Tommy Hilfiger: Redefining Urban Cool

TommyPortraitThe red, blue and whitecolours of the Tommy Hilfiger logo have come to define modern day urban clothing. We explore what sets the designer, and the brand, apart.Think American classic cool, and the one brand that immediately comes to mind is Tommy Hilfiger. It is arguably one of the most recognized fashion brand amongst the urban youth, and has literally come to define modern day adages like ‘cool’, ‘chic’ and ‘trendy’. It is widely responsible for providing a refreshing twist to the preppy fashion genre, even before it was cool. Since its promising debut in 1985, when it wowed fashion critics and shoppers alike, the brand has now grown to a $ 4.6 billion apparel and retail empire.

Today, Tommy Hilfiger is well known for its beautifully designed, high quality products, including men’s, women’s and children’s apparel, sportswear, denim, and a range of licensed products such as accessories, fragrances and home furnishings. The brand today, boasts of an envious global recognition, with a distribution network in over 90 countries, and more than 1,000 retail stores throughout North America, Europe, Central and South America and Asia Pacific. And the man behind the brand, Thomas Jacob Hilfiger, is no less than a fashion icon himself.


Born in 1951, in Elmira, New York, Tommy Hilfiger was the second of nine children, in a German-Swiss, Irish-American family. While his parents wanted him to be an engineer, life had other plans in store for Tommy.


TOMMY_T_AFTERSHAVEHis designing streak came to light during his high-school years, when he opened a small store called People’s Place with just $150. His intent? To bring upscale fashion from New York and London to upstate New York. It was quite a success, and building on the success of his first shop, Hilfiger slowly established a chain of 10 speciality stores in upstate New York by the age of 26. During the ’70s, he began designing for the boutiques he had always admired, before moving to New York City in 1979 to pursue a career as a full-time fashion designer. It was here that he came across Mohan Murjani, an Indian businessman looking to launch a line of men’s clothing, who believed that combining Hilfiger’s astute entrepreneurial background and his own business know-how, would give them a unique ability to approach men’s fashion in a new way.

It was during this time that Hilfiger introduced his first signature collection in 1985 by modernizing button-down shirts, chinos, and other time-honoured classics with updated fits and details. The relaxed, youthful attitudes of his first designs have remained a distinctive hallmark throughout all his subsequent collections. Hilfiger knew that efficient marketing and strategic advertising would be the need of the hour, and made sure that his arrival onto the fashion scene was equally enthralling.

His arrival was announced with a blitzy marketing campaign that included a bold billboard in New York City’s Times Square announcing Hilfiger as the next big thing in American fashion. The now famous ‘hangman ad’ ignited the designer’s career. “I think I am the next great American designer,” Hilfiger told a reporter in 1986. “The next Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein.”


Hilfiger’s line of preppy clothes with his trademark red, white and blue logo, soon became wildly popular. By the early 1990s, the hip-hop world — a sensation in those days — openly embraced oversized versions of Hilfiger’s clothes, sparking frenzy among fans. The brand also nonchalantly courted rap stars and celebrities, who gradually started noticing the name. Snoop Dogg’s choice of a giant Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt during a Saturday Night Live performance in March 1994 brought sales figures to an all-time high.

Tommy-Hilfiger-Spring-2012-Campaign-Image-2In the late 90s, Hilfiger became a pioneer in the industry by featuring emerging musical talents such as Britney Spears and Lenny Kravitz in his advertising campaigns. Since then, the brand has brought classic, cool, American apparel to consumers around the world, with designs that appeal to every discerning taste, while providing the foundation for the growth of a global brand.

Followers of brand ‘Tommy Hilfiger’ are a distinct lot as shown in the recent campaign ‘The Hilfigers’. The Tommy Hilfiger woman is a modern age charismatic woman. Adventurous enough to experiment with new styles, but sophisticated enough to maintain her class; she’s the one to watch out for. Unpredictable and edgy, but always dressed well, you can count on her to light up any occasion.

The Tommy Hilfiger man is a cusp of the American youth and the charismatic, urban man. He is fashion-forward, but does not emphasise much on his looks. He is cool, composed and relaxed, giving out rich vibes that spell class and confidence. You can trust him to churn out neat looks all year round.

Under Hilfiger’s guidance, vision and leadership as Principal Designer, the Tommy Hilfiger Group has become a globally recognized designer brand offering a wide range of American-inspired apparel and accessories. To further establish the brand’s global presence and initiate CSR activities, the designer established ‘The Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation’ in December 1995 to help empower America’s youth. Consistent with this vision, in September 2009, the Foundation expanded on a global basis developing and building programs and partnerships around the world that help build and promote healthy communities by supporting education, health and cultural programs. In 2010, Millennium Promise, a non-profit organization founded in 2005 to help end extreme poverty, named Tommy Hilfiger the first ‘Millennium Promise MDG Global Leader’.


TOMMY_HILFIGER-TH1113s_vdd_fm0The iconic design heritage of Tommy Hilfiger is carried onward, and efficiently translated, in the brand’s eyewear range. The collection embodies the twisted prep lifestyle of the Tommy Hilfiger brand, which has become a global symbol of the all-American spirit. It has been specially designed with a classic, yet modern, feel that reflects Tommy Hilfiger’s style.

The brand’s 2012-2013 eyewear collection features pop inspirations, vibrant colour combinations and easy-to-wear shapes. It draws inspiration from its Fall 2012 ad campaign, ‘Hilfiger Hunt Club’. Featuring ‘The Hilfigers’ – the belovedly quirky, all-American family at the heart of the brand’s marketing strategy – the campaign takes this eclectic group of characters out of the city, into the outdoors.

The latest eyewear designs play with traditional Tommy Hilfiger colourways and preppy details, to create styles that are perfect for a day in the country. These are cast in classic, easy-to-wear shapes, showcasing a kaleidoscope of colour combinations that are not just pleasing to the eye, but also command a second look.

The sunglass line incorporates modern preppy styles with innovative use of metal detailing and iconic stripes.

The popular square-shaped acetate model is reinterpreted this season
in a larger version, giving it a contemporary attitude.


TH_1112-s-mp-brownColour blocking styles are also presented in eye-catching combinations like Havana/dark pink/pastel brown, blue/cream/purple, red/Havana/blue, and green/Havana/blue.Those wanting an edgier look can no longer complain about lack of options!
Recently, the company also launched ‘The Promise Collection’ eyewear, as part of its initiative to raise awareness about African communities living in extreme poverty. The collection featured two classic designs with African prints: colours and natural wooden effects.“The Promise Collection eyewear is inspired by Africa: the local colours and textures —the blues, greens, yellows and the reds of the native dress, the landscapes and the sky,” said Tommy Hilfiger. “The Collection reinterprets some of our favourite all-American design pieces with African patterns and prints.”


Hilfiger’s diverse achievements in business, retail and fashion have earned him a variety of distinguished awards. In 1998, Parsons School of Design in New York City honoured him with their Designer of the Year award, as did GQ magazine for its annual ‘Men of the Year’ issue. In 1995, he was named Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).

That same year, he received VH1’s ‘From the Catwalk to the Sidewalk’ award at their annual Fashion and Music Awards. He has also won several FiFi Awards, the fragrance industry’s most illustrious honour. In 2009, he went on to receive the respected UNESCO Support Award for his philanthropic efforts throughout the years, as well as the Marie Claire Lifetime Achievement Award. Hilfiger was also awarded the Alpha Award of Honour from the US Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity for his dedication to serving the community. In 2010, Tommy Hilfiger was honoured with the Legends Award by Pratt Institute.

His arrival may have been dramatic, but the recognition he has received since 1985 and the fact that he has completed 25 years in the business and is still going strong, proves the talent and capacity of the designer. As the colours in his logo denote, he surely is living the American dream.

Tommy HilfigerTommy Hilfiger Timeline

    1985: Introduced first signature menswear collection with a bold advertising campaign – a courageous billboard in Times Square.
    1995: Won ‘Menswear designer of the Year’ award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
    1999: Created ad campaigns focused on the brand’s ‘Year of Music’, featuring sensations like Britney Spears, Jewel, Lenny Kravitz and The Rolling Stones.
    2000: Launched new products like women’s hosiery and intimate apparel, men’s and women’s jewellery, kids sportswear, etc.
    2003: Stepped down as chairman of the company and assumed the title of honorary chairman and principal designer.
    2010: The brand completed 25 successful years.


– Hrishikesh Thakkar


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