Jeff Hamilton jackets became synonymous with NBA Championships in the 1990s and 2000s. Hamilton has outfitted NBA legends Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and many others as well as stars of the world of music such as Madonna and Geroge Michael with custom leather jackets for decades. Hamilton and Bernstein chat about some of his current projects and the cultural value of fashion as art.
“I’m very flattered to be involved in the evolution of fashion and in the marketplace in the late 80s, and America became a very strong force in fashion,” Hamilton said.
Before going solo with his leather jackets, Hamilton transformed the U.S. men’s line of GUESS? jeans into a multimillion-dollar company. Today, he straddles the boundary between art and fashion as the owner of Jeff Hamilton Studio and the producer of the Street Art Fair. He also reintroduced his iconic licensed NBA championship jackets by outfitting the 2020 NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers.
“I went out and I started in the early 90s by signing every single jacket, and numbering them and dating them…it seems that fashion became an art piece,” Hamilton said. “People would say to me ‘I own three of your pieces,’ not ‘three of your jackets.’”
Hamilton’s first NBA client was Reggie Theus, and he soon became close with Michael Jordan. That led to commissions from many stars from the worlds of entertainment and sports. He recently worked with Drake on a custom “Farewell Mamba” jacket commemorating Kobe’s last All-Star game in Toronto in 2016.
“The name, ‘Farewell Mamba,’ was his idea. I came up with the idea of putting the Toronto skyline. It’s very unique. I can’t tell you how many people want to buy that jacket but I will not redo that jacket. I will make a different version,” Hamilton said. “Right now, I work a lot with the hip-hop community, I get their thoughts, but in the end, it still looks like a Jeff Hamilton jacket.”
Along with the “Farewell Mamba” jacket, Hamilton says the jackets he created for the NBA’s 50th anniversary in 1997 are some of his most popular works. Bernstein and Hamilton reminisce about traveling to Barcelona with the 1992 Men’s Olympic Basketball team, who were outfitted with custom leather jackets, and the family-like atmosphere of the team.
“It was one of my best memories ever,” Hamilton said. “Just being in the locker room together and having dinner before getting on the bus.”
Hamilton’s jackets are displayed in the GRAMMY Museum, Hall of Fame, and held in private collections. His jackets are seen in many of Bernstein’s post-championship photos.
“People tend to love the third championship jacket. The 2001 jacket is probably your most iconic and the photo with Kobe in the jacket holding the trophy in the shower is probably my most iconic picture,” Bernstein said. “That was such a moment. It feels like yesterday and it was almost 20 years ago. I remember that I was looking for Kobe in the locker room. Couldn’t find him. All the hoopla was still going on but it was kind of dissipated by that point. We couldn’t find Kobe, we couldn’t find the trophy. So the lightbulb went off in my head that the trophy and Kobe have got to be together somewhere,” Bernstein said.
The resulting photo is one of Bernstein’s most popular images. Artists worldwide are inspired to create commemorative murals from photos of the late Bryant in his Jeff Hamilton jackets from the Lakers’ three-peat championships in 2000-2003. The Kobe Mural website tracks these public art pieces and is constantly updating the map of murals made to honor the Mamba and his daughter Gigi.
Hamilton is currently working on reinstating his license with the NBA and other sport entities to produce the next generation of his iconic jackets. He’s also focusing on his art and producing the Street Art Fair.
“I went directly to the artists, not through the galleries, to give an opportunity to all the emerging artists,” Hamilton said. “The next show is going to be at the Peterson Car Museum. We have about 150 artists that are going to display their art and it’s going to be a three-day event. For me, it’s not a business venture, it’s really the passion of being there and being involved in the world of art.”
Hamilton plans to release a line of Jeff Hamilton clothing and create a new commemorative Kobe Bryant jacket in time for Bryant’s enshrinement in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021. He also hopes to be commissioned for the 75th anniversary of the NBA in 2022.
“People want to buy my jackets because they want to make a statement. They want to capture a moment in time and momentum. I’m in love with people telling me that they have jackets hanging on their wall. It’s very flattering for me to contribute something that gives happiness to people like that,” Hamilton said.
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