The Tommy x Lewis collection is the result of an ongoing collaboration between two giants, designer Tommy Hilfiger and five-time World Champion Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, currently leading the tables in the 2019 championship and well on course for his sixth. Last night the pair unveiled the third of four direct-to-consumer collections—available right now—at the exclusive Societa del Giardino an ancient private club in the center of Milan. We caught up with both of them for a quick rundown on their collaboration.
Esquire: Lewis, with five world championships under your belt, to say you are driven is clearly an understatement. But what drives you off the track? And what drove you to fashion?
Lewis: I think I strive for perfection in everything—learning and discovering all the possibilities. I owe thanks to Tommy for allowing me to become part of his family. Going to lots of fashion events, I built up a love for the fashion circus. Tommy and I met many times, particularly at his shows, but also at the Met Gala. Tommy was so supportive and he was always saying, “You know, we should do something together.” He’s such a positive person; he could have chosen anybody to be a part of this company that he has built.
Tommy, you have had a long fascination with Formula1. How did that start?
Tommy: When I was a kid living upstate in Elmira, New York, my friends and I used to go to Watkins Glen, which was a Grand Prix track at that time, and we’d be peering over the fences to watch the racing and see teams like John Player and Lotus. We’d watch the real legends like Jackie Stewart. And there was that noise, the smell of the engine fumes…the whole excitement of it was overwhelming and I loved it.
But then it turned into a real business as well as a passion.
Tommy: In the late ’80s, when we had a chance to sponsor Lotus, we jumped at it; later we sponsored Ferrari for a time when Michael Schumacher was driving. But when Lewis and I started connecting, he gave me the opportunity to sponsor Mercedes. It’s like heaven for me.
Lewis: It’s really great, this partnership. Tommy was with Ferrari many years ago, and when we met, it wasn’t really supposed to be a Formula 1 partnership, but we ended up discussing and it seemed the perfect opportunity for Tommy to get back involved with Formula 1. With a bit of wiggling, I got the team to agree and Tommy’s team to agree to it.
In fashion terms it seems a match made in heaven too.
Lewis: Tommy and his team were so awesome in allowing me to get heavily involved. I don’t know if they fully realized how much I would be involved at the beginning, but I’ve given as much time as I possibly could. I wanted to learn as much as I could from the team that I’m working with, and I’ve spent a lot of time looking into what I like to wear and also looking at Tommy’s DNA and learning how we can fuse those things together. I’ve been in more meetings than I can remember on this project, but I really do love it; I almost refer to it as an internship.
How, with your global F1 schedule, do you squeeze it all in?
Lewis: A lot of this work I’ve been doing during the season, even on race weekends, sometimes—if I cant make it to Amsterdam [Tommy Hilfiger’s European headquarters]—the guys will come to the race track. So after practice on Friday or qualifying on Saturday, I’ll be having a meeting: looking at samples and talking about the next collection. I’ve been very hands-on, and it’s been such an incredible journey. And each time there’s been growth—this new collection is the most refined we’ve done. It’s a lot more elevated.
Theres still a street vibe to the evolving collection, but there’s clearly the addition in this third iteration of dressier pieces here and there. Are we at a tipping point between street and sartorial here?
Lewis: Personally, I hope the street style stays; Tommy, you’ve been doing it for years.
Tommy: I think sartorial mixed with street looks very good right now. Lewis wanted to do camel overcoats with the more sporty pieces; it’s that juxtaposition of the high and the low that works so well. Street keeps changing and evolving, and it gets a little bit more dressed up and then it gets a bit more sporty; it has many different cycles.
The benefit of doing several collections is that you can always evolve it. It’s not a one-and-done.
Lewis: Every time we’ve done the collection, we get to the deadline on the last day, and the day goes by, and you think, “Damnit there’s things I still wanted to do.” So you have to wait until the next time. The tie-dye hoodies in this collection, I had them lined up for the second collection in cashmere but it was proving too expensive so we put it on hold while we worked out how to make it in organic cotton instead. There’s always more to come.
In fact sustainability is a major factor in this collection’s evolution
Tommy: That’s right. About five years ago, we started looking into ways of dyeing denim without water; indigo dyes in water are toxic, so we found a way to laser treat the denim. But now we’re doing recycled denim too, sustainable tTshirts from recycled plastic bottles—we’re investigating all sorts of ways to become even more sustainable. But the recycling of the denim is a big push for us in Tommy Jeans.
Lewis: The first meeting I came to, I wanted to make sure we would focus on sustainability and how far we can push it and help develop the technology. The collection now is just under 50 percent in sustainable or recycled materials. There’s organic cotton, recycled denim, recycled down fillings, the bags are faux-shearling, trainers are fully vegan.
Lewis, back at work, with seven races left, would you say you have an unassailable lead yet?
Lewis: It’s never unassailable generally till you’ve got it done. It’s a lot of work. I think people underestimate just how much work goes on in the background, the amount of analysis that goes on. I’ve I’ve been spending a lot of time in the factory during the week. You look at a race weekend. No matter how many times you’ve done it, you can always do it better.
The last two races I haven’t won. And I’m the most competitive person you’ll ever meet, so I’ve got this fierce drive moving into these next races to try and knock them out of the park. But the competition is getting more and more fierce, with Red Bull picking up the pace and Ferrari incredibly quick the last two races.
Finally how do you escape from all this, from the Formula 1 circuit, from the fashion circus?
Lewis: Where I’m most at home is with my family in the UK. Just recently, we got all the family together, my dad’s side and my mum’s side. We had a giant barbecue and I could let my guard down, there was no business talk, no racing talk; it was all about my cousins and my brother and sisters. It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. I was so reenergized after that.
Tommy: This summer we had a really great time on our boat for a whole month in the Mediterranean. It was a dream come true for me because I’ve never taken a month off in my life.