Richard Mille is obsessed with cars
Interviewing Richard Mille, CEO of the eponymous, hyper-luxurious, hyper-expensive, wildly unpredictable watch brand, is a simple matter. One is simply collected from London by private jet and flown to the Le Mans Classic, the vintage car race Mille has sponsored since its inception in 2002. His presence is everywhere: Richard Mille logos are emblazoned on the track, above the pit and throughout the racecourse; at every turn, adverts can be seen for his radical, dial-less skeletonised watches.
Only, Monsieur Mille himself isn’t around. And, what’s more, he doesn’t like to be constrained by things as bourgeois as “timetables” or “plans”. He prefers spontaneity and joie de vivre. So instead, I hunt for him among the throngs of motoring enthusiasts under the beating sun at Le Mans.
He walks past at one point, flanked by a vast entourage. He flashes a smile and vanishes in the direction of his car, a 1971 Matra 660-01, which he plans to race this evening. Then, minutes later, he appears out on the track accompanied by Pharrell Williams and the sprinter Yohan Blake, both brand ambassadors (Blake wears his watch while competing, as do all of Mille’s sporting endorsers, who include Rafael Nadal and golfer Bubba Watson). But of course. Williams and Blake are visiting the starting grid of the Little Big Mans, an event in which children, dressed in full vintage racing outfits, race mini replica cars around the track.
Mille vanishes again, only to pop up 30 minutes later in the “Richard Mille Lounge”, a lavish hospitality suite overlooking the track, staffed by willowy, 6ft-tall women dressed in high heels and catsuits. In a flash, Mille is gone once more. Race time is nearing.
Later, lounge guests are guided into the backs of vast American 4x4s and driven into the nearby forest. Dinner, it has been decreed, will be served in the Golf Club. There is a jazz band, a never-ending supply of food and drink, and even a smattering of real-life Richard Mille watches glinting on the wrists of those in attendance (Mille keeps demand high by producing his watches in incredibly small quantities; the RM 056 Tourbillon Chronograph Sapphire Felipe Massa, for instance, was released in a limited edition of just 10 pieces).
And then, suddenly, Mille is here, strolling through the club restaurant in eye-poppingly tight jeans, and ready to talk. He is tanned, hugely energetic, and almost preposterously Gallic, greeting and joking with absolutely everyone he passes, blowing kisses to friends, glad-handing clients and refusing to take anything seriously. So, what’s behind his love affair with cars? “Why not cars?” he grins. “Nothing is better than cars!”
Nothing? So you prefer them to watches? He gives a conspiratorial wink. “Shhhh! You must tell no one! And anyway, my watches are as they are because of my love of cars!”
There is something in that. Mille’s great breakthrough in watchmaking has been an emphasis on the extraordinary mechanics of his timepieces.
His adverts call them, “A racing machine on the wrist”. He insists he is “anti-bling”, that every mind-boggling feature of his models (a diamond-encrusted spider motif in the RM 19-01, or an “evil eye” in the RM 26-02) is ultimately functional.
And his love of motoring is clear. “My favourite car to drive? The McLaren M23 F1. The car I want but don’t own? The Ferrari 312 B from 1969. It is the best design ever, a piece of art.”
What’s next for the company? “Plenty is next. Plenty. We’ve signed a 10-year deal with McLaren. With a wedding like that, only nice babies come out.” He grins his wolfish grin again. And Mille’s ethos? “I do what I like. Nothing else. And that is luck — that I make a living doing what I like. That is the ultimate luxury. It is caprice.”
Race time comes and goes — and Mille doesn’t bother. He’s having too much fun at dinner. The off-roaders return and haul the assembled revellers back to the Richard Mille Lounge, which has now been fitted out as a discotheque with illuminated dancefloor. The hostesses are now in jumpsuits with matching Adidas trainers. Who’s the first up to join them? Yup. That’s Richard Mille. He does what he likes, and people like what he does.
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This article was originally published in the Esquire Big Watch Book SS17.