FMA Winner: Tommy Hilfiger, Fashion Visionary

by Ashley Baker
Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger (Photography: Giorgio Niro)

Almost 40 years in, the American designer gone global is redefining the game for everyone, with instantly shoppable shows, social media genius, and…Gigi.

Your new direct-to-consumer model is making big news. What inspired it?
In this day and age, the consumer wants immediate gratification. The consumer does not want to wait six months after they see it on the runway. They will have seen it on celebrities, in magazines, on Instagram. And they may be tired of it by the next season. I wanted to be more of a democratic brand. So you can watch a fashion show, click and buy, then have it shipped that day.

Is there any hesitation about having two fall collections, essentially?
Oh, yeah. It’s a big discussion. I’ve been talking about this for quite a few years.

It’s a manageable prospect with a small brand, but you’re global. What was the biggest challenge?
Well, you know, we have a very big machine, and when you tinker with the machine, it doesn’t just affect one part. It’s a chain reaction: the design, the sourcing, the delivery, the seasonality. We wanted to make sure we could really execute it, before diving in.

What was that research process like?
We did our homework, got our factories onboard, re-established our design and manufacturing calendars. Our partners worldwide were very supportive, because anyone in the fashion business understands that if you don’t change with the times, you’re left behind.

Gigi Hadid is not only the face of your brand, but she also designed a capsule collection. Why was this the right time to execute such a full-scale partnership with her?
Models have been muses for designers for many years. But they’ve never been handed the pencil and told, “Okay, go for it. Give us your ideas.” When Gigi walked into the design studio, she knew exactly what she wanted. We showed her all sorts of different fabrics, buttons, colors, sketches; she did allthe fittings.

You’ve known her since she was a little girl. What made you realize there was something special about her?
Well, Gigi’s not only an incredible model—she’s a social media phenomenon. She has around 20 million followers. She is the ultimate Tommy girl: chic when she’s at the gym, out at night. When she’s traveling to Europe, she looks like an international movie star. When she’s out with her friends at a basketball game, she can eat popcorn and wear jeans. I mean, she has it all. I also think there’s this whole sort of tornado coming out of Southern California—the style, the vibe, the cool factor, the celebrity quotient. She really checked all the boxes for us.

Tell me a little bit about your plans for the show. What inspired the carnival-on-the-pier vibe?
You know, we’ve done football, we’ve done nautical, we’ve done rock ’n’ roll. This theme has more of a street vibe—Coney Island meets Santa Monica Pier. But it’s really about the favorite things of New York. A hot dog stand, a tattoo parlor, a vintage shop.

Are you going to get a tattoo?
I have one.

You do? What’s your tattoo of?
Actually, I have two: my wife’s name [Dee] and my children’s initials. I got them about three years ago. See, my son has a lot of tattoos, and he said, “You’re probably afraid to get one, Dad.” And I said, “No, I’m not.” He said, “Come with me!”

Your memoir is out this November….
Yeah, Alina [Cho] brought me to Random House, because she’s working for them at large. And she said, “You should really do a book.” And I said, “I really want to be older when I do it.” But then I started thinking, I should do it while I still remember stuff.

What was that process like?
Well, I sat with Peter [Knobler, the writer] for hours, telling him stories about my life from as early as I can remember. It took a year and a half. He came to my house in Connecticut, and we would just hang out and talk. Very relaxed. He would ask me a question, and I would answer, and he would then repeat it in his way: “So what you’re telling me is that you were at Michael Jackson’s house, and when you arrived you saw his giraffes and camels….”

What was the most illuminating conclusion you came to after reading your life story?
So I’ve been in business for almost 40 years. I started my first jean shop when I was still in high school. And from then until now, it seems like time just flew by. But at the end of the storytelling, I came to the conclusion that a lot happened in those years…there are stories about Mick Jagger, Britney Spears, and Jennifer Lopez, and stories about sometimes being on top of the world and sometimes not.

Do you have any fears about any of that coming out?
Yeah. The press sometimes will maybe twist it a bit. But I guess that goes with it.

Let’s talk about the sets for your shows-—they have become so extraordinary. They’re designed in-house, correct? How do the ideas come together?
There’s only so much you can do with clothes that are wearable and sellable; we’re not making couture gowns. But if you do a stage set, you can incorporate the look of the clothes into it. It’s almost like making a film.

Well, you’re creating a marketing event too, right? How have you seen your business affected?
The reach is much larger because of the sets. We do things with Instagram, partnerships with Facebook and Periscope. When we sent Gigi and Kendall down the runway, we were getting close to a billion hits. I got 984 million hits in the Jamaica show. Do you remember that one? At the end of the show, they walked through the water, and it went viral.

How do you respond when someone from your team comes to you and says, “I’d like to build a very large boat in the middle of the Armory”? The crazier, the better?
Yeah. I love it.

Read the issue HERE.

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