Monaco Grand Prix: Where Formula One meets fashion

    (CNN)Celebrities, billionaires, acting A-listers -- and a few super-fast Formula One drivers -- will flock to this week's Monaco Grand Prix.

    The tiny principality on the Cote d'Azur is a place to see and be seen, and that means dressing to impress on the sun-blushed streets of Monte Carlo.
    "This is the peak of Formula One," exudes F1 TV presenter Kai Abel. "The wealthiest people in the world come here, Hollywood meets F1, and sport meets business. This is jet-set style dressing."
      "It's very bling-bling," agrees Monte Carlo fashion retailer Stephanie Penasse. "When you have a lot of money you show it, and to not have the same dress as your neighbour you spend a lot of money."
      The worlds of F1 and fashion might seem poles apart but imagine if we drew a Venn diagram between the two -- they have a lot more in common than you might think.
      Glamor, design, money, luxury, celebrities, an international stage... the list goes on.
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      Sonia Irvine, sister of former Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine, was quick to spot the link between F1 and fashion.
      Nearly a decade ago, she organized the first Amber Lounge charity fashion show in Monaco where the drivers get dolled up to swap the pit lane for the catwalk.
      "There is a strong element of glamor and fashion in F1," she explained to CNN. "In F1 we always strive to be the best and fashion designers are the same. So the idea came along to combine the two."
      The fashion show is staged around the poolside terrace of the four-star Meridien Beach Plaza hotel as the sun sets over the Mediterranean and is now established as one of the highlights of the grand prix weekend.
      This year eight drivers, including Red Bull racer Dany Kvyat and Sauber's Felipe Nasr, along with some of their female partners, led by 2009 world champion Jenson Button's stunning model wife Jessica, will take a turn on the catwalk.
      The F1 pilots participating in Irvine's show will be dressed in $8,000 bespoke tailor-made suits by London designer Apsley.
      "We've got elite drivers, all these cool women, headline designers Julien MacDonald and Odabash MacDonald and sexy models," adds Irvine, who organises the show in aid of Autism Rocks, which raises money for the Autism Research Trust.
      Just like any runway show there are also famous faces on the front row. Justin Bieber watched from fashion's pole position last year.
      "The teams and some of the drivers and sport's TV presenters enjoy it because they bring along their important VIPs and celebrity guests," says Irvine.
      "The majority of the drivers like doing it. It's good PR for them to be seen outside the track doing something fashion-orientated. It gives them a profile for sunglasses sponsors or designers, for example."
      Made to measure
      The drivers are also used to a certain level of pampering when it comes to their race kit as every item they wear during a grand prix is tailored to perfectly fit their body.
      "The racesuit, shoes and underwear are all made to measure," James Clark, Puma's Head of Sports Marketing Motorsport, tells CNN. "We provide everything but the helmet.
      "Over 19 races and three tests I would say a driver gets through between six and 10 pairs of racing shoes. But that depends on their driving style, some of them are hard brakers and need more."
      Puma kits out world champion Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg as well as Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. The German global sportswear giant will also supply the Red Bull team in 2016.
      "The drivers are always looking for comfort in the car," explains Clark. "The team technicians are looking for the clothes to be lightweight.
      "There are some drivers who are happy with what we give them as standard product and others that make a lot of changes and are very, very detail orientated.
      "The product gets adjusted if the car's pedals get slimmer, the seat gets changed or the drivers lose or gain two kilos, for example. It is an ongoing process with every driver."
      Away from the track, former Amber Lounge model Hamilton, is now emerging as a style icon in his own right.

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      A photo posted by Lewis Hamilton (@lewishamilton) on

      The double world champion has been jet setting to Paris and New York Fashion Week with celebrity pals Naomi Campbell and Kim Kardashian in between his racing commitments.
      The new-look hip Hamilton seems as at home on the catwalk front row as he is in the greasy pit lane.
      "Lewis is finding his way somewhere between Pharrell Williams and Floyd Mayweather Jr," Ebel, the stylish presenter for Germany's RTL Television, tells CNN. "He's someone who stands out from the drivers."
      Irvine agrees: "What Lewis wears in everyday life is very stylish. He's photogenic as well."
      Serious style
      F1's drivers are not the only fashion-conscious members of the sport's paddock, a strip of concrete between the teams' motorhomes and garages which is akin to a catwalk.
      Everyone who parades up and down over a grand prix weekend, from the racers' wives and girlfriends to VIP guests, is under constant scrutiny.
      "You are photographed in everything that you do from the minute you walk in to the minute you leave," explains Irvine, who swapped a job in the National Health Service to work as a physiotherapist for her racing driver brother.
      "I went from a world that was not very style conscious, where I wore a uniform, to a world where there are photographers and film crews everywhere.
      "You have to be aware of how you look and keep yourself fit and presentable."
      It's not only F1's females who are style savvy. German TV presenter Ebel has a reputation, and a bit of a cult following, as one of the sport's snappiest dressers.
      "F1 is a big mixture of a hi-tech show and business, there are many, many people involved and you shouldn't look like a hustler," Ebel says.
      "If you go out of the house, it's my philosophy that you should look in the mirror and say, 'OK, that's good. I'm going here for work and I have to at least look serious and not that I'm going to the beach.'"
      The style stakes are raised for the race around Monaco's principality where high end boutiques such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton are just a coin toss from the racing track.
      "This is the peak of F1," explains Ebel. "Monaco's Prince Albert is there, a lot of actors come down from the Cannes Film Festival, maybe you see the wealthiest people in the world on a small street -- so that's why you need to dress up a little bit more in Monaco.
      "But when the race is on and the sun is shining we have to work, so it's not possible to go there in black tie!
      "In Monaco there is also a special issue as you have to walk a lot, it's more like a marathon than any other race, so it's sensible to wear some sneakers. It's not a place for Western boots!
      "The plan is to make it [his outfit] a little bit yacht style. Some bright colours, maybe something red or yellow."
      The 'what to wear' dilemma is luckily taken away from the team personnel and drivers on duty over the Monaco GP weekend.
      Teams and drivers are kitted out with a uniform reflecting the colors of the cars' livery and peppered with sponsor logos.
      Brand appeal
      These more corporate outfits began phasing out oily mechanic overalls by the 1970s when sponsorship deals changed F1's image, as well as its bank statements.
      Puma estimates it provides 700 Mercedes and Ferrari staff with team kits, which amounts to between 1500 and 2000 shirts per team for the season.
      "The product has to be durable because team people are working four days in a row for potentially 16 hours," adds Clark. "The shoes must have cushioning and stability.
      "We also work with the teams to design the product around their brand appeal. We would never give Mercedes and Ferrari the same design and just change the color."
      Puma has to make sure its F1 products blend high performance with style because the second phase of its F1 business relies on appealing to fans keen to buy replica shirts and other licensed products.
      "Athletes today are in many cases fashion and lifestyle icons," explains Puma chief executive Bjorn Gulden, a former professional footballer. "The drivers are fashion conscious and F1 attracts a lot of fashion-conscious people from celebrities, sponsors and part of its fans.
      "I don't think I've ever met any athlete who doesn't care about what he or she is wearing.
      "So, the demand on look, feel and product performance is becoming bigger and bigger. Fan wear is also more sophisticated than it was 10 years ago in terms of material and cut.
      "F1's popularity in new markets is very, very high and the demand for product is increasing. So we're very happy with what F1 is doing with us."
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      For those seeking out apparel beyond a scarlet Ferrari cap or a shimmering Silver Arrows shirt, the stores of Monte Carlo are a snug fit for the chic F1 fan.
      The race takes place on some of the principality's most famous roads so parking can be a bit of a problem, but the dedicated discerning shoppers are a boon for local fashion retailers.
      "We are on Avenue des Spelugues so the racing cars pass by," says Penasse, manager of the luxury Metropole Shopping Center in the heart of Monte Carlo.
      "Sometimes we have less clients [when the grand prix is on] but we have very high level clients, so they spend more.
      "The grand prix is very important to businesses in Monaco because a lot of people come here and spend a lot of money in the restaurants and fashion stores.
      "We advertise to say 'hello, we're here.' For us it's the beginning of the season."
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      The Monaco Grand Prix is the most famous and evocative race on F1's calendar but its setting in a millionaire's playground offers something other races can't quite match -- luxury retail therapy.
      If you've not got it, then you can definitely buy it in Monte Carlo, and then you can flaunt it.
      "It's normally men who go to the F1 and maybe their wives are bored with this so they can do shopping during the grand prix," suggests Penasse playfully. "So for me, yes, F1 and fashion can work together!"