a better version of the Castelli Body Paint model, of which one of the last samples I’d been given to test back in the winter of 2010. The socks were outsourced, beginning a quest for a pair of socks I had loved. The leg warmers are cut differently, accommodating the fashion for longer socks and shorts, so they’re effectively half way between a knee and leg warmer. Both the arm and leg warmers share a reversible cuff with a fire red reveal and reflective strip, an element that was designed for practical reasons and yet have become a style flip. Also it was decided not to give them the Nano-Flex treatment as the bombardment the material takes in order to become water resistant removes some of the elasticity which so important for those garments.
The Baselayers use a fabric used in a climber’s jersey I’d raced in at the Tour de France back in 2011, it worked so well it made sense to change the cut and make it into an undershirt. The reason it hadn’t been done before was because the material cannot be hemmed in a usual manner as it is so lightweight; instead the hems are actually panelled. That means what appears to be a simple vest is actually made of eight different elements. We decided to use the undershirt as our only colourful surface, much like a tailored suit will have an internal reveal.
The colourways of everything were designed to be interchangeable, and based on what we wear off the bike, blues, greens, greys. The only flash of colour beyond the Baselayers being the fire red, a colour that has become a regular part of our identity, revealed in different areas of the garments, yet not in all of them. The palette had been something I had been very strong about, and it was when Richard Pearce saw a Ben Nicholson painting at the Frieze Art Fair that it all clicked – it’s easy to see how they all work together when looking at this artwork.
That first collection will always remain the purest, there is nothing else out there like it and it proved to be not only difficult but expensive to manufacture. We feel it is the finest cycling clothing in the world and also the rarest in its concept and fulfilment. Throughout its design was my rebellion to 18 years of not having control of how I looked on the bike. It is, I hope – we hope – what every professional cyclist would elect to wear if they had the choice of any cycling apparel in the world.
And if it is the choice of a professional cyclist for when they’re not racing then we hope that anybody can wear it and derive the same satisfaction that they’re wearing something designed for a reason, based in performance, existing in style.
These classic pieces will now begin their journey to the CHPT3 vault, never to be released again. As we move into our new chapter, we will always remember the Old Days. These Old Days have been the spark that inspires the New Days to come.