Lewis Hamilton

LONDON — Lewis Hamilton knows how to dream big.

As he prepares to make his fashion debut with Tommy Hilfiger, the four-time Formula 1 world champion — and, as of this year, budding fashion designer — is setting ambitious goals for his new journey in the industry.

And he has the goods to back it up.

More than your average celebrity-designer partnership, the new Tommy x Lewis collection is the culmination of the racing champion’s lifelong love affair with fashion. Hamilton, a frequent showgoer who often turns heads with his bold, off-track style, has been working with Hilfiger’s design team every step of the way — even submitting sketches in between races — to create a collection that brings together the bevy of personal references and inspirations he has been gathering over the years.

He sees the debut of his first men’s collection, which is set to take place with a show in Shanghai on Sept. 4, as the beginning of a new career chapter, and he’s in for the long haul.

“I was really thinking long-term. This is a huge opportunity, so I’ve been telling myself, ‘Let’s try to get it right,'” Hamilton said during an interview at Hilfiger’s London headquarters, where he was putting the final touches on his collections, ahead of the Shanghai debut. “I’ve grown up loving racing and that’s never going to change, but I really see a future in this world.”

The first iteration of Tommy x Lewis is a creative mash-up of streetwear staples, elegant tailoring and vintage elements that hearken back to Hamilton’s love of the Nineties and teenage memories of R&B stars like Aaliyah in Tommy crop tops and dungarees.

“I was in love with Aaliyah, she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen and I had a poster of her up on my wall wearing a pair of Tommy dungarees. That’s when I really started to notice the brand,” Hamilton said. “So when it came to designing for them, I went back to rediscover some of those older styles. I’m always drawn to vintage, from furniture to houses, cars and wine.”

As part of the design process, Hamilton got the chance to rummage through Hilfiger’s archives, where he picked old logo T-shirts, puffers, and bright firefighter’s jackets — the latter particularly stood out because they brought back childhood dreams of wanting to become a fireman.

Inspired by Hilfiger’s past, Hamilton re-created oversize logo denim jackets, velvet tracksuits in bold white and burgundy color combinations and played with check, mashing up colors and patterns on shirts.

As he is now cooking the next stages of his collaboration, he said he wants each collection to become more experimental, solidifying himself as a designer. “Naturally, people will first look at this as a sportsman doing fashion with Tommy. But I’m hoping that by the third collection, they will see it as a Lewis Hamilton collection and they’ll be excited to see me as a designer,” he said.

While the majority of his life has been focused on racing, the 33-year-old Hamilton has always had a creative streak and nurtured a love of fashion from an early age.

“When I got into my teens, I started watching MTV and became obsessed about dressing like all the rappers I admired. I wasn’t watching cartoons, I was only watching music videos,” he said. “At the time I was trying to discover my style, I was buying magazines, but I felt completely uncomfortable and didn’t really know where to find the right clothes from, apart from T.J. Maxx and some thrift stores.”

His racing success and the media attention that ensued meant that Hamilton got the access to fashion that he was craving, becoming a frequent showgoer and building friendships with all the designers he admired.

“I was really hooked, when I saw how the whole fashion show machine operates. I became excited about new collections and what some of these designers are going to do next,” he added. “Even if I was racing on a Sunday in Russia and there was a show on Monday in New York, I’d fly in just because I loved it, I couldn’t miss it.”

He quotes designers such as Fear of God’s Jerry Lorenzo, Riccardo Tisci, who appealed to him for incorporating references of Catholicism into his designs, and Virgil Abloh as some of the designers he looks up to.

“Naturally everyone loves Virgil; it’s so inspiring to see where he has come from and where he is now,” Hamilton added.

Icons such as Tommy Hilfiger and Donatella Versace have also been instrumental to his fashion journey, having always approached him throughout the years to compliment him on his style.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton  Francisco Gomez de Villaboa/WWD

“Once you get into the limelight and you are constantly seeing pictures of yourself, you think about your clothing choices much more — you realize that your outfit might have not looked as right as it did under the light of your room’s mirror,” he said. “That’s when I decided to really start thinking about how I present myself and Tommy telling me he likes how I dress was a real encouragement that I’m doing something right.”

Hilfiger, a Formula 1 fan himself, said he was drawn to Hamilton’s boldness both on and off the track.

“I love Lewis’ style. He brings an effortless confidence to his look, which is in line with our brand spirit and speaks to a new generation of Tommy fans. He is a true icon of his generation, admired by fans globally and we’ve tapped into that spirit through this partnership,” said Hilfiger, who has always been committed to collaborating with talent from across all industries. “A big part of my vision is to continue to stay on the pulse of pop culture and work with the influencers of today who can bring their own individual twist to our collections.”

What started as a mere few compliments on Hamilton’s style became the beginning of a longer-term partnership with Hilfiger, who unveiled Hamilton as his new global ambassador in March and started working with him on the new men’s collections and joint logo.

Given Hamilton’s long-term ambitions in fashion, creating the Tommy x Lewis logo was a critical moment in the design process.

The racing star spent time speaking to Hilfiger about how he succeeded in creating his own recognizable brand logo and worked with him to come up with something that has the potential to reach the same status.

The result is an eye-catching design inspired by an idea Hamilton had for a tattoo, blending the “L” and “H” letters together in a calligraphy font — a refreshing change to the ultra-minimalist designs adopted by luxury brands across the board.

Hamilton dreams that, in the future, the logo will stand its own even without Hilfiger’s name attached to it: “My goal is that by the time we release our fourth collection, it will be a respected line, something that people get really excited about and can stand on its own legs.”

By pursuing his fashion ambitions with Hilfiger, Hamilton has also been able to discover a new outlet that allows more of his personality to shine through, as well as a healthy antidote to the competitive, high-octane racing environment.

“When I’m racing I have my helmet on and it’s very difficult for people to see the vulnerable side of me. You have to have your walls up and be rock solid hard otherwise, people will tear you down. Here, I can be more open,” said Hamilton, explaining that he was drawn to the sense of community in the industry and the freedom to be different.

“I’ve been racing since I was eight and until I was around 25 my life was all about racing. I thought I’m going to go crazy if I continue on this road, I won’t last in my business,” he added. “To stay focused and fit and motivated, I need to be stimulated and express myself. For so many years I would stay quiet about ideas that I had. Now I’m much more open.”

Hamilton approached the collaboration with the Hilfiger team with the same attitude of openness, constantly asking questions to learn everything there is about the design process and at the same time, being outspoken about his own ideas, what he likes and dislikes.

He’s glad he did so, as the final result is exactly what he was hoping for and he is counting the days until he can show it off in Shanghai.

The show promises to be a big spectacle in line with all of Hilfiger’s latest productions in New York, Los Angeles and Milan for his mega-successful collaboration with Gigi Hadid — which the Hamilton tie-up succeeded — and even “push the boundaries further and take it to the next level,” the race car driver said.

Hamilton has also made the casting of a diverse set of models a priority and plans to showcase his collection on men of different cultures and body shapes, as well as women styled up in his men’s wear.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am about it. Walking down the catwalk at the end of the show — which I’m really nervous about — will be a really proud, emotional moment for me,” he added. “It’s been building up from the moment Tommy and I met, to our first discussions to work together, the first design meeting, all of it.”

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton  Francisco Gomez de Villaboa/WWD