The Reinvention Of Dan Carter: How The Rugby Great Found A New Kind Of Greatness

By Rebecca Barry Hill
Dan Carter wears Zambesi suit and Sunspel T-shirt. Photo / Babiche Martens

Post-rugby, Dan Carter wears many hats (and luxury shoes). He tells Rebecca Barry Hill how he’s taking his passion for winning and leadership into the next stage of his life.

Dan Carter’s Pretty Woman moment wasn’t on Rodeo Drive but on the Champs Élysées. It was 2004 and the young

“He thought I was going to steal something,” he laughs. “I wanted to prove him wrong.”

After dropping about €1000 on a jacket, he made sure to look the guard in the eye on his way out of the store, as if to say “Big mistake! Huge!” Then went back to his hotel room and freaked out about the money he’d just spent.

“But I’ve still got that jacket to this day, and I still wear it,” he says. “And that’s where I learned a lot about price per wear. Luxury items are enduring because they’re made with quality. It sparked a real fascination with luxury goods and luxury brands. And that grew.”

Dan wears Wynn Hamlyn shirt and trousers. R.M. Williams boots. Photo / Babiche Martens
Dan wears Wynn Hamlyn shirt and trousers. R.M. Williams boots. Photo / Babiche Martens

It’s a classic Dan Carter story because it illustrates the dichotomy of his life: there’s the humble off-duty dad who insists he spends most days in trackpants, coaching rugby and playing with his four boys; the retired world-class first five-eighths and recent inductee into the Rugby Hall of Fame who, in his recent book The Art of Winning, writes of the importance of whakapapa and remembering where you came from.

Then there’s the fact he’s about to jet off to Paris for the Rugby World Cup, where sponsor duties call — before the family enjoys a sojourn in the South of France.

There are the seemingly disparate projects, from his passion to “give back” via his DC10 Fund, a partnership with children’s charity Unicef with an online store that sees proceeds of merchandise sales go toward the charity; to his longstanding friend-of-the-brand status with Louis Vuitton, which has led to his name being attached to a luxurious new sports trunk. There’s the contradiction of the outfit he’s wearing, a smart-casual combo from Kiwi clothing subscription service Asuwere — “I don’t like shopping,” he says, sheepishly — with the fact that he’s a shareholder and ambassador for luxury department store Faradays, where he was instrumental in introducing LVMH subsidiary brand Celine to the New Zealand market this year.

And there’s the fact his partnership with cut-price Aussie brand Chemist Warehouse feels somewhat at odds alongside the likes of similar arrangements with Moët Hennessy. Perhaps it’s no wonder he felt compelled to write a book.

“Every day I got out of bed knowing what I wanted to achieve, and that was to be the best rugby player possible,” says Dan, the world’s No. 1 international rugby points scorer, who played 112 test matches for the All Blacks, winning two Rugby World Cups.

“When that finished, I was a little bit lost, and I was saying yes to a lot of things. There’s a bit of FOMO that that project might be really successful. This business might be the next big thing. Or you’re just saying yes because you’ve got a bit more extra time on your hands.

“And I was doing too much, I didn’t have any framework to help me with my decision-making.”

So he did what anyone with friends in high places would do and reached out to former Saatchi & Saatchi boss Kevin Roberts, to help him, as Roberts puts it, “repurpose”. Part of that process was to literally write his next chapter, a therapeutic exercise that eventually culminated in the book. He also realised he could share the mental strategies that his All Blacks’ mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka had taught him, the renewed focus allowing Dan and his team-mates to turn around their prior defeats at the 2003 and 2007 Rugby World Cup semi- and quarter-finals.

Dan wears Wynn Hamlyn shirt. Photo / Babiche Martens
Dan wears Wynn Hamlyn shirt. Photo / Babiche Martens

He’s already shared a taste of them with some elite audiences. There was his speech at Louis Vuitton in Paris, in which he spoke to the company’s general managers about his learnings as an All Black and the importance of humility. Another at the Forbes Australia Leadership Forum in August on the attitude and dedication required to turn your fortune around. He’s even held online sessions with surgical teams — and an event with star chef Josh Emett, where the theme for each was remaining cool under pressure.

He still gets nervous beforehand, but he leans on a technique he used on the field — a confidence gleaned from knowing he’s done the prep required.

“I was never a natural-born leader,” he adds, exuding the air of calm we’ve become accustomed to seeing right before a successful conversion. “I was always pretty quiet as a child. And even my early rugby days, I didn’t say a lot.”

But throughout his progression in the sport, and by practising speaking up on the field, sometimes dramatically so in training to prepare for the noise of the stadium, he realised he’d become a clear and effective leader.

“That’s why I’ve used my book as a platform to help grow that.”

The book distills the 10 lessons he’s learned from playing 20 years of top-level rugby, and delves into an element of the game that’s otherwise largely invisible: resilience. Back then, when he felt his mind teetering towards what he calls the redhead state, he used to slap himself on the leg to jolt himself back into focus.

While you won’t see him wandering down the road whacking his thigh these days, he’s enjoying a new phase of “learning and developing and growing”. The pressure now comes from taking on new challenges. And dealing with his children, he laughs.

There have been setbacks. In 2008 he launched his luxury Italian clothing line, Gas, with stores in Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland and Mount Maunganui. By 2010, in the midst of the GFC, the company was in liquidation. A more recent foray into the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) with Dan’s digital art business Glorious has led to partnerships with Wimbledon and presentations of New Zealand artists such as Rita Angus, Karl Maughan and Fiona Pardington, but NFT values have slumped this year — a “crypto winter” he concedes. Surely it must be hard when your passion in life is to win at everything?

It’s more about “controlling the controllables”, he says, and thinking of pressure as a privilege, one of the key takeaways from The Art of Winning.

“Once we’ve changed the mindset around pressure and we want it in our lives, we walk towards it, we embrace it, we learn the right tools to be able to deal with those pressure situations. And if you can get through that, you start reaching your goals, you’re on the verge of achieving things that you set out to achieve. That’s where greatness lies.”

Finding a challenge on the same level as top-tier rugby was hard at first but with Roberts’ help, Dan says he came to a swift conclusion about what he’d never do: spend more than two weeks away from his family. Having that new framework made it easier to focus on the things he was passionate about. Like his DC10 Fund with Unicef that helps to fund better access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities at schools and medical centres in the Pacific Islands, an initiative he says particularly resonates with having children of his own. Proceeds from his new DC10 cologne with Chemist Warehouse, along with his new line of hoodies, will go to the fund, as will sales from limited-edition hard copies of his book.

If his signature fragrance says anything about him, perhaps it’s that he likes to play it safe but stylish. “When you’re launching a first fragrance, you don’t want to be too bold, you just want a clean, citrusy scent.”

Dan wears Crane Brothers jacket and jeans, Untouched World T-shirt. Photo / Babiche Martens
Dan wears Crane Brothers jacket and jeans, Untouched World T-shirt. Photo / Babiche Martens

As for his other high-end affiliations, living in Paris when he played for French club Racing 92 opened a lot of doors.

He became good friends with Louis Vuitton’s former CEO, Michael Burke, now the strategic adviser to the chairman at LVMH.

Recently Dan was asked to co-design a bespoke Louis Vuitton Malle Vestiaire, a luxury trunk to store sports equipment and memorabilia. But you won’t see him toting it anywhere.

In 2020 he took an LV bag to Southbridge, where he returned to his hometown to finish off his playing career and help them with a decisive win of the Coleman Shield that year.

“Everyone was giving me grief. ‘Why have you got your wife’s backpack on?’ They keep you pretty grounded. It’s all pretty lighthearted and it’s a constant reminder not to get ahead of yourself.”

There have been many other pinch-me moments, some in France, others in Japan, when he joined Kobelco Kobe Steelers. As an ambassador for luxury Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer he went to the Formula 1 in Monaco three years in a row, and even spent a weekend on their superyacht hobnobbing with the likes of US football star Tom Brady, supermodel Bella Hadid and Aussie acting star Chris Hemsworth. (He mostly talked sport to Brady, he says.)

Sitting front row at Paris Fashion Week at a Louis Vuitton show was another. “You look around and think, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ Let alone being on a photo shoot or designing certain products with them. It couldn’t be more far removed from the little country boy I was …

“But the reason I’m able to go to events and have sponsorships and partnerships — it’s because of the relationships that have been built but more importantly because of what I achieved on the rugby field,” he adds. “Throughout my career it was always a huge focus for me to make sure that rugby was number one… So anything that I go to today is because of the hard work, sacrifice, dedication that I put into my sport.”

In a conversation on British podcast How to Fail with journalist Elizabeth Day, he acknowledged that level of dedication often meant his wife, former Black Stick Honor Carter, was left to do the bulk of the overnight parenting when it came to their four young boys, Marco, Fox, Rocco and Cruz.

But having children towards the end of his career has meant these days, he’s right in the thick of it. Now he’s just like the rest of us in that, rather than being paid to stay fit, he has to fit exercise around the early starts and getting school lunches ready before drop-off. Now he tends to go for a run, do circuit training or take an F45 class, where he says he’s routinely shown up by his classmates.

“If I get a chance to go goal kicking, that’s like meditation for me,” says Dan, who raised money for DC10 last year with a 24-hour kickathon. “Just putting my headphones in, taking a bag of rugby balls down to a rugby field for an hour. That’s my happy place.”

Another healthy habit that has stuck is his Sunday-night planning ritual, a chance to map out the week ahead, do some journalling and set goals, “even if it’s mindset things like remembering to practise positivity or gratitude”.

If that makes it sound like he has everything all figured out, he stresses he’s not perfect. An all-or-nothing mentality extends to what he consumes, he says, whether it’s following up a week of eating too many takeaways with a fast, or an indulgent period with a long sober period.

“Whereas my wife, who is super clean and healthy and consistently doing those things well, she’s like, ‘Why don’t you just do a better job more often?’ I’m a bit of an extremist, so if I’ve had a bad week with my nutrition I’ll punish myself the following week.”

All in a day’s work for a win.

Dan Carter’s Hot Takes

What’s the best thing in your wardrobe right now?

My Louis Vuitton LV trainers. I have four pairs of the same shoe in slightly different colours. I just constantly wear them.

What are you watching?

I’ve almost finished the second season of The Bear (Disney+). I’m hooked. Every night I have to watch one episode before I go to sleep. It doesn’t inspire me to cook but knowing a few chefs, it’s given me new insight into their lives.

If you could eat out anywhere, where would you go?

Sushi is my favourite food. Those authentic little sushi restaurants in Japan that you find in a little corner, you can’t beat them. The freshness of the food is incredible. There were a few in Kobe that I used to go to when I lived there. Every time I go to back to Japan, normally Tokyo, I’ll find a traditional sushi bar.

Where do you go for drinks?

I don’t go out that much, I’m such a homebody. But I’m right into tequila at the moment. Premium tequila, served on the rocks with a bit of lemon. Very simple. I look for good clean tequilas — there aren’t many you can buy in New Zealand. I often try and find them when I’m in the US to bring back.

Photographer / Babiche Martens

Creative and fashion director / Dan Ahwa

Grooming / Shirley Simpson

Fashion assistant / Annabel Dickson

With thanks to Italian Stone.

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