Life Lessons: Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger is celebrating 30 years at the top of the fashion industry so let’s take a look at some of the lessons he learnt along the way.

Lesson 1

Keep your eye on the ball

A legend in the fashion world, Hilfiger came from a grassroots background where he first launched a clothes store while he was still at college, and wet behind the ears. He was the cool kid who had all the most stylish threads so when, still in his senior year, he brought fashions from inner city New York and sold them in his first store People’s Place, which was located in the outskirts of NYC in his hometown Elmira, it was no surprise that it gave him success in his teens and early twenties. The young designer was in love with UK rock bands, such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who, so he made it his business to bring those looks of the day to young America. He bleach dyed denim bell-bottom jeans, he found bongs and beads and sold them and all that was part of the culture in his thriving shop. With the look came the lifestyle and Hilfiger spent most of his time hanging out in his clubs, such as Max’s Kansas City and Studio 54, rubbing shoulders with the ‘in crowd’. He had to be a part of the scene and right in the middle of it was where he loss sight of the business and finally had to file a Chapter 11 after almost going bankrupt. It was an embarrassing wake-up call for the 25-year-old self starter.

Lesson 2

Take on the challenge

Before the making of his lifestyle brand, Hilfiger worked at some fashion companies and took on freelance design assignments. One may have thought at the time that it was a big break for him when he landed a job at Calvin Klein but that was not where the story ended. Four days before he was to fly to Hong Kong to take on the role, businessman Mohan Murjani approached him saying he wanted to back an American menswear designer. Hilfiger had a choice: go and work for Calvin Klein or compete with the powerful fashion label. He chose the latter.

Lesson 3

Stick to what you know

Hip hop, baggy jeans and Tommy Hilfiger all became synonymous with each other in the 1990s. Kate Moss was serenaded by Treach of rap act Naughty by Nature as she walked the spring summer show in 1997, the late Aaliyah famously appeared in a Tommy Hilfiger commercial, Coolio and Puffy (now P Diddy) walked his shows and girlband TLC rocked the Tommy Hilfiger boxers wearing them with the logo peeking out under low-slung baggy jeans. The list of urban Hilfiger moments goes on and the impact of the brand’s popularity with hip hop took Tommy Hilfiger in a new direction as the brand chased the trend, but it got left out in the cold when hip hop moguls, including P Diddy and Russell Simmons, came out with their own clothing lines and took a chunk of the business. It was time for Tommy Hilfiger to go back to his roots.

Lesson 4

Be out in left field

Tommy Hilfiger the designer is a connoisseur of casual dressing. When he launched the brand in 1985 with a menswear line that included oversized shirts, which were worn untucked over baggy jeans or trousers, at a time when other labels were offering a more fitted look. His style took off. Street fashions were hot 10 years ago but Tommy Hilfiger went the other way and launched his H line of luxury fitted pieces and featured David Bowie and his wife Iman in the advertising campaign. Hilfiger famously said that it worked because ‘we were zigging while everyone else was zagging’.

Lesson 5

Don’t forget to Celebrate

Tommy Hilfiger the brand has always been a celebration of being carefree, youthful and happy. It is a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously and makes us think of shiny happy people. This year the 63-year-old designer is celebrating his 30-year anniversary with events in London and New York to coincide with the autumn/winter collection that knocked the socks off the fashion industry during the February collections.

Leave a Reply