Leading by example.
He is obsessed with fashion and style.
It is the Thursday before the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg. With 24 hours to go before qualifying begins, there is still time for a little diversion. We meet Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes-Benz motorhome. He is wearing a baseball cap, a jersey shirt, diamond earrings, heavy sparkling chains, ripped jeans, and white sneakers. He is polite, charming – and an attentive listener. In contrast to most of his colleagues, he is obsessed with fashion and style, often to be seen at fashion shows, and last year was an ambassador for London Fashion Week. He currently models the “Boss for Mercedes-Benz Collection” for team sponsor Hugo Boss. Hamilton is clearly delighted to have a chance to talk about fashion and style.
Fashion is like racing: it never sleeps.
Mr. Hamilton, what was the first item of clothing you ever bought with your own money?
It was a Michael Jordan basketball vest. I used to play basketball and was a massive Jordan fan when I was about 13. To pay for the vest I washed our neighbor’s car.
A lot has changed for you in terms of style since then.
Sure. My whole understanding of style has changed and evolved. It’s a gradual process. What I would say is that I’ve found my own style now. Since I started going to shows, I find that I understand the fashion industry much better. Fashion is like racing: it never sleeps. Whenever I talk to Stella McCartney, she’s just finished one show and she’s already thinking about the next collection.
You’re often spotted at the shows of various designers. What’s the fascination?
I’m amazed at the creativity in all its variations. The light, the atmosphere, the different people, and very different styles. The outrageous and the conventional side by side. Yet everything is there for a reason. I like taking photos at the shows, it teaches me a lot about style. But most of all I’m fascinated by the way an artist’s brain works. I’d love to understand how they can create something new.
I’m fascinated with how designers see into the future.
What’s your attitude to trends?
I think it’s interesting how innovative design can seem strange and alienating at first, but then gradually it becomes the norm. It’s no different with cars. When I look at a new Mercedes model, I often think that the old one looks better. But over time the old one starts to look, well, old. I’m fascinated with how designers see into the future, as if they’re ahead of their time.
Would you ever consider studying fashion design?
Absolutely. Who knows, perhaps one day I’ll team up with a designer and create something myself. Of course, I’d have to learn the trade first. Just as I spent thousands of hours becoming good at what I do. I didn’t just jump into a car and start racing. I have the same respect for fashion design. I know just how steep the learning curve can be.
You spend a lot of your time traveling. Which cities have the best-dressed men?
I don’t really spend time checking out the guys (he laughs). The Italians are very fashion-conscious, but for me it’s too figure-hugging there. The city where I see fashion on every corner is Paris, of course. I also like to take lots of photos there, close-ups, sometimes just a pair of shoes or a great pair of pants.
I really must get rid of some things.
What does your wardrobe at home look like? Big? Small? Neat and tidy?
Complete and utter chaos! But there’s nothing I can do about it. My problem is that I’m always having to pack. Often I’ve no idea if I’m going to be away for just a few days or several weeks. My schedule is constantly changing. When I come home and unpack, my housekeeper puts everything away, and I can’t find anything anymore.
But you have enough space?
I have a room for shoes and jackets, and a room for other stuff. But I spend hours looking for particular shirts, pants, and sneakers. I really must get rid of some things.
In general, do you pack too much or too little?
I probably overpack. But I’m good at it, I’ve had plenty of practice.
How much do you normally bring to a race weekend like this?
Two cases. One for clothes, and one for shoes – eight pairs. That does me for anything from a few days to a few weeks.
Smart but fairly casual.
Do you prefer to be overdressed or underdressed?
Let’s put it this way: I’d rather stand out in a crowd than fly under the radar.
What do you think of dress codes?
I look at my organizer and plan accordingly. Sometimes I check up what I’ve previously worn to an event. And then I do my own thing.
When do you wear suits?
When the occasion requires. I love well-tailored suits – that’s another reason why I like Boss. But I always try to follow my own sense of style – smart but fairly casual. I never wear neckties, instead I’ll go for a button-down with collar detail.
But you can’t go wrong with a black suit, can you?
That’s true, but they’re not really my thing. If it’s a classic cut I like to wear color: preferably navy blue, red or dark red – something that stands out.
What else do you like about Boss?
The materials they work with.
What’s your play-safe look?
I really don’t have such a thing. Last year, I was invited at the last minute to a Karl Lagerfeld show and I was sent an outfit. It was great but way too big and there was no time left to make alterations. So I didn’t show up.
You just didn’t go?
No, I had no alternative look to choose from. So out of respect for Karl, I didn’t want him to see me and be disappointed. I excused myself and didn’t go to the show. That was better than going and screwing things up. It’s not great to see a picture of yourself when you’re not properly dressed.
I only accept criticism of my appearance from Karl Lagerfeld or Anna Wintour.
Do you feel under pressure when it comes to style?
Well, I’m photographed all the time, whether I’m out eating some place or have just landed at an airport. And sometimes the picture goes with a less than flattering comment. But I only accept criticism of my appearance from Karl Lagerfeld or Anna Wintour.
Let’s turn for a minute to the Boss for Mercedes-Benz Collection: what’s your favourite item?
The sweatshirt jacket with stand-up collar and nylon sleeves. I also love the leather jacket, but the other one is my favourite piece.
What would you wear them for?
I’d wear them to a show.
Combined with what?
Just like in the photo. When it comes to photo shoots, I never just throw something on – I like to get actively involved in the whole styling process.