CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Alberto Hernandez knew it was somebody important when the white Rolls-Royce pulled up in front of the Nick Fouquet Hat Maker shop in Venice, California.
"I was already closing," Hernandez recalled. "I thought, ‘That's a beautiful car.' Then I see him coming out of it and I went, ‘Whoa! This guy is someone.'
"It was him -- Cam Newton."
This is where the NFL MVP's fondness for hats turned into a passion. This is where the Carolina Panthers' one-of-a-kind quarterback decided he needed a one-of-a-kind hat to make a statement off the field after every game, the way he often makes one on it.
This is where he decided Hernandez, a third-generation hatmaker who didn't know who Newton was before that day a few months ago, would become his Michelangelo of hats.
Hernandez had shipped the one Newton was considering for Thursday's NFL opener at Denver, a rematch of Super Bowl 50. It was a "ZZ Top'' skull hat and had a face on it.
It would have made a statement, Hernandez said.
But Newton decided last-minute to wear a pin-stripe suit to the game and for his postgame news conference, so he called Hernandez late Tuesday to order an emergency hat.
Hernandez frantically worked all day Wednesday making the hat -- steel gray colored with a peacock feather -- in time to ship it to Denver.
"With him, you never know,'' Hernandez said.
But one thing Hernandez does know: Newton will look sharp in his hats all season.
"We became friends making badass hats for him," Hernandez told ESPN.com by phone. "I'm going to be working on him the whole season, making him hats.
"With every outfit, he wants to rock a new hat. He's going to have one for every game. He's really passionate about hats."
Newton was playing volleyball on the famed Venice Beach when he decided to stop by the hat shop that has outfitted everyone from Madonna to LeBron James to Bob Dylan to Usher.
And, oh yes, Pharrell.
Newton's first big dive into the hat world actually came earlier this year when he was pictured wearing a vintage Vivienne Westwood hat that became known as the "Pharrell hat" after the singer-songwriter rocked one at the 2014 Grammys.
In the photo below, Newton is wearing one of his many loud-colored "Pharrell hats."
Newton got a lot of attention for wearing the maroon version of this to a preseason game at Tennessee.
Cam Newton showed up to tonight's press conference in a Pharrell hat.
Yup, football season is back. pic.twitter.com/nnIjLYcDht
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 12, 2016
But the more Newton and Hernandez talked, the more they agreed the quarterback needed his own style, which doesn't come cheap. The hats typically run from $1,200 to $2,500 each, depending on how rushed the order is.
"He takes the picture and the shape of what he really likes, and I go with that and the vibe that he's looking for," Hernandez said. "Then we send a picture back and he either goes, ‘I like it, I don't like it, or put more stuff on there.' I'm, ‘OK, let's put more stuff -- that's his word -- stuff on there.' Whatever he wants on a hat, we do it and make it him.
"He wants to be known for hats."
Shoes to hats
Mark Anthony Green, the designated "style guy" for Gentleman's Quarterly magazine, by chance found himself on a red-eye flight with Newton, from Los Angeles to New York City, earlier this year.
"He's just a true crowd-pleaser. People get a kick out of his shoes and hats, so in a way he's dressing up for other people."GQ's Mark Anthony Green on Cam Newton
They didn't speak with each other, but the first thing Green noticed was the "Pharrell hat."
"I was like, ‘Man, it is such an inconvenient article of clothing to fly with,'" Green said. "It's like you can't be comfortable. He's already super tall (6-foot-5), and as far as I know he kept the hat on the whole flight, which is hilarious.
"I think it adds a foot and a half, almost two feet (to his height). You just can't miss him. You weren't going to miss him before, but now you really can't miss him."
Green assessed Newton's postgame attire for ESPN.com last season. He was enamored with the boldness of the quarterback's style, from the tuxedo-style jackets to the insane Versace Super Bowl pants to the sequined-studded loafers.
Especially the loafers.
"Last year it was about the shoes," Green said. "This year it's the hat. It's extremely thought-out. Maybe he thought people missed the shoes, and there's no way to miss a hat."
Green's initial thought on Newton making a statement with hats is he's too unique to borrow from Pharrell.
"Cam is at a point now where he's got to do things that haven't been done before," he said. "Pharrell got to that first. He's got to find the Cam Newton hat."
Fouquet hats meet the criteria because each one is specially made.
Green got to meet Newton earlier this year when the first pick of the 2011 draft did an interview and photo shoot with GQ. It didn't take long for Green to better understand why Newton is so into style.
"He's just a true crowd-pleaser," he said. "People get a kick out of his shoes and hats, so in a way he's dressing up for other people."
Green doesn't know why Newton chose hats to be his newest statement, other than perhaps boredom. But the style guru can't wait to see what's next.
"It's probably going to get crazier," he said. "Yeah, I think so. It's going to get bolder. I can't imagine him taking a step back."
‘He loves feathers'
Newton laughed when asked in training camp if hats were an addition to his clothing line (Made Cam Newton) with Belk, an upscale department store based in North Carolina.
"I'm telling you, I've got a lot of them now," he said. "And the funny thing is, I've seen the person make this from scratch. Now the accessories, I got that from the closets. It's just cool to see."
One of the things that makes Hernandez's straw hats unique is that he actually sets them on fire to give them a worn, vintage look. It's called "distressing" the hat.
That's fitting for Newton since he distresses a lot of defensive coordinators who must prepare for his ability to run and throw.
But Newton has a fondness for the softness of the felt fedoras and top hats, as well.
Newton also loves feathers so much that Hernandez frequents the pet store next to the hat shop to ask the owner about peacock and flamingo, to name a few.
"He's the only one that says put the magic on the side, put the feather on the side," Hernandez said. "There's not one hat I've made for him that doesn't have a feather."
Newton is so passionate about his hats that Hernandez calls him his "No. 1 customer," above all the other celebrities he outfits.
"I love making hats, so for me it was exciting to work with him, represent our hats, represent my craft," he said. "And he appreciates my craft."
Hernandez is starting to appreciate Newton's craft on the field. He's become a new fan, and can't wait for Newton to showcase his latest creation in Denver.
Newton got the idea for the original hat he was going to wear when looking at a picture of the skull hat Hernandez once made for the rock band "ZZ Top."
"It's going to be like a face, actually like a face, like a skull face, something you don't see every day," Hernandez said. "The shape is going to be into the hat. It's crazy. I take my time. I want to make him happy."
That's why Hernandez didn't mind the rush job on the new hat when Newton made a wardrobe change.
"I have to make him look good, I have to make him look right," he said. "It'll look sharp."