Hilfiger's fashion empire celebrates the 'best of America'
Feb. 17, 2015
In his New York showroom, four books on the table sum up the passions of Tommy Hilfiger: fashion, American pop culture, rock and Grace Kelly.
"I grew up learning to love the best parts of America," said the 63-year-old designer, the king of preppy chic and relaxed Americana. "I put them in my collection." This year his eponymous brand celebrates 30 years in business: 1,400 shops in 90 countries on 5 continents, global retail sales of 6.4 billion dollars in 2013, collections for men, women and children, accessories and fragrance.
"It's been a long road, a long journey. I'm very appreciative and grateful we've been able to maintain and stay in business," he told AFP in his white, uncluttered Manhattan studio overlooking the Hudson River. To celebrate the milestone, he put on a spectacular catwalk show at New York Fashion Week on Monday, inspired as only he knows how by American football.
The second in an Irish-American family of nine, born to a watchmaker father and nurse mother, Hilfiger is modest about his success. He is rich and famous, and has accomplished everything he set out to achieve at 18. So what continues to motivate him? "I think the idea of trying to do better every time," he explains.
"We want to continue to evolve and build the business globally, but at the same time, hold on to who we are as a brand. "We're cool American classic and we're actually fun and youthful and spirited and always evolving and moving forward," he said.
Friend of Warhol
He grew up in the 1950s in the town of Elmira in New York state, where he says he learned to love what he considers the best of America. "If you think of Hollywood, you think of music, you think of maybe Miami, you think of New York City, you think of Coca Cola, you think of Apple, you think of Microsoft, you think of M&Ms, you think of baseball, you think of all these American things," he said.
"There's something there that is different from the rest of the world, but that's something I put in here," he says, pointing at his forehead, "and I put into my collections." Andy Warhol, the American pop artist, was a great mentor, hero and friend to Hilfiger when he first moved to New York to make his fortune. "I looked at him bringing fashion, art, music, entertainment, sport and celebrity into his art. That's what I do. It's not just about fashion."
The atmosphere at the Hilfiger studio on the eve of Monday's show, was one of calm concentration. He wore a zipped-up blue sweater and jeans. Music is a big influence. He likes classic rock, the Beatles, Stones, the Who, and Simon and Garfunkel. Superman is his favorite superhero and Martin Luther King his real-life hero. "He really wanted to change the world for the better," he said. "He did jail time for it and he risked his life for it. I think those are the real heroes," he explained.
Change is fashion
He points out that he has come a long way since his beginnings in the fashion business. "I was doing everything myself: designing, every single thing, I was selling the collection, I was manufacturing the collection... And then along the way, I was able to bring some partners in," he said. Clothing conglomerate Phillips-Van Heusen, who also owns Calvin Klein, bought Tommy Hilfiger in 2010 for 3 billion dollars but Hilfiger is still the chief designer.
"I want to continue to renew the brand and keep it alive, and keep it moving forward," he said. "But at the same time, it has to change and that's what is the most inspiring, is the ability to continually change, because that's fashion." He recently announced the opening of an innovative, digital sales showroom at the company's global headquarters in Amsterdam and intends to open a large boutique in Paris in a former bank in Boulevard des Capucines.
As if he is not busy enough, the father of five, the youngest of whom is aged just five, says he will take part "somehow" in New York's first men's fashion week in July. He has recently finished reading the biography of Steve Jobs and is writing his own memoirs. "I decided to do it now, because if I do it later in life, I might forget what I want to say," he smiled. (Brigitte Dusseau, AFP)