SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER //
GET 'MICHAEL COX ON MONDAY' DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
Japan’s five-time champion’s passion for his adopted country, fashion and racing intersect with a new brand he hopes can shift perception of the sport he loves.
It doesn’t take long after Christophe Lemaire’s lunch in Tokyo for a fan to request a selfie with Japan’s five-time champion.
Of course the request was made ever-so-politely and only after the one-on-one interview with The Report had taken place, dining al fresco at a French-style café.
During lunch there had been the usual double takes and obvious recognition among the busy stream of passer-bys, but Lemaire says he is rarely interrupted during personal time. Not that he ever minds, and his response to the polite request is, of course, ever-so-statesman-like, as is always the case with the Frenchman.
The fan and jockey pose, kind words are exchanged in Japanese, effusive thanks and bows are given from both sides, as is the custom.
The interaction between superstar jockey and awestruck fan says plenty about Lemaire’s level of fame in Japan, his big picture career goals and the aims of his new fashion brand, ‘CL’.
“When I came to Japan and gained a full-time licence there was no plan B for me, so I will be forever grateful for the way things have happened here,” he says.
“I have a wonderful life here and I want to give back to the fans, to Japanese horse racing and to Japan itself. I can’t give something to every fan, I don’t have enough riding gear, but I can create something we can share with, that they can identify with.”
CL started with pop-up stores in major malls in April and has transitioned to an online store for Japanese customers.
“It has been great and many people all around the world have been asking if they can purchase our gear, but I have to say sorry, not yet, maybe in a year or two,” Lemaire says.
“The emphasis is on Japan. We produce everything in Japan. We employ Japanese artists, designers and manufacturers, it is 100 percent based in Japan.”
View this post on Instagram
A percentage of every sale also goes towards supporting ‘TCC Therapy Park‘, a riding park near Ritto Training Centre that utilises retired racehorses as therapy for people with disabilities.
A Google search ‘Christophe Lemaire’ and ‘fashion’ brings up results of another Japan-based Frenchman named Christophe Lemaire: the artistic director of fashion giant Uniqlo, Japan.
That some of Lemaire’s fans have thought that the jockey is talented enough to maintain such a lucrative Monday-to-Friday side hustle – head of design for a major multinational fashion brand on weekdays, G1 jockey on weekends – speaks to the superhero status he has achieved here.
Then there is his sartorial elegance – carrying on a long tradition of French jockeys like Olivier Doleuze and Gerald Mosse who dress impeccably – and the classy way he carries himself.
“The other Christophe Lemaire is a famous French designer, which is why I could not use my full name in the brand, it is already taken – he is known as a Christophe Lemaire in the fashion world, so we had to go with CL,” Lemaire says.
There are few leading jockeys that speak with as much passion and eloquence as Lemaire does on horse racing, but that he can do it in four languages – he jokes that this interview is in his ‘fifth best” – makes him a valuable asset to the sport.
Something Lemaire has always been passionate about when he does speak, in whichever language, is changing the image of racing.
We wanted to create a horse racing fashion brand, to take racing out of the racecourse and bring it to the street.
“The first idea of this brand is about promoting horse racing in a different way to what it is now,” he says. “The image of horse racing, which here, at one time, was all about gambling, gambling, gambling. We want to try to change that image. You can wear basketball items – sneakers, T-shirts, with your favourite team on it. You can wear soccer shirts. Different sports have their own merchandise and they have an influence on fashion. We wanted to create a horse racing fashion brand, to take racing out of the racecourse and bring it to the street.”
Lemaire admits that his mission to change racing’s long-held perception as simply a vehicle for gambling is a big one, but like each request from the selfie and autograph hunters, it is one he welcomes.
“I don’t want to put limits on myself,” he says. “I love my job, and I love global horse racing. I think I could make a nice ambassador, to talk about the sport, to tell stories and to promote the game.”
It seems Lemaire’s goals are manifesting: he will captain the rest of the world team at the upcoming Shergar Cup at Ascot on August 6, his first appearance in the event since 2011, a golden opportunity for him to represent the sport and country he loves.
“I just want to improve the perception of the sport in the public mind,” he says. “I want to change the image of racing, that is a big challenge, but this is my goal.”
GET 'MICHAEL COX ON MONDAY' DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX