Ship to shore: Ben Ainslie collaborates with Chucs
An inside look at the clever collaboration that keeps the British team looking smart during the America's Cup
On 26 May, the Great Britain Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team will reach the qualifying stages of the 35th America's Cup in an attempt to bring the trophy back to Britain, where the competition started in 1851. Led by Sir Ben himself, the team has a secret weapon - the uniform the sailor has helped create with Chucs, the UK resort-wear label that encapsulates boating and beach lifestyle.
Here, the most decorated sailor in Olympic history tells us how he has temporarily turned fashion designer, while Chucs chief executive and design director Ben Mears reveals more about the collection.
It all happened quite naturally. Peter Dubens, who is one of the private investors of our team and a very keen sailor introduced us to Ben Mears. Chucs is a collection based around the water, so it seemed natural for us to collaborate with them on a resort-wear wardrobe to wear in Bermuda. We were looking for some seriously smart kit.
We've been in Bermuda since November and it's already reasonably hot. The weather gets a bit inclement in the next couple of months, but then it will start picking up. Come the summer it will be very hot and humid indeed.
We're in full-on training phase at the moment, after winning the initial global competition - the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series - and gaining two vital points for our next challenge: the qualifiers for the America's Cup final. We'll be launching our race boat R1 in February, which is very exciting. It's a critical time.
In this situation, you look for every way in which you can gain an advantage over your competitors and, ultimately, identity is one of those details that contributes to your sense of being a team and your confidence. We want to win the America's Cup and set out our stall to be successful for many years to come, so it's important that we look the part and project an image of professionalism and unity. Especially as we are relatively new.
To be successful you need people who have bought into the team and have the desire to make it a success - the kit you wear is part of that. You should feel proud wearing it. The look is definitely part of the team package. It's the little things like this that matter - when you put them together they start to make a big difference.
On the water, of course, it's all about technical clothing and we have a great partnership with Henri Lloyd delivering clothing that's aerodynamic, streamlined and deals with the heat, keeping you as cool as can be when you're working hard physically. There's also a safety element related to things like the strength of helmets (we have a partnership with Kask, a specialist in ski and cycling helmets), the buoyancy of life jackets (we work closely with Spinlock to develop our personal protective equipment) and whether your wetsuits and gear are tough enough for the job. The America's Cup has strict rules to ensure that performance and safety needs are met.
Off the boat is where Chucs comes in and the requirement for resort and leisurewear is also a matter of excellence. That's one of the reasons we wanted to work with them. Ben understood straight away what was required for our team's schedule, working in a hot, humid climate. The America's Cup is a smart, glamorous sporting event so as well as working out here, we have to go to a number of different functions as a team. The challenge was how to make smart - and luxury - resort-wear for our guys to wear in the environment of Bermuda and for different team activities. Ben understood what we're up against out here and it turned out the look we needed was a perfect fit with the style of Chucs.
I met with Ben at our team HQ in Portsmouth and we talked about the heat and humidity and what an average day entails for our sailing team. We also discussed the functions we need to go to outside everyday operations. Then he came back with some different ideas - three or four different options. It was a collaborative approach and it was great to see how he addressed what was needed. What he came up with was a modern smart/casual wardrobe.
To achieve comfort, the collection is all about quality and modern materials. In this way, it has synergy with what the teams do on the water - to achieve the best performance, they are constantly pushing the boundaries to design faster, lighter, more controllable boats so I like the idea we are creating clothing made with the same mentality.
For example, there is a tailored jacket and matching trousers made with a stretch material. This makes them comfortable, but also means they fit athletes. A lot of the team's big grinders look like rugby players and have seriously large chests and shoulders. They find it difficult to go out and buy proper fitted suits; the new collection will actually fit them. Stretch also allows you to feel more comfortable in a hot environment - you want a bit of give to feel relaxed.
There's also a long-sleeved polo style, made of a material that keeps you cool, and then there's an all-purpose pair of shorts - they're tailored in appearance, but you can swim in them so you can literally go from the water to a bar or restaurant without changing.
The whole collection was, of course, conceived for the team to wear in Bermuda, which is a great venue for beachwear. But the versatile mixture of pieces in this collection - jacket, swim shorts, shirts, chinos, polos - was built around what the sailors wear when they're on any shore and at weekends, relaxing with the family on the beach.
The spirit of the collection is inspired by Sean Connery's James Bond and this is the role model I had in mind when putting the collection together - a man who could dive, but also wear a suit to dinner.
The Chucs Land Rover BAR America's Cup Team collection will launch in March 2017; chucs.com
Racing in the next rounds of the America's Cup starts on 26 May 2017. The final America's Cup match will start on 17 June 2017