Don’t expect another Michael Phelps moment from Bode Miller. The Olympic and World Cup winning ski racer has so much going on off the slopes these days that he’s content to let his record — six Olympic medals and six World Cup titles — stand for itself. Instead, he’s taken an equity stake in the updated modern ski brand, Aztech Mountain, and will serve as chief innovation officer for the company as he uses his experience on the mountain to improve the fit and function of the collection. Aztech Mountain was launched in 2012 by Anthony Heifara Rutgers and his partner David Roth who have a combined 20 years of experience in the apparel industry, including stints at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s watch and jewelry division and Marc Jacobs. They recently brought Sally Scripter, another LVMH veteran, on board to serve as part of the executive team as they move into Asia and Europe. Over breakfast in TriBeCa Friday morning, Miller took a break from brainstorming with the Aztech team to catch up with WWD.
WWD: You just made an equity investment into Aztech Mountain. How did that come about?
Bode Miller: I originally met the guys at a Bomber event in New York City. But before that, I had a Bomber photo shoot in Portillo, Chile. Bomber is a sort of luxury brand and they didn’t want our Spyder gear, the U.S. Ski Team uniform. So they had a bunch of jackets for me. Portio is up at 10,000 feet and we were down there at the end of their winter and it just so happened that a gnarly storm came through and we got two-and-a-half or three feet of snow. I was out in this huge snow storm for five hours and then we had lunch and I had to go back out there. So I went through the jackets they had for me and put them through much more rigorous testing than you’d usually do for a photo shoot like that. It was serious, I was hiking around and sweating and the wind was blowing, and by the end, I had a real good idea of what the jackets were like. Three of them I wouldn’t wear. I wouldn’t give them a six out of 10 but the Aztech jacket was a nine out of 10. It was comfortable, light, had good breathability, a really good cut, stretch fabric in all the right places, it was well-designed. I’m not an expert per se, but I’ve spent so much time in winter gear in a lot of conditions for the past 35 years, so when something stands out and I meet the guys who did it and I see their backgrounds, that was what was so appealing. These guys are skiers and outdoorsmen but they come from fashion and they know the technical side. Most of the companies you work with, everything is so disjointed and separate and these guys were all together in one tight little package. That was really unique and they had a great understanding of what I could bring to the table. So it was an easy fit.
WWD: Being an ambassador or the face of a brand is a lot different than becoming a partner and putting your own money into it.
B.M.: At this point in my career, I have the privilege of choosing my partners. In the beginning, you more or less take what comes in the door — or what matches up with your brand. But you’re always subject to what’s available, especially in the ski world where there are not infinite choices, especially on the fashion side. If I wanted something, I would have had to start something on my own, find the people, build the brand and do it all myself, because what I wanted didn’t exist. But when I met Aztech the brand, it did, and then I met the guys and they fit the box as well.
WWD: Your title is chief innovation officer. What does that entail?
B.M.: Because this company is a start-up, we’re versatile and wear multiple hats. Everyone in the group is contributing to every different area. In this case, I’m learning new things from them and also contributing things that I feel really comfortable and knowledgable about. So what we’re focusing on now is redesigning the actual garments — little changes in the cut or pocket placement or technical aspects or fabrics — things I have a lot of experience with and feel I can contribute meaningfully right now. Some of it is also looking at the direction of the brand: who do we see in these garments and how do we get there? It’s always a combination of marketing and innovation and philosophical brand stuff.
WWD: Let’s talk about you. You’ve had some injuries to deal with and took last season off.
B.M.: I actually took the last two seasons off. I feel great, not crashing makes you feel good. I couldn’t be happier with where my life’s at right now. I have great partners, I have great stimulating relationships on the business side of things, I’ve been really busy and productive. My kids and my family keep me more than busy. As per usual in my life, I pack 20 pounds of stuff into a 10-pound bag, but it’s been great.
WWD: Do you expect to come back and compete?
B.M.: We haven’t really addressed it, but it’s not at the top of the priority list. Depending on the logistics of everything, it’s a possibility I suppose, but with my family and all my stuff, I just don’t know how it could possibly work. I’m coming up on my fourth [child] in November and I’m very happy with what I’ve accomplished, I really don’t have anything left to prove or do in the sport. I still love racing and the challenge of it, but at some point, you get to a place where you’re perfectly happy moving on and doing other stuff. In the past, my contribution to companies or my compensation was designed around winning races and being in the spotlight, but I think we’re at a place now where I’m making other contributions and the companies I’m partnering with are comfortable with that. No one is trying to push me back into it.
WWD: So you’re not going to pull a Michael Phelps on us and un-retire?
B.M.: I can’t say that I’m not because I’ve already done it twice, but it’s not really the time.
WWD: You’re in town during New York Fashion Week. Are you going to go to any shows?
B.M.: I’ve been lucky enough to go to some over the years here and in Europe, but for this trip, it’s not in the cards. I came in last night and went straight to bed. I was going to go to the Harper’s Bazaar party, but now I’m picking up my son in New York and he’s three and he doesn’t have much appreciation for the fashion world at this point. So we’re going to head home.
WWD: Do you have any daughters?
B.M.: I do, I have an eight-year-old girl and she does have some appreciation for fashion, but she’s stuck in that: “Oh my God, this is cute” phase, so when I go shopping with her and my wife, I can only last about 10 minutes before I have to start exploring other parts of the store.
WWD: Outside of Aztech, what do you like to wear?
B.M.: I would say most of my style is driven by functionality and comfort. Ski racers are built odd with overbuilt butts and legs. I was really fortunate to come into a deal with Prada. It was an eyewear deal, but I had a big merch credit as part of the contract so I have a lot of Prada jeans. That was one of the first times that I really started to get interested in the fashion side of things. I’d never considered stretch denim and their jeans are four-way stretch, so for me, that was a breakthrough. As a ski racer, if you didn’t have a big waist, you had to have your jeans custom cut to fit around your butt and not be all bunched up and baggy when you put a belt around them. And that was just something I thought I had to deal with. But once I recognized that something else was possible and the design and cut could actually accomplish that, it was a breakthrough for me. Their dress shirts are also phenomenal. When you’re moving with a suit on, it’s one of the things that really is frustrating. When you try to put your shoes on, you blow the back of your sport coat out. [And of course, I wear Aztech. The styles] are very understated — nothing really loud, but nice and comfortable with great functionality.