LONDON — Hot off his Formula One-themed runway show in Milan and a new strategic partnership with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Tommy Hilfiger is completing his racing circuit and naming Lewis Hamilton as a global brand ambassador.
Starting with the spring season, the fashion-loving British Formula One racing driver and four-time world champion will be the face of Tommy Hilfiger men’s, which includes the Collection and Tailored lines as well as underwear and swimwear.
The appointment, aimed at driving the growth of Hilfiger men’s worldwide and bringing the next generation of fans to the brand, should come as no surprise. Last month, the gregarious Hamilton sat front row — and on the edges of a racetrack-style runway — at the TommyNow show Drive, but kept suspiciously mum about his future with the brand.
“Lewis is a global superstar and he’s not only one of the top athletes in the world, he’s also, in my eyes, a fashion icon. He is a student of fashion, he has a sense of style, and he puts himself together in a very cool way that’s very real,” said Hilfiger during an interview with Hamilton at the brand’s London showroom. “His look is iconic. He has millions of fans all over the world, watching his every move. He has young fans, young men who want to look like him, who want to dress like him. They actually want to emulate him.”
The integrated men’s campaign was photographed by Mikael Jansson at the Pocono Raceway, also known as the Tricky Triangle, in Pennsylvania, and will break globally for spring on March 15. It features video teasers, print, online and unique consumer activations and will run alongside the women’s advertising, which features global women’s wear brand ambassador Gigi Hadid.
The alliance with Tommy Hilfiger is Hamilton’s first in fashion, although he knows the world well. He was an enthusiastic brand ambassador for London Fashion Week Men’s, promoting young design talent, and over the past three years has become a frequent front row and party guest, popping up in Paris at Berluti events, in Cannes at L’Oréal ones and hobnobbing with the Moncler folks in Manhattan. He first met Hilfiger outside the Plaza Hotel in New York, where he was staying with his former manager and where Hilfiger has an apartment, and their relationship took off after Hilfiger sent him a selection of clothes.
Hamilton, who describes his style as “urban chic” and accessorizes with gold chains and chunky diamond ear studs, is also friends with designers including Riccardo Tisci and Olivier Rousteing. Last December he took his fashion passion even further, buying Christopher Bailey’s seven-bedroom home in Kensington for an estimated 18 million pounds.
“Fashion for me is equal to my love of cars, and I’ve obviously been passionate about cars since I was a kid as naturally boys and kids are,” Hamilton said. “Fashion is something that has continuously grown: I remember coming home from school and watching MTV and music stars and they would be wearing Tommy, and so I naturally wanted to, too. I viewed them as role models, wanting to wear these clothes, but not having the opportunity to do so. My parents spent everything to keep us karting [most Formula One racers start with go-karting as kids] and that was life savings from my mum, my stepmum, my dad. They even re-mortgaged the house, like, three times.”
Hamilton — who was dressed top-to-toe in Tommy in a black-and-red leather bomber, T-shirt, jeans and boots from the men’s collection — said he’ll work hard for the brand. He added that he admires the way Hilfiger has been able to reinvent his label “and constantly push the boundaries. I am really keen to kind of learn as much as I can from Tommy, take notes while I watch him and while he does his thing.”
Widely regarded as one of the greatest Formula One drivers in history, winning at least one Grand Prix in every season he has competed, Hamilton already knows a lot about fabric, fit and design. He said he doesn’t like the zip front onesie he wears for work because it’s meant to be worn sitting down not standing up, and it’s covered in flame-proof chemicals.
“It hangs a little bit strange, but when you are sitting in your racing position it fits perfect. When you are standing up, the butt looks big and saggy, but when you are sitting in it, it fits,” he said, adding that he’s also worked hard with Puma over the years to reduce the weight of the onesie, stripping off the badges and embroidery and getting the weight down to a mere 680 grams, or 1.5 pounds, from 1.6 kilos, or 3.5 pounds.
He argues that he’s got the lightest helmet in the business and has even designed his car seat — and his steering wheel. “I really like working with creative people because they often extract something from me that I maybe didn’t know that I had,” Hamilton said.
Another reason for tapping Hamilton is that he’s major user of social media — unlike other Formula One drivers — who connects with more than 17 million fans through his various channels. Hilfiger describes him as a “true influencer” in his own right.
He’s also a sincere one.
Asked about the furor he sparked on Instagram last year after criticizing his young nephew for wearing a princess dress, Hamilton said: “I was playing around with my nephew and realized that my words were inappropriate, so I removed the post. I meant no harm and did not mean to offend anyone at all. I love that my nephew feels free to express himself as we all should.”
Hamilton apologized and said he hopes he can be forgiven for the lapse in judgment. “I realize it is really not acceptable for anyone, no matter where you are from, to marginalize or stereotype anyone. I have always been in support of anyone living their life exactly how they wish.”
There’s a great admiration between Hilfiger and Hamilton that extends beyond the ambassadorship. Hamilton said now that Hilfiger has become the official apparel partner for the four-time World Champions Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, the whole team is looking and feeling good.
“Bringing Tommy on board, there’s now color in our team — and it’s been rejuvenating for us. Now we’ve got color. You go into the garage and you look at the car and it’s black, gray and silver and it’s got a pinch of green, and you can see the Tommy logo — red and blue. Everyone on the team is just so much happier. They love what they are wearing, too. They feel comfortable, and they love the fabrics.”
This is a big year for Hamilton, the U.K.’s richest active sportsman, according to The Sunday Times of London, which put his personal fortune at 131 million pounds in its 2017 Rich List, thanks partly to sponsorship deals with IWC watches, L’Oréal and Bombardier jets.
In addition to the Tommy Hilfiger venture — and there is more to come on that front — Hamilton is also expected to extend his partnership with Mercedes this year, signing on for a further three years in a deal worth an estimated 120 million pounds, according to British media.
Even if that happens, Hamilton still promises to keep one eye on the runway.
“I have discovered that you really have to be watching fashion shows — even online. You’ve got to see and to try to understand where the trends are going. I am learning and trying to understand where it’s going, where it’s moving. Street-style is really taking over today, but I think your sense of style and fashion are constantly evolving — and you’ve got to stay on top of it.”