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Jeff Hamilton Interview: ‘I felt like I bought myself a second skin’

Photo via Jeff Hamilton on Instagram

From Drake and The Weeknd to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, Jeff Hamilton’s iconic jackets have become a fabric of American pop-culture. Now, he’s set to honor the NBA’s 75 greatest players for the 75th anniversary of the NBA at All-Star Weekend in Cleveland.

It was 1977 when a young Jeff Hamilton strolled through the beautiful, sun-dipped campus of the University of Southern California (UCLA). Visiting America for the very first time, the Morocco-born, French designer walked into the university bookstore on a mission to find something that caught his eye.

Sifting through the cluttered racks of UCLA apparel, he was enamored by the big-blocked letterman jackets found on sports stars of both past and present. Hamilton not only found his calling, but it only cost him $100 — cut from a different cloth and intertwining himself as a fabric of American pop-culture.

From that point on, he never turned back, as the renowned designer was seemingly born to play the part as a master of his craft — still hungry for more even after 40 years in the business.

“I remember clearly wearing that jacket, I felt like I bought myself a second skin. The first time I came to America, I spent all the money that I had for a whole month on buying T shirts, sweatshirts and souvenirs because that’s what I wanted. I really loved anything American. I mean, I grew up watching Wilt Chamberlain, I had Jerry West posters in my bedroom and that’s what I was into. I wanted to wear [clothing] with big universities on them. Not only did I feel empowered by this, I really truly believe that this is how I got started in [fashion].”

Crafting custom, one-of-a-kind leather jackets for Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, The Weeknd, Drake and hundreds more, Hamilton has worked with everybody from Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson to Lil Uzi Vert and A$AP Rocky. The list goes on for Jeff, unable to pinpoint a true amount of jackets he’s fashioned thus far.

Emigrating from France to the United States in 1980, Jeff’s desire to design paved the way for him to become an all-encompassing entrepreneur. Divulging that he “became a designer by necessity, not by choice,” he continues to embody his unrelenting work ethic jacket-by-jacket. Beginning his journey as a designer for Guess Jeans, Hamilton ultimately found his love for creating “art,” not clothing — shaping and cutting thousands of different pieces throughout his career.

“I felt like I needed to design. I really started doing it because I desperately wanted to get [that] position. Now, I still do all the designs and I’ve been doing it for the last 40 years… There are other moments that pushed me to do more and make more, but at the same time, I love all my projects more than just a piece of fashion.”

As an avid basketball fan, Hamilton’s hand in working alongside a slew of NBA legends inherently injected his work at the core of American culture. Melding the confines of music and sports, Hamilton has always held basketball close to his heart — cultivating relationships with GOATs in Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant because of it. Hamilton even spoke on how he “saw every game Michael [Jordan] played in The Finals” during his championship tenure with the Chicago Bulls — and with each championship ring, a Jeff Hamilton jacket paired with it.

“Whether you’re talking about hip-hop, fashion, good art — whatever it is — I don’t think there would be any culture if there was no basketball,” he said. “Just to be able to say I was in the locker room with Michael for all of his championships and with Kobe when he sat in the shower when he was holding the trophy… I don’t know that there is any other moment in my lifetime that I won’t be able to relive like that. But, I’m still hungry.”

Jeff was not only commissioned to a long-standing licensing deal with the NBA — allowing him to use team names, logos and mascots in his work — he’s preparing to honor the NBA’s 75 greatest players at the All-Star Game Sunday (Feb. 20) in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1997, he paid homage to the 50 greatest players in the same city, as Cleveland seems to hold a special place in Hamilton’s heart — celebrating the NBA’s 75th anniversary and his love for the game all at once.

Although Jeff’s work with the NBA is perhaps his most recognizable, his collaborations with artists like Anuel AA, Drake, Karol G and more continues to take the music-fashion scene by storm. Designing for a whole new generation, Hamilton briefly touched on upcoming collaborations with Drake’s OVO imprint, Mitchell & Ness, Nike and Supreme, as he always strives to evolve his artistry — “living in the moment” to “try to reach as many people as I can.”

When you put in hard work and don’t see a result, you’re placing seeds all over the ground. Sometimes if you don’t have the right light of the sunshine or the right conditions, you will never improve. So the idea is to make sure you plant as many seeds as you can. Work very hard to make sure that you have the right conditions.”

Jeff Hamilton on diligence

While Jeff Hamilton is truly living his “American Dream,” he’s stitching seams of success for the future — inspiring young creatives to always follow their dreams just like he has.

“Success isn’t just having a lot of money in the bank. Success is being able to wake up every morning happy, being excited to get to work, do things that you love to do and being able to be with people that appreciate what you’re doing… Don’t compromise for a quick dollar. Never give up [on your dreams].”