When Alberto Hernandez first met Cam Newton, he had no idea who the quarterback was.
“I asked him what he does for work,” Hernandez laughed.
The pair’s introduction came a few months after arguably Newton’s best NFL season, when he powered the Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 record, won MVP, and advanced to Super Bowl 50.
While in California during the offseason, Newton checked out a hat boutique recommended to him by Grammy Award-winning artist Pharrell. The day Newton pulled up to the shop, where Hernandez was working at the time, other employees buzzed with excitement. Hernandez thought to himself, “Who is that?”
He’d soon find out.
During his visit, Newton asked to meet the designer behind one of the fedoras on display. The shop-owner pointed to Hernandez.
The two exchanged pleasantries before collaborating on a hat, right then and there. Hernandez remembers Newton dabbing with excitement, as he walked him through the step-by-step process. The finished product was a wide-brimmed, flap-topped olive-green number.
Little did Hernandez know that hat would be the first of hundreds he’d make for Newton.
“I make a hat for Cam every week,” Hernandez said. “Since that day until today.”
The powder blue Panama hat Newton wore with a matching jacket in Week 3? Custom-made by Hernandez. Same with the black fedora he wore with his yellow suit in Week 1.
Every week of football season, for the past four or so years, Newton has sent Hernandez previews of his game-day outfits. Based on the look, Hernandez will select the material, shape, and color for an accompanying hat. He’ll then experiment with different design techniques, such as using flames for a more distressed feel or tie-dying for a more trendy look, and accessories.
Newton will also often include suggestions for specific elements to incorporate. In Week 7, for example, inspired by his new interest in gemstones, Newton asked Hernandez to add a small leather box to the back of his fedora so that he could store his stones inside.
Other adornments have ranged from pins Newton has picked up in an airport gift shop to crocodile-skin ribbons to playing cards to feathers to rabbit’s feet. Several of his older hats feature “C1N” embroidered on the brim, as a homage to Newton’s initials and jersey number.
There’s only one reminder Hernandez gets from time to time: The hat must be able to fit Newton’s hair. Otherwise, pretty much anything is game.
“There are no boundaries,” Hernandez said.
The hat-making process generally takes Hernandez two or three days, but he can expedite accordingly if Newton’s in a pinch. He always finds a way to get it done and shipped to Massachusetts — or wherever Newton may be.
“It’s important for the guy to look good,” Hernandez said.
For Hernandez, the opportunity to create custom hats keeps alive a family tradition. Hernandez grew up in Mexico, where his father and grandfather taught him how to make cowboy hats at a young age. After he immigrated to California when he was 16, Hernandez landed an apprenticeship at a hat shop in Burbank and worked there for 12 years before launching his own business, Meshika.
“That’s what gives me joy,” he said. “I don’t feel like I work a day in my life anymore. I feel lucky to enjoy it.”
There’s no offseason for Hernandez; he makes hats year-round for any occasion. If Newton is going to, say, Paris, he’ll make three or four hats for the trip. If Newton is going to a red carpet event, he’ll make a hat as if it were game day.
“I just make the hats,” he said. “He’s everywhere.”
Hernandez’s favorite is the green one they made together the day they met. (Newton would have the same answer, he says.) Among his other memorable creations is a collaboration with Tiffany & Co. for the 2019 Met Gala. According to Hernandez, Newton’s hat for the evening featured $300,000 worth of diamonds.
Whenever Newton is in Los Angeles, he’ll stop by Meshika’s storefront on Venice Boulevard to say hello — and pick up a new hat. Hernandez says Newton has been extremely supportive of his business, even inviting him to open a pop-up shop at the cigar lounge Newton recently opened in Atlanta. Newton has also commissioned hats for a few of his friends, including Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley.
When he’s not donning one of the fedoras, Newton will still rep a Meshika baseball cap (with the top cut open for his hair to peek through). And occasionally, Hernandez will even get a shoutout in press conferences.
In December 2017, Newton sported a brimless, circular red hat, known as a Fez, with “LOVE” painted in his signature font on the side. Asked about the look, Newton made sure to give his guy credit.
“Shoutout to Alberto,” he said, with a smile.
Nicole Yang can be reached at email@example.com.