CHPT3 x POC Devesa
Words by Timothy John
Photography by The Poole Agency/Alex Duffill
The collaboration between POC and CHPT3 to create the Ventral Devesa SPIN helmet and special edition Crave and Require glasses represents an understated triumph. Both parties have so strong an aesthetic that such a successful project could hardly have been predicted.
Indeed, placing a pattern inspired by a forest near Girona on such a beguilingly simple union of form and function as the Ventral SPIN helmet might have been akin to drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa; so too, adding a camo-like pattern to the Crave and Require glasses. That disaster was avoided and victory seized on all fronts speaks volumes for everyone involved.
Magnus Gustavsson was POC’s lead on the collaboration, even if he insists any credit for its success must be shared with his colleagues, specifically with industrial designer Claes Nellestam and Fredrik Hallander, POC’s R&D director. The former is described by an insider as “very much part of the POC DNA”, and frequently the progenitor of its striking helmet and eyewear designs. The latter is the genius responsible for POC’s iconic Octal helmet.
Gustavsson, the leader of POC’s hard goods team, a design engineer and graduate of Jönköping University’s school of engineering, is in good spirits when speak on a Skype connection from Stockholm. A strong cyclist, and a member of POC’s design coterie for the last four years, he seems almost predestined to have led the Swedish half of this intriguing collaboration: he had, after all, grown up admiring the sporting achievements of David Millar, the CHPT3 founder.
The arc of Millar’s brilliant, if occasionally controversial riding career intersected with POC’s own expansion from snow sports to the cycle market by the happiest of accidents. Ryder Hesjedal, Millar’s teammate at Garmin-Sharp, began to race in POC’s Did eyewear in 2013; a design so quintessentially POC that it could scarcely have been more distinct from the peloton’s insect-like default.
A year later, and with POC’s relationship with Garmin-Sharp cemented, the Swedes sent further shockwaves through a deeply conservative sport by equipping the team with the Octal helmet. The rest, as they say, is history. POC has maintained excellent relations with Millar since his retirement and Hesjedal, by happy coincidence, has become a CHPT3 ambassador. Considered in this context, the Devesa collaboration becomes more than serendipitous, and seems almost predestined.
A final note before we hear from Millar and from Gustavsson: the Devesa collaboration represents the first time a pattern has appeared on any POC product. For admirers of both marques (this writer included), the stakes could hardly have been higher.
Iterative by nature
All product design is iterative in nature. The objects that surround us, even those so familiar that it is almost impossible to imagine them in different form, will have been imagined and reimagined, over and over.
If the Devesa pattern seems almost to have grown on the Ventral SPIN helmet, then this is not so fanciful a notion; certainly, the process by which the final design was realised might be described as organic.
The scale and application of the print is also revealing. Gustavsson explains that careful consideration was given to the areas of the helmet on which the print would appear, and, of equal consequence, where it would not. The industrial process (more of which later) dictated an “all-over print”, but the impact of the design gains much from the balance of patterned and plain.
An example? Consider the balance between the Devesa print and CHPT3 logo, at the front of the helmet, above the temporal lobe; logo on the left, pattern on the right. Such satisfying symmetry is not arrived at by chance.
“We wanted it to feel like a part of the design and not something that we just put on the whole of the outside of the helmet,” Gustavsson explains. “It’s an all-over print, but it’s also very defined in the areas that we wanted it to be and the areas that we didn’t want it to be, to fit the design of the helmet perfectly.”
He laughs when I raise the topic of iterations (“There were a lot with this project!”), confirming my theory that the most successful designs are realised by a process of almost constant revision. Such a detailed undertaking might have been predicted from a collaboration of perfectionists.
“In the early meetings, when we drew the first sketches, it felt like the process could be pretty fast; that we could draw it in one or two rounds and then off we would go, but it wasn’t really the case,” Gustavsson confides. “We are picky and they are picky about how things should look. I guess it was ten different rounds of sample helmets, and more if we take into account colourways.”
Aesthetics vs. process
Colourways? The only Ventral SPIN helmet with Devesa print in the public domain is black with orange straps. Might there be others?
“We’ll see, maybe,” Gustavsson hints. “The black one immediately worked really, really well, but we had some other colours during the process that we liked…” And? Our breath is bated. “But we killed them at the end.” More laughter.
If this seems excessive, consider that not only is the Devesa pattern the first applied to any POC design, but also that this CHPT3 edition of the Ventral SPIN helmet is the first where strap and shell colour differ. The admission causes Gustavsson further amusement (“We may sound boring, but we like to be really consistent”) but POC of all brands - unique, innovative and supremely stylish - can surely be afforded a moment of self-deprecation.
The conversation returns to colourways. Did the position of the pattern change with the shade? No, says Gustavsson. The pattern shifted among the various iterations, but colour was not the driving force. Instead, the most significant factor was not aesthetic, but practical.
In the manufacturing phase, the Ventral SPIN’s vacuum-formed, polycarbonate cover was susceptible to colour deviations, the result of a process that bends the screen-printed sheet, making it thinner at the edges than on the top. POC’s solution involved pre-shaping the cover to ensure that the pattern was correctly positioned - and with no colour deviations - once in place.
The entire design process, from the first meeting with CHPT3 to finished product, took about eighteen months. While Gustavsson’s team was able to create sketches and renders at POC’s Stockholm headquarters, its personnel were reliant on manufacturing partners to make physical prototypes. This did nothing to speed the process, Gustavsson concedes, but maintains that honing a design that might ultimately prove impossible to manufacture would be the most obvious waste of time.
Fashion vs. style
Helmets and glasses are, one images, less susceptible to broader trends than POC’s clothing line. Not only is the shape of its helmets closely bound with performance, and the silhouette of its glasses arguably the clearest expression of the POC aesthetic, but such specialist items must surely be more immune to the influence of the High Street than garments.
Further insulation from the vagaries of style came via CHPT3’s clearly defined corporate colours. The truism concerning the fleeting nature of fashion and the more lasting qualities of style is applicable here. Neither POC nor CHPT3 could be described as band wagon jumpers. Gustavsson concurs, and describes his team’s approval of the CHPT3 colour palette as instinctive.
“For us it was a really nice gut feeling, when we saw their corporate colours, which are orange, black, grey-ish, white, and blue; so we worked around all these different colours and tried to create a nice-looking helmet.”
Not only a helmet. The Devesa collaboration also includes two pairs of glasses: Crave, a large volume, performance offering, and the more lifestyle-oriented Require. POC applied a design at once reminiscent of tortoiseshell and military camouflage to both. The design process for the glasses - items too small to do any real justice to the Devesa pattern - revealed the close alignment of the two brands.
“Our early sketches and some of the creative ideas we’d generated for internal use included a tortoiseshell design. CHPT3 had come up with the same idea, even though they hadn’t seen ours, until we’d had a meeting in which we showed them some of the ideas we’d been working on; so together with their design team, we ended up with the way that they look.”
A satisfying alignment
There is something so satisfying about the Devesa collaboration that the backstory, when it was told to us by an insider, seemed more confirmation than revelation. The Swedes had remained in contact with Millar after his retirement, and indeed before CHPT3 gathered momentum. A glance at the fruits of their first collaboration is enough to deduce a closer alignment than mere commercial expedience.
Hesjedal’s involvement as ambassador is another serendipitous association. Our source inside POC describes him as “the reason we started in the peloton”. The Canadian’s unprompted adoption of their Did glasses was a case of lightning striking twice for POC, whose breakthrough in the snow sports market came when American ski legend Bode Miller arrived at ice hockey games wearing a POC cap (much to the chagrin of his sponsors, one assumes).
While this other Miller was beyond the reach of such a young company in 2005, the interest expressed by founder Stefan Ytterborn indirectly began a partnership with skier Julia Mancuso. The relationship swiftly bore fruit of golden hue, when the American won the giant slalom at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. Four years later, Miller joined the POC family.
The sense of inevitability that links POC and its charismatic athletes is not surprising when one considers that the brand is also idiosyncratic. Little wonder that riders like Millar and Hesjedal, and now a design house like CHPT3, have gravitated towards the Stockholm aesthetes. In the case of the Devesa collaboration, we can be certain the relationship is rooted in mutual admiration.
“When I was young, I always looked up to these guys,” Gustavsson explains, “and when they started CHPT3, it was a brand I looked upon as really nice, and with some similarities to POC, in their way of thinking. Of course, I think maybe that history was involved in some way [in the Devesa project], but I don’t know if the design in itself took any part of that.”
It’s important not to overlook the value of the CHPT3 design team’s input. Gustavsson notes that his collaborators shared POC’s insistence on perfection. This much is easy to imagine. In less than four years, CHPT3 has earned a reputation not only for a certain elegance, but also for an attention to detail bordering on obsessive. Their values are writ large on the Devesa project.
A shared history
David Millar’s association with POC lies at the centre of the Devesa collaboration. As a rider for Garmin-Sharp, he worked closely with the brand, his influence most keenly felt on the Cerebel time-trial helmet, developed with POC by Robby Ketchell, then Slipstream Sports’ in-house polymath and a sports scientist intimately acquainted with Millar’s riding style.
Now retired from professional cycling, Millar’s relationship with POC is channeled through style of a different kind: a shared concern with aesthetics, rather than riding position. Note that while the subject has changed, the approach has not. The attention to detail Millar once applied to winning stages and leader’s jerseys at all three Grand Tours finds an outlet in his immersion in colours, shapes, patterns and production methods.
“Obviously, our patterns are incredibly thought out. They’re not just thrown together in a morning,” Millar explains. “They tend to be heavily based in narrative, and often use quite advanced technology to produce. Devesa is probably the best we’ve created to date, because it has such a strong narrative; one that connects not only with me, but more importantly to Girona, where POC’s relationship with professional cycling began, and where it continues today with Team EF-Education First.”
The collaboration is founded in more than a shared appreciation for a single design, however. Millar believes that CHPT3’s identity gives POC license to push its own aesthetic boundaries. The Swedish brand is so intimately associated with purity of form and silhouette that, by itself, it might not have considered introducing patterns to its products.
We return to the Millar factor. The shared history between brand and rider has provided an authentic platform on which to build the collaboration. The Devesa print might be the first pattern applied to any POC product, but it is no bolt from the blue.
“It’s an abstract design that has a real connection to what POC are doing,” Millar argues. “I think that’s pretty interesting, and that’s what has allowed POC to do it: they realised that there is a string connecting them to CHPT3, and that it’s not just a random surface design.”
First dates and the nitty gritty
The value of mutual admiration should not be underestimated. Millar jokes that CHPT3’s first meetings with POC were “a little like dating”. Gustavsson’s admission of “a really nice gut feeling” about the collaboration is echoed in Millar’s more expansive praise.
Industry observers will recognise the elements that Millar found so attractive, notably a rare commitment to pure design, while those fortunate enough to have visited the beautiful red brick and glass building on an otherwise unassuming Stockholm side street will readily understand his enthusiasm for a working environment so intrinsic to POC’s beautiful products.
“When I visited POC, I just thought: ‘Oh, I love this. It’s amazing.’ It’s such a pure environment. It’s not just about design; they’re an engineering company as well, but it’s all done with such a clear aesthetic,” he says.
“It’s very rare to come across a brand in cycling which is a pure design-engineering house. They really do behave in that way. They’re experimental, they’re pushing limits; the amount of products they have always in development, the things they’re doing that no one knows about - it’s really exciting.”
Conversation with POC insiders confirms that the feeling is mutual. From CHPT3’s colour palette to the shared history garnered from Millar’s racing career, it is clear that the Devesa collaboration is founded in deeper motivations than mere commercial expedience. Millar himself confirms as much.
“Before the collaboration kicked off, it was almost like dating at first: you check each other out a little bit. Before it gets to the nitty gritty of the commercial deal, the design teams have to get on. Nothing is going to happen unless the design teams can work together well.
“I think POC appreciated the level of detail that we at CHPT3 put into everything. Everything is considered. Nothing is done merely for the sake of it, and we only work with companies who are proprietary.
“CHPT3 wouldn’t work with a brand that didn’t fit the strict criteria of being technically led and forward thinking, in regards to design. And POC arguably is the most [technically-led and forward thinking brand] in cycling.”
21st Century Boys
CHPT3 has already embraced a subtle but significant change of emphasis, and its portfolio of partners has rapidly grown. Millar is disarmingly frank in his admission that the brand’s remit has broadened further than he’d imagined at launch. Collaboration with CHPT3, he argues, has already become “a stamp of approval” for a host of distinctive and innovative brands, POC included.
Millar welcomes this development. CHPT3 was launched “without a script or a road map,” he admits, but the brand’s “naivety” has proven to be its strongest suit. Millar and his small team had no plans for world domination, only to operate at the highest level in cycling by mixing technical excellence with elegance. The same might be said of POC, conceived solely as a snow sports brand, and which has grown to be a leading player in cycling, too.
With this in mind, partnership between the two seems almost inevitable. Certainly, Millar is an enthusiastic believer in the value of collaboration as a conduit to creativity. While CHPT3 has neither the time or resources to develop, say, clothing or helmets to win the Tour de France, it has the ability to work with brands that do. And by working with CHPT3, the partners gain “permission” to explore new pathways.
“The opportunity we offer them is to think outside of their box, because we are a bit off-centre,” Millar confides. “Eccentric? Perhaps not, but we certainly operate in quite a narrow field. Collaboration allows us to do things we couldn’t do on our own and allows our partners to do things that they might not have done by themselves either.”
Millar describes CHPT3 as “a collaboration brand” and believes that this is “a very 21st century thing.” With so many brands already established in cycling, and the costs of entry to certain markets prohibitively high, the alignment of two distinct visions opens new and exciting pathways. Creative partnerships have rapidly become CHPT3’s calling card.
“It’s becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. People within the industry are recognising us as a brand to work with and, ironically, because we are doing this in quite an organic way, we are probably better-recognised within the industry than at consumer level. It’s not the best commercial model, but it is authentic, that’s for sure. We’re getting a reputation for being good to work with, for being very strict with our brand and for being small and fluid.”
The same, but different
The smallest changes can be the most important. How many of even POC’s most ardent admirers would register the wider significance of a pattern introduced to one of its products? That the CHPT3 x POC Ventral Devesa SPIN helmet has resulted from sources as diverse as a relationship forged in the white heat of professional cycling and a mutual appreciation of aesthetics, detail and even workspace indicates the sincerity of the collaboration.
So strong is the POC identity that it is among the tiny minority of cycling brands that can genuinely claim a disruptive presence in the market place. It’s ability to realise sophisticated engineering concepts without compromise to an aesthetic that champions simplicity of form places it in a rarer category still.
CHPT3 is the same, but different. Millar’s insistence on the highest standards will not surprise any who know him, or who have merely witnessed him in the act of riding a bicycle. It’s perhaps not too far-fetched to see a connection between a sublime pedal stroke and an aesthetic purity that instantly confers status on CHPT3’s growing portfolio of collaborators.
How far might the association extend? While the success of the Devesa collaboration suggests a scratching of the surface, neither POC nor CHPT3 has any taste for routine, one suspects. Both are consistently surprising, in the best sense. Neither could be described as predictable, and neither is given to standing still.
Since launching the CHPT3 x POC Ventral Devesa SPIN, Stockholm’s smartest have released the Ventral Air; a melding of the Ventral and Octal to create a helmet that is not only aerodynamically pure, but which is supremely well ventilated. CHPT3 meanwhile continues to explore creative partnerships with a host of specialists, from saddle makers to manufacturers of folding bikes.
Few companies in any field have the vision to make standard practice of surprise and delight. An underlying solidity is required. POC relies on the engineering intelligence of its industrial designers to ensure that its signature style is never realised at the expense of substance, while CHPT3 can call upon the insights of a now-retired competitor who turned grace and elegance on the bike into a sporting advantage.
Chapeau then to POC, and to CHPT3. The Devesa collaboration is at once a delicious surprise and an entirely predictable success. The aesthetic challenge has been overcome, POC’s purity retained and CHPT3’s pattern showcased. The Mona Lisa, we can be certain, has been spared a moustache.