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June 10, 2011 10:02 pm

A sea change

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The Esimit Europa 2's crew wearing SLAM designs

The yacht Esimit Europa 2 off the Italian coast with its crew wearing SLAM designs

Tennis stars will not be the only sports people in the fashion spotlight over the next few weeks. Sailors, too, are having a sartorial moment and not just because it’s “cruise” season in the fashion world.

Brands such as Prada and Louis Vuitton have long been involved with sailing, sponsoring boats complete with their own sailing gear. But recently teams and the spectators who follow them have taken the style competition, on and off the water, to a new level.

The evidence will be on show at next week’s Giraglia Rolex Cup, one of the longest-running yacht races, now in its 59th year. (The America’s Cup has only been in existence for 34 years.) The race starts in the French town of St Tropez on June 18 with three days of inshore racing for more than 200 yachts (measuring from 30ft to 120ft), followed by an offshore race to Genoa via the Giraglia rock, off Corsica.

Danilo Salsi, owner of DSK Pioneer Investments’ yacht, says his crew will wear three different sets of clothing during race time, all sourced from the Milan-based luxury casual wear brand Fedeli (think Loro Piana but slightly less expensive). The outfits will mirror the yacht’s colour combination of grey, brown and cream.

For the Rolex gala dinner before the race, crew members will wear a lightweight brown jacket and cream trousers with a white shirt. Then, for the inshore racing, Salsi says there is “light technical sports wear”, including cotton T-shirts and trousers with a showerproof jacket. For the offshore race, this is replaced by “high-performance technical sports wear”: a waterproof windstopper of treated cotton lined with cashmere.

For the Aegir yacht, the stylist Marian Hallin has designed both the interior and the clothes worn by the crew in the same carbon and grey colours. For Hallin, branding is vital, with each piece of clothing clearly sporting the Aegir logo. “It’s important the team look both elegant and professional,” she says, with the team uniform made up of three racing T-shirts and two pairs of shorts made from 145g weight nylon, a cap, and a windstopper.

When the crew are working onshore in the boat, they have lower spec clothes, and the crew captain and mate also have non-technical cruising uniforms, explains Hallin. For the gala, the senior team has branded collared shirts, jackets and trousers. Every piece has been individually styled for each stage of the event, with “the leisure wear being relaxed and in softer natural fabrics”.

Sailors' gear by Henri Lloyd, Fedeli and Gaastra

From left: Gear by Henri Lloyd (£75); Fedeli (cashmere jumpers from €400); Gaastra (€349.95); Henri Lloyd (£170) and Gaastra (€44.95)

For Ian Budgen, co-skipper of the Jethou yacht, this is a big change in industry thinking. “Depending on the conditions, 30 years ago the crew on a racing boat would have worn heavy wool knit wear under cumbersome, nondescript, waterproof coats,” he says. “But as the boats have become more high-tech, so has the clothing.” This year, members of the Jethou crew are wearing Gaastra Pro, a leading Dutch brand of high performance sports wear, for the race. The Gaastra leisure wear they will don for social events has a notably preppy look with more natural fabrics.

Igor Simcic, owner of the yacht Esimit Europa 2, which took line honours in the race last year and is this year’s firm favourite, says it is important that style is synchronised with performance. “All the clothing worn by the crew is fabricated by SLAM, the Italian sports wear brand,” he says, the entire outfit being in “white to match the yacht, with blue accessories”.

The change in clothes is also reflected among the fans. One avid Rolex Cup follower in his late fifties, who always charters a yacht to follow the race, says: “A decade ago, most spectators would have turned up in preppy casual wear – Ralph Lauren, Blanc Bleu – to watch the inshore racing. But in the past five years or so, spectators have started to wear the same brands as crew members as a way to feel more a part of the race and show support, like wearing a team scarf to a football game.”

Another Rolex Cup fan, whose father first brought him to the Giraglia event in the early 1970s, wears a black Gaastra Pro Cape Horn waterproof sailing jacket over either a pale or dark blue cotton polo shirt from the brand’s leisure wear line.

“It’s good to have the protection provided by professional gear on the outer layer but you really don’t need any more than that,” he says. “After all, it’s not me doing the sailing.” This mix of polo shirts and high performance jacket allows him to “feel equally comfortable when following the race” on his own yacht or “at the reception where the winner is announced”.

By contrast, one spectator in her late thirties, a veteran of more than a dozen Rolex gala races, takes a different approach. “Why would I want to copy what the crew wear,” she asks, “when Chanel [which held its recent 2011/2012 cruise collection show at the nearby Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc] have such beautiful cruise wear?”



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