Chatting personal style with SIMON PAGENAUD

Just in case you’ve been busy celebrating your mother this past weekend, there’s a name that has been dominating sports media across the country since Saturday afternoon: Simon Pagenaud. You want to become familiar with that name, and the person attached to it, because I’ve got a sneaking suspicion we will be seeing it a lot not only the rest of this month but well into the future.

For those of you not yet sufficiently informed, Simon Pagenaud won the inaugural Grand Prix of Indy on the new 14-turn, 2.439-mile track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) this past Saturday, May 10. This is a big deal on many accounts. First, Simon won the race with barely any fuel left in his tank. He was running second on lap 78 when the driver in front of him, Oriol Servia, was forced to the pits to re-fuel. With only four laps to go, Simon took the lead, fighting off Ryan Hunter-Reay, and playing a very intense game of trying to save fuel while still going faster than everyone behind him, Pagenaud crossed the finish line less than a second before Hunter-Reay. Second, this was Simon’s first win of the 2014 season and his first win at IMS. Third, Simon’s name will forever go in the record books as the very first winner of what I expect to be an increasingly popular race.

What might be just a little surprising, though, is that as intense and confident as Simon is about racing, he feels much the same about fashion. No, the good fashion sense has nothing to do with Pagenaud being a native of Poitiers, France. Please, stop embracing silly stereotypes. Instead, Simon credits another race car driver with igniting his love of clothes. “[When I was] younger I had a teammate that was really good looking, I’ve got to say,” Simon told us. “He always had the right gear, and he always looked fantastic and the viewers loved him.  He helped me understand about fashion when I was 18. From that moment on I started to get into [fashion] and my taste developed as well.”

Saying Simon’s fashion taste has developed well might be an understatement. When I caught up with him last week, he was sponsoring a trunk show at Raleigh Limited in the Fashion Mall that included menswear from five different labels. After watching the star driver for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports work the room for a few minutes, it was obvious Simon is just as comfortable with the fashion business as he is behind the wheel of the #77 IndyCar. Simon prefers well-tailored, high-end men’s wear and considers events at stores like Raleigh to be as well fitting as the Sand suit he was wearing.

No, the suit he was wearing wasn’t made of sand, but by Sand, the Copenhagen-based label led by husband and wife team Lene and Soren Sand. Triluxe has only recently brought the label to the United States and executive vice president Rian Gardiner was on hand at Simon’s event to introduce the brand to Indianapolis and personally dress Simon. Sand is a very Y-generation oriented brand, strong on quality tailoring and comfort. For many young adults like Simon, who turns 30 this next Sunday (the 18th), Sand is taking over space traditionally held by older and more established labels.

Consider the response I received when asking Simon who might be his favorite designer.

Hugo Boss is my favorite. But I’ve got to say, this one I’m wearing now, this new brand, this fits me well. I like this brand because of the cuts, very thin here (at the waist). They’ve been dressing me here. I’m very grateful and very thankful for this. So, it used to be Hugo Boss but now it’s going to be Sand.”

Granted, a bit of that response might have been influenced by the event at which it was made. One is supposed to like the label that’s putting their clothes on one’s back, correct? But Simon’s the sort of person who expects the same level of performance from his clothes as he does the race car that spirits him around IMS at record-setting speeds. Pagenaud is very much aware of what makes him look good and, even more importantly, what feels good on his back. Wear something that’s not up to the standards he has set? Not likely.

Not all IndyCar drivers are quite as fashion conscious, though. I’ve met what I consider to be a rather impressive string of drivers, including a few former winners of the Indianapolis 500, and have never seen the off-track fashion savvy from any of them that Simon exhibits. If anything, I’ve found that a few are practically unrecognizable when not in their highly-visible race suits, coming off as sloppy and careless in both their dress and their behavior. Simon is one of those people who understands just how much personal power and confidence can be found in one’s choice of clothes.

“Fashion has always been something I like. I always like to be dressed well. I feel very confident when I’m dressed well,” Simon said.  “I don’t like to worry about how I’m going to look, how people are going to perceive me, so to have full confidence and feel well in my skin I need to dress well. That’s how I got interested in fashion.”

Watching Simon work the Raleigh Limited showroom, that confidence showed. He is quick with a smile, as friendly and engaging as one would want a burgeoning race celebrity to be. Of course, everyone other than me seemed to want to talk with the driver about racing. Go figure. I even had to wait a moment while WTHR’s Chuck Lofton talked with Simon about the Grand Prix track, his feelings on the Indy Racing League, and anticipation for Saturday’s race.

I have a feeling some people might talk to Simon just to hear his French accent, which is still pretty heavy despite the fact he’s lived in Indianapolis for quite a while now. “I’ve been here for eight years,” he said to my surprise. “I moved here in 2006. I really like this city. It’s very practical, it’s close to the race team, and centralized in America, so it’s a good place to be.” How have we not run into him at fashion events before? Maybe we just need to make sure he’s on Pattern’s mailing list.

While this past Saturday’s win by no means guarantees anything out on the oval at the 500, there’s little question that Simon Pagenaud is likely to be a top contender and a driver worth watching for several seasons to come. I fully expect to see Simon doused in milk more often, and hope to see him dressed in Sand around Indy more often as well. We wish Simon and the whole Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team the best not only for the 500 but the rest of the season!

Special thanks to Krystin Wigg at Grand Solutions for helping make our interview with Simon possible.

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