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Hilfiger, Tommy

HILFIGER, Tommy

American designer

Born: 1952. Career: Owner/designer, People's Places, New York, until 1979; founder/designer, and vice chairman, Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, New York; company floated on NYSE, 1992; member, Council of Fashion Designers of America; introduced women's sportswear and Tommy Girl fragrance, 1996; opened 20,000-square-foot U.S. flagship on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, 1997 (later scheduled for closure); launched first European products, 1997; introduced athletic footwear and apparel collection, licensed to Stride Rite, 1997; acquired jeanswear, womenswear, and Canadian businesses from licensees, 1998; opened flagship stores in London (closed in 2000) and Mexico City, 1999; launched women's line in Europe, 1999; introduced unisex fragrance, Freedom, 1999; sponsored rock tours for the likes of Britney Spears and Rolling Stores during its Year of Music, 1999; attempted but failed to acquire Calvin Klein, 2000; switched men's accessories licensee from Ghurka to Swank, 2000; announced first quarterly loss since going public, 2000; introduced watch line with Movado, 2001; created first full women's swimwear collection with Jantzen, 2001; menswear lines dropped from most Bloomingdale's stores, 2001; effected turnaround women's and junior's businesses, 2001. Awards: Council of Fashion Designers of America Designer of the Year, 1995; VH1's From the Catwalk to the Sidewalk award, 1995; Parsons School of Design Designer of the Year, 1998; GQ Designer of the Year, 1998; several fragrance industry FiFi awards. Address: 25 West 39th Street, New York, NY 10018, USA. Website: www.tommy.com.

Publications

By HILFIGER:

Books

Hilfiger, Tommy, with David A. Keeps, All-American: A Style Book, New York, 1997.

Hilfiger, Tommy, with Anthony DeCurtis, Rock Style: How Fashion Moves to Music, New York, 1999.

On HILFIGER:

Books

Mandle, Jay, "In a Word, Hilfiger: Fragrances, Film, Books on Fashion Titan's Runway," in Sora, Joseph, editor, Corporate Power in the United States, New York, 1998.

Le Dortz, Laurent, and Béatrice Debosscher, Stratégies des leaders américains de la mode: Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Liz Clairborne, Polo Ralph Lauren, et Tommy Hilfinger, Paris, 2000.

Articles

La Ferla, Ruth, "Hilfiger Re-Emerges," in the New York Times, 31July 1990.

Younger, Joseph D., "The Man Makes the Clothes," in Amtrak Express (Washington, D.C.), September/October 1993.

"Throwing Down the Trousers," in Newsweek, 11 July 1994.

Mather, John, "Tommy Hilfiger's Great Leap," in Esquire, August 1994.

Duffy, Martha, "H Stands for Hilfiger: The Former Menswear Laughingstock Expands into the Women's Market," in Time, 16 September 1996.

Brown, Ed, "The Street Likes Hilfiger's Style," in Fortune, 16 March 1998.

Dodd, Annmarie, "From Hip-Hop to the Top: Tommy Tells How He Pushes the Envelope," in Daily News Record, 2 November 1998.

Jenkins, Maureen, "Tommy Hilfiger Success Rooted in Music Tie-Ins, Multiple Niches," in Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, 6 August 1999.

Lockwood, Lisa, "Crossing Over: Hilfiger Charts His Course in Women's Wear," in WWD, 13 September 1999.

Curran, Catherine, "Tommy's Swoon; Designer Lost Touch with Core Audience; Overexpansion Diluted Brand's Cachet," in Crain's New York Business, 4 September 2000.

Young, Vicki M., "Bloomingdale's to Drop Tommy Men's From Branches," in Daily News Record, 26 March 2001.

Fallon, James, "Hilfiger is Soaring in Europe; Designer's European Business is Over $100M," in Daily News Record, 30 March 2001.

***

In an article titled "Throwing Down the Trousers" (Newsweek, 11 July 1994), Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger are rendered in a showdown over men's underwear, the former having long occupied Times Square billboard space with provocative underwear ads. Hilfiger, seen standing on Broadway and 44th Street with his boxer-clad male models, meekly states, "My image is all about good, clean fun. I think Calvin's image is about maybe something different." Hilfiger is smart. He juxtaposes his hunky models in flag-and-stripe-designed boxers at surfer jam length with the implied enemy in bawdy, black, sopping promiscuity. Hilfiger has been rightin design and business in promising "good, clean fun" in an unabashed American style that has achieved phenomenal success. America has wanted a menswear mainstream, neither aristocratic nor licentious. Emerging first in the 1980s with a clever campaign announcing himself among established designers, he has come to fulfill his own declaration to become one of the leading names in American design, certainly in menswear.

Acknowledging "I'm both a designer and a businessman" in the September-October 1993 issue of Amtrak Express, Hilfiger divides his own successful role into its two components that he himself has rendered indivisible. Hilfiger has most certainly learned from American designers Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein that fashion is a synergy of business, aspiration, and classic designwith the image and craving constituting aspiration as perhaps the most important element. Hilfiger has shrewdly chosen a particular place for himself in American menswear imagery.

Whereas Lauren has preempted old-money WASP styles and Klein has successfully created a sexy vivacity, Hilfiger has come closer to Main Street, a colorful Americana that still waves flags, still loves button-down collars, that appreciates classics, and adores his "good, clean fun" along with family values. His customers may even abhor pretense or promiscuity, and may strive for collegiate looks but would never rebel too muchdressing a little more modestly and traditionally than those who prefer his designer-commerce confreres. His closest kinship (or competitor) in the market is David Chu's similarly brilliant work for Nautica, likewise reaching into the smalltown, cautious American sensibility for roots and imagination.

The "real people" effectiveness of Hilfiger is, of course, both real and illusory: he is stirring the deep-felt American conservative sensibilities of the late 20th century at the very time when culture is annulling any vestige of Our Town sentimentalities. The "feel good" ethos of Hilfiger's design is not image alone, for his intense commitment to value-for-price and quality materials confirms the joy in his design. His colorful, sporty, comfortable clothing appealed preeminently in the 1980s to the middle class in America. In 1988 Hilfiger said in his own advertising, "The clothes I design are relaxed, comfortable, somewhat traditional, affordable andsimple. They are the classic American clothes we've always worn, but I've reinterpreted them so that they fit more easily into the lives we live today." By the 1990s, Hilfiger was a clothing symbol of African American and Hispanic urban youth, engendering immense street-smart urban loyalty along with his classic Main Street constituency. Hilfiger's clothing is readily identified, with logos clearly visible on his ever-expanding clothing collections.

Hilfiger has associated himself with two other popular American images, both with special appeal to youth: sports teams and rock music. He has captured 30-something clients who are aging into their 40s, and yet Hilfiger is also building his young following. His great success has defied much élitist fashion skepticism. Ruth La Ferla, writing for the New York Times in July 1990, reported unforgivingly, "As a 'name' designer Mr. Hilfiger sprang full grown from the mind of his sponsor, Mohan Murjani, in the mid-1980s. Explicitly promoted as a successor to Perry Ellis or Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren, Mr. Hilfiger achieved a degree of fame, or notoriety. But the stunt never came off; Mr. Hilfiger's fashions and image did not gel."

Of course, American enterprise is full of "stunts," from P.T. Barnum to Henry Ford to Dr. Kellogg, all with origins in harmless chicanery and old-fashioned chutzpah. Despite detractors, Hilfiger has consistently created his own dynamic and vigorous vision. After Murjani's backing, Hilfiger took his business public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1992, a rare instance of a designer-name business trading with success.

Hilfiger's sensitivity to casualwear can be brought to the business side of the male wardrobe, especially as it is already inflected by casual and sports-influenced notes. In 1994 he added tailored clothing to his line, confident the men who had already associated him with comfort and clean-cut exuberance would carry those same ideals to a full-cut American suit or jacket for business. Part of his business acumen and pragmatism is expressed a statement to Joseph Younger that he wanted to dress men from head to toe before dressing women and childrenwhich was exactly what he did (though many of his men's shirts, shorts, and trousers were worn by women and teens).

Hilfiger's business experienced ups and downs during the late 1990s and early 2000s, going from being Wall Street's fashion-industry darling for eight years (starting in 1992) to suffering lowered profits and stock prices in 2000. Many of the company's troubles were attributed to overexpansion, both in customer base and retail presence. During the late 1990s, Hilfiger entered several new business segments, including fragrance (Tommy, Tommy Girl, Freedom); a cosmetics line, Tommy Hilfiger Color; women's sportswear; a watch collection (licensed to Movado); a full line of women's swimwear (licensed to Jantzen), athletic apparel and shoes (licensed to Stride Rite), and the Hilfiger Home collection, which like the apparel, was influenced by the designer's preppy and patriotic sensibilities. This aggressive strategy led the brand to lose some of its cachet, especially in the eyes of its loyal consumers. Stores began to discount Hilfiger merchandise, and retailers were quoted in publications such as Crain's New York Business as saying its core designs were a season or two behind the trends.

Hilfiger's marketing direction in 1999called the Year of Music did not help matters. Sponsorship of tours by mainstream musicians such as the Rolling Stones and Britney Spears alienated the hip-hop youth who had been the company's loyal customers since 1994. Some of the designer's problems were beyond his control, however; email rumors circulated, suggesting Hilfiger was a racist (unfounded), which had ramifications on sales. All of this led the Tommy Hilfiger company to announce a loss in the quarter ending March 2000, the first ever since it went public eight years earlier. The design firm now found itself in the position of explaining to the financial community how it would turn itself around.

Although the company's retail operation grew quickly in the late 1990s, with 15,000-to 20,000-square-foot flagship stores opened in London, Mexico City, and Beverly Hills, many of these large stores were closed within a few years. Hilfiger refocused its retail strategy on smaller stores, such as a planned outlet in New York's SoHo neighborhood. In addition, the designer's expansion into womenswear did not meet expectations, and as of 2001, the company was in the midst of turning this segment around.

Other setbacks included Bloomingdale's decision, as part of a restructuring, to eliminate the Tommy men's brand from all its stores except the 59th Street New York flagshipwomen's and children's apparel were unaffectedand Hilfiger's failed attempt in 2000 to acquire rival Calvin Klein. One bright area of Hilfiger's business in the early 2000s, however, was Europe, launched through a license with Pepe Jeans London in 1997. The business began with men's sportswear and segued into other men's categories, as well as women's and children's apparel and licensed fragrances. Europe was Hilfiger's largest market outside North America, with products sold in upscale department stores such as House of Fraser, Harrods, Galeries Lafayette, El Corte Ingles, and Brown Thomas.

To get its domestic business back on track in 2001, Hilfiger concentrated on returning to what company executives (quoted in Crain's ) termed "traditional Tommy Hilfiger stylingclassics with a twist." Hilfiger continues to oversee a youthful, purely American look with ties to music and pop culture; part of his fall 2001 collection was inspired by auto racing and featured sleek leather pieces. The challenge for Hilfiger now is to continue his appeal to a broad range of demographic groups yet not lose sight of the fashion-forward urban consumers who put him on the map.

Richard Martin;

updated by Karen Raugust

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Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger (born 1952) has brought the fashion industry to its knees with his enormous success in the retail clothing market. His all-American designs appeal simultaneously to everyone from 60-year-old golfers to gangsta rappers, a near-impossible feat in the demographics-oriented rag trade. But the key to Hilfiger's professional triumph isn't the clothes; it's the label.

Tommy Hilfiger has been referred to as the Ralph Lauren of a new generation, but he has clearly come unto his own in the world of fashion. With successful lines of men's clothing, women's clothing, home furnishings, and a unisex fragrance, Hilfiger became the fashion guru of the 1990s and the biggest thing to hit the fashion industry in a decade. An enticement to a wide variety of consumers, his designs are casual while his prices remain moderate. Hilfiger's most praiseworthy achievement, however, is his precision of brand execution. Alan Millstein, editor of The Fashion Network Report trade magazine, described the method behind Hilfiger's success to USA Today: "It's a combination of great marketing, merchandising, and hype. He's packaged better than any designer since Ralph Lauren."

Small-Time Start in Retail

Tommy Hilfiger was born in 1952. The second of nine children, he grew up in Elmira, New York where he devoted hours to studying the music and styles that were popular in the glamour centers of culture like New York and London. He idolized rock stars, especially Mick Jagger. But Hilfiger didn't possess any extraordinary talents or an academic background that would propel him to success. However, he did have a certain charm and style that he supposedly inherited from his father, Richard "Hippo" Hilfiger, a watchmaker by trade. Although, Hilfiger has described himself as a scrawny, dyslexic kid who became the class clown to mask his embarrassment over less-than-average grades.

Hilfiger was still a high school senior when he set out to provide the young people of Elmira with bellbottom jeans. In 1969, he drove to New York City where he spent his life savings of $150 on 20 pairs of Landlubber jeans. He brought them back to Elmira and opened a hippie clothing shop called The People's Place. By the time he was 26, this shop had expanded into a chain of seven stores, scattered throughout upstate New York and catering to the college campus crowds. Hilfiger ran the stores for ten years, until the retail market went into an economic slump and he went bankrupt. Hilfiger discussed his business' failure with Lisa Armstrong of the London Times. "I was hard on myself," he said. "I vowed never to fall into sloppy work habits again. Money, after a certain point, is not what drives me." He admitted that fear of failure is his impetus to succeed.

Hilfiger never went to design school, but he began to experiment with fashion design in the early 1970s, while he was running The People's Place. By 1979, he had sold his business and moved to Manhattan with his wife Susan Cirona, who had been a creative director of his People's Place boutiques. He began to work as a freelancer and befriended a number of people in the business, including the late designer Perry Ellis. Within five years Hilfiger was working under contract with Asian textile mogul Mohan Murjani, the man behind the trendy Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. In 1986, Murjani and Hilfiger placed a billboard on Times Square that announced Hilfiger would soon dominate men's clothing, although at the time he was hardly known. Under Murjani's management, the Tommy Hilfiger mens-wear collection grossed $5 million in the first year and $10 million in the second. However, these were modest sales by fashion industry standards. In 1988, Hilfiger bought out Murjani and joined Silas Chou, a Hong Kong clothing manufacturer. By that time, the company was bringing in around $25 million a year. They began their new endeavor cautiously, hiring experienced executives from well-known companies like Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne. Three years later they took the company public. By 1999 the company was grossing more than half a billion dollars and was the highest-valued clothing stock on the exchange.

An All-American Look

Although he is not readily acknowledged as a true designer, Hilfiger is incessantly compared to fellow American designers Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. He has admitted to redesigning and updating clothes rather than creating brand new fashions, but that hardly matters to the throngs who adore the red, white, and blue rectangular Tommy label. Hilfiger threads inspire devotion from consumers who love his all-American chinos, chambray shirts, knit polo shirts, jeans, and other wardrobe essentials. Jodie L. Ahern summed up the allure in her Minneapolis Star Tribune report: "His clothes are classic, comfortable, high-quality garb that appeal to young and old and are priced in the upper-moderate range. It's really that simple." Hilfiger consciously eschews the virtuoso fashion-designer image, following the lead of mainstream retail stores like The Gap and Banana Republic, which provide stylish, well-made clothing at reasonable prices. Nonetheless, he was gratified to win Menswear Designer of the Year in 1995 after having been snubbed the year before when the Council of Fashion Designers of America left the category unawarded.

Though some disdain Hilfiger's designs, challenging his status as a true "designer," it is difficult to criticize the businessman behind the brand name. "Tommy will never be on the designer rack," Millstein admitted to USA Today. "But he's powerful enough to have become a brand name. That's what every designer really wants to be." Hilfiger understands the difference between designers and "brands." He admitted to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "I treat my company the way the French designers treat their Saint-Laurent or House of Chanel. We do fashion shows, we use the best photographers, the best models, we hire the best people, we believe the show is very important. But beyond that facade we make sure that we're very tedious in building our brand. It's a designer brand. Calvin and Ralph and Donna (Karan) and Armani are designer brands, but some of the other designers are not designer brands. Once you become a recognized brand the licensing becomes incredibly profitable." Most designers take the traditional route to fashion fame, beginning with an expensive couture line, which few ordinary women buy. They generally cash in on their fame later by lending their name to mass market clothes. Hilfiger used music videos like a catwalk to reach the young, fashionable crowd. The aggressive construction of his empire and the advertising onslaught, which costs up to $20 million a year, are what has made Hilfiger a household name.

People are attracted the sense of fashion they get from the everyday clothes. The distinctive Tommy label gives them the recognition and acceptance they crave. Hilfiger, who built his company on a brand, is very particular about what the Tommy logo represents. "It is important that my logo communicates who I am to the consumer," he tells the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It has to say, 'I am about movement, energy, fun, color, quality, detail, American spirit, status, style, and value.' The brand must relate to the consumers' sensibilities. Whether they are based upon sports, music, entertainment, politics, or pop culture-it must have the cool factor."

Celebrity Chic

One of a designer's best marketing tools is dressing celebrities. Hilfiger established himself first with young rappers whose influence was glorified through music videos and television. In 1992, he dressed Snoop Doggy Dogg for a Saturday Night Live appearance. Other artists soon adopted his clothes, and the relationship between clothes and music became so tight that Hilfiger wound up in rap lyrics. Since then, Hilfiger's trendy status has attracted many more big names to his designs. He has dressed music stars like the Fugees, Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, David Bowie, and TLC. Michael Jackson wore a Hilfiger sweater in promotions for his album HIStory. Some of his fans include celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Sidney Poitier, and Quincy Jones. He's also used names to sell his merchandise in print ads. Errol Flynn's grandson, Luke, and Jackson Browne's son, Ethan, were used to sell Hilfiger's fragrance. Hilfiger originally set out to dress celebrities and has specifically targeted the young, up-and-coming, cool crowd. This has been an enormously successful strategy for the designer whose company experiences a surge in sales whenever a name like DiCaprio appears in Hilfiger clothes.

Celebrities lend their assets to Hilfiger's merchandise, but his real customer base is with real people, especially kids. Hilfiger may appeal to all ages, but what sets him apart from other designers is his lock on the youth market. Hilfiger is known to be a kid at heart, a favorable prerequisite to selling to kids. His love of all things fun is manifested in his office decor: a red leather jacket signed by Bruce Spring-steen, photos of Mick Jagger and John Lennon, electric Gibson guitars, a Superbowl football signed by Floyd Little, and books on trains, vintage convertibles, and sports.

Hilfiger has also been anointed as fashion's nice guy by the national press. The image is supported by his philanthropic deeds. He has been involved in the raising of money for multiple sclerosis research (one of his sisters suffers from the disease), sponsoring T-shirt sales during one of Sheryl Crow's concert tours and then donating the money for breast cancer research, and raising money for a youth center serving lower-income families.

Hilfiger says he would like to be known as an important American designer. With a $600 million a year business, some would consider him pretty important. He owns a quarter of the company and is personally valued at around $100 million. However, Hilfiger's popularity with the masses may be a signal that his decline as an innovator for young style-setters is imminent. The Hilfiger name has saturated the market and is already becoming passe in the urban environments that often define what is up-and-coming. Nevertheless, Wall Street continues to show enthusiasm for Hilfiger stock. The company is hoping to stay on top of its brand development, which will include a broad expansion of the product line and more overseas sales. Hilfiger maintains to the Albany Times Union, "the key is to keep coming back, but coming back in different ways."

Hilfiger and his wife have four children and live in a 22-room estate on a converted farm in Greenwich, Connecticut. He also owns homes on Nantucket and the Caribbean island of Mustique.

Further Reading

Albany Times Union, January 25, 1998.

Daily News Record, November 2, 1998.

London Daily Telegraph, August 22, 1998.

London Independent, August 4, 1996.

London Times, February 24, 1999.

Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 22, 1996.

Portland Oregonian, December 13, 1998.

USA Today, June 14, 1995. □

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Hilfiger, Tommy

Hilfiger, Tommy

(1952-)
Tommy Hilfiger Corporation

Overview

Tommy Hilfiger is the chief designer and cofounder of the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, which designs and markets clothing and accessories for men, women, and children. Hilfiger's designs, based on classic styles, helped him and his partners build a fashion company rivaling the success of designers Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

Personal Life

Tommy Hilfiger was born March 24, 1952, in Elmira, New York. His father, Richard, was a jeweler, and his mother, Virginia, is a former nurse. He married Susan Cirona in 1980, whom he met when she came to work in his first store, People's Place. Together they have four children, Abby, Richard, Elizabeth, and Kathleen. In 1997, Hilfiger published his first book, titled All American: A Style Book by Tommy Hilfiger.

Hilfiger developed an interest in fashion design while running his first boutique, People's Place, in Elmira, New York. While working there he was responsible for all of the store's decorations, and Hilfiger decided he preferred selling and designing clothing. He found a manufacturer that would make clothing according to his specifications, and began his design career. The store closed in 1979 due to bankruptcy, but Hilfiger continued the pursuit of his design career.

Career Details

When Tommy Hilfiger discusses his inspiration for designing such a popular line of clothing, his "leave-itto-Beaver" upbringing in Elmira, New York comes up frequently. As one of nine children, he grew up in a middle-class five-bedroom home collecting sports equipment, guns, cowboy hats, and wearing Billy-the-Kid brand jeans, all things he views as part of the "American" image. He also recalls how at 16 he loved to wear his service station uniform, which had a large automobile graphic on it. This may have had some impact on his prolific use of large graphics and logos in his designs. Also around age 16, he became interested in clothing, especially the Ivy League look of chinos, madras, and oxfords.

Hilfiger started his first clothing business during his senior year in high school, selling bell bottoms and candles in a small shop he opened in Elmira. He eventually began designing his own merchandise, and expanded the business to include 10 shops across upstate New York. Unfortunately, his first business venture ended in bankruptcy. Afterwards, Hilfiger and his wife, Susie, moved to New York City to look for design work. By 1985, he was considering offers to work for Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein, but declined them both. It was then that Mohan Murjani offered him a job and his own clothing line. It was also at this time that Hilfiger, having been through stages where he designed fashionable 1970s and 1980s trendy clothing, returned to his preppy roots. As he states in All American, "Picturing a more New England, outdoorsy, and classic campus look that I knew would last, I launched Tommy Hilfiger."

In 1989, Hilfiger left Murjani International. He began searching for money to expand his own private label. He teamed up with Silas Chou, who had the financial resources to build a company but needed a brand name to sell. The two signed up former Ralph Lauren executives Lawrence Stroll and Joel Horowitz and formed Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. Capitalizing on Polo's success with the preppy look, Hilfiger designed casual men's and boys sportswear in brighter colors with a looser fit.

Hilfiger admits it was Silas Chou that pushed the company toward such rapid expansion and success. Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. went public in 1992. In 1995, they licensed Pepe Jeans USA, and in 1996 began distributing women's clothing. In late 1997, Tommy Hilfiger opened his first store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and a second store in London in early 1998.

Tommy Hilfiger clothing was available in stores throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Central and South America, Europe, and the Far East. In his book, All American, Hilfiger explains his success in foreign markets by saying, "When I started to travel the world, I saw the fruits of American labor everywhere I went, the products and logos that are the trademarks of our industry and our culture. In the most exotic places in the world, you will see people wearing Levi's and drinking Coca-Cola, obsessing over 1950s cars, and sporting cowboy shirts and boots, or wearing the rugged clothes we made for the great outdoors. No matter how different the customs, the world is tuned in to the signature emblems of the American lifestyle."

By 1997, Tommy Hilfiger was co-chairman of a $316 million company. His own salary that year was almost $8.5 million. Hilfiger claims he never doubted his eventual success as a designer, and was only surprised it took him so long.

Social and Economic Impact

When Tommy Hilfiger first launched his clothing line, he decided to send himself right to the top. With the help of a publicity agent, he announced his arrival on the fashion scene in 1985 as one of "the 4 great designers for men," along with Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, and Ralph Lauren. Critics thought he was incredibly presumptuous and "tasteless." Hilfiger was an unknown, and had never attended design school. Though he was regarded as an overnight success, it wasn't until several years later, after forming Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. with Chou that Hilfiger truly made his mark on the industry.

Hilfiger's vision for his clothing centered around combining classic American styles with an updated look. His initial target market was men between the ages 18 and 25 with taste for high quality, designer clothing. Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. also manufactured its own clothing and was able to keep marketing and distribution costs down. Because of this, Hilfiger was able to offer high quality clothing, comparable to Polo, but at prices more accessible to the American public.

Hilfiger's clothing appealed to a wide market. Billed as a "cross-over" artist, Hilfiger's designs were seen on everyone from Bill Clinton to Snoop Doggy Dog to the Spice Girls. He enhanced the basic preppy look in some cases simply by splashing his own name across the clothing, using brighter color palettes, and making his clothing slightly looser than traditional styles.

No longer limited to his men's line, in the mid- to late 1990s Hilfiger began expanding clothing lines to include products for women, children, and teenagers. He also offered a range of accessories and fragrances. Many of these additional product offerings were made possible through licensing agreements. For example, Tommy and Tommy Girl colognes were manufactured by Aramis, to whom he licensed the Tommy Hilfiger name. Tommy Hilfiger did not exclude customers seeking more specialized, high-end alternatives. To address that market, Hilfiger designed dressier, more expensive product lines that were marketed through specialty shops.

Chronology: Tommy Hilfiger

1952: Born.

1971: Opened People's Place in Elmira, New York.

1981: Founded 20th Century Survival.

1982: Started Click Point—designed women's clothing.

1985: Hired by Mohan Murjani to oversee design of Coca-Cola clothing line.

1986: Launched Tommy Hilfiger clothing line, backed by Murjani.

1989: Formed Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. with Silas Chou.

1992: Tommy Hilfiger Corp. is made public.

1997: Opened Tommy Hilfiger store on Rodeo Drive.

1997: Published All American: A Style Book.

Hilfiger kept his hand in promoting his designs as well. He hosted fashion shows and autograph sessions, and conducted briefings for sales personnel via satellite. He educated retailers about Hilfiger products and how to display them. Hilfiger also solicited feedback directly from consumers and used that to influence future clothing lines.

Hilfiger's influence on the fashion industry has been widespread. Retailers were devoting increasing amounts of floor space to highlight his designs. Even before Hilfiger began marketing women's clothing, women purchased it straight out of the men's department. In fact, Hilfiger's first attempt at women's clothing failed because the line was too formal, not close enough in style to his classic, casual men's look. Hilfiger redesigned the line, staying truer to his roots, and met with success. Hilfiger also found great success in the 1990s market because of the shift toward "business casual" dress codes in the work force.

One of the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation's primary goals was to build a "global designer brand." As of 1998, Tommy Hilfiger products could be found in leading department and specialty stores throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Central America, South American, Europe, and the Far East. To further their goal of global expansion, the company looked for industry leaders in markets that shared Tommy Hilfiger, Inc.'s vision for worldwide growth when arranging licensing agreements. Tommy Hilfiger's personal role in that vision was to make sure the company's designs remained fresh and continued to appeal to their respective markets.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Tommy Hilfiger Corporation
25 W. 39th St.
New York, NY 10018-3805
Business Phone: (212)840-8888

Bibliography

Doebele, Justin. "A Brand Is Born." Forbes, 26 February 1996.

Hilfiger, Tommy with David A. Keeps. All American: A Style Book by Tommy Hilfiger. New York: Universe Publishing, 1997.

"Tommy Hilfiger Corporation." Hoover's Online. June 1998. Available from http://www.hoovers.com.

Tommy Hilfiger Corporation 1997 Annual Report. New York: 1998.

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Hilfiger, Tommy

Hilfiger, Tommy

(1952-)
Tommy Hilfiger Corporation

Overview

Tommy Hilfiger is the man whose name has become synonymous with urban fashion. His fashion label is one of the most recognizable in the world, and he has turned his company into a multi–billion dollar empire that designs and markets clothing, jewelry, and accessories for men, women, and children. Hilfiger's designs—primarily classic styles with a contemporary flair, helped him and his partners build a fashion company rivaling the success of designers Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

Personal Life

Thomas Jacob Hilfiger was born March 24, 1952, into an Irish Catholic family in Elmira, New York, a small town near Cornell University. His father, Richard, was a jeweler, and his mother, Virginia, is a former nurse. When Hilfiger discusses his inspiration for designing such a popular line of clothing, he often mentions his "Leave–it–to–Beaver" upbringing in Elmira. As one of nine children, he grew up in a middle–class five–bedroom home collecting sports equipment, guns, cowboy hats, and wearing Billy–the–Kid brand jeans—all things he views as part of the "American" image. He also recalls how at 16 he loved to wear his service station uniform, which had a large automobile graphic on it. This may have had some impact on his prolific use of large graphics and logos in his designs. Also around age 16, he became interested in clothing, especially the Ivy League look of chinos, madras, and oxfords.

Hilfiger started his first clothing business during his senior year in high school, selling bell bottoms and candles in a small shop he opened in Elmira named "The People's Place." The merchandise was bought in New York City, and then brought back to his small town for resale. Tired of this setup, he eventually began designing his own merchandise, and expanded the business to include 10 shops across upstate New York. He found a manufacturer that would make clothing according to his specifications, and began his design career. Unfortunately, his first business venture ended in bankruptcy in 1979, but Hilfiger continued the pursuit of his design career.

By the end of the 1990s, Tommy Hilfiger was a multi–millionaire. The Tommy Hilfiger Corporation posted 2001 sales of $1.88 billion, and had some 4,000 employees. Everyone from teenagers to rock stars to grandmothers could be seen sporting Tommy Hilfiger merchandise. The designer claims he never doubted his eventual success, and was only surprised it took him so long.

Now an established fashion celebrity, Hilfiger has written two books. All American: A Style Book was published in 1997. Rock Style: How Fashion Moves to Music, which focused on the clothing choices of rock musicians, was published in 1999. The book accompanied a major exhibit of the same name at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tommy Hilfiger was the major sponsor of the exhibit, which opened in New York City in December 1999 and included 100 costumes, accessories, and other items belonging to such stars as Elvis, Madonna, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, David Byrne, and Sean "Puffy" Combs. "It's so appropriate that at the end of the century we look back at 50 years of outrageousness and excess," the Daily News Record reported Hilfiger said about the show.

In addition to his fashion influence, Hilfiger supports several charities, including Race to Erase MS, which focuses on finding a cure for multiple sclerosis; City of Hope, a hospital providing cancer treatment and research; the American Jewish Committee; and the Fresh Air Fund, to which he donated $2.5 million in 1999 to renovate Camp Pioneer in Fishkill, NY. The camp was renamed Camp Tommy during a rededication in 2001. In November 2001, Hilfiger and photographer Anne Menke announced a joint creative limited–edition book featuring photographs of the American flag taken in New York City following the September 2001 terrorist tragedy, with proceeds donated to the Twin Towers Fund.

Hilfiger was married to the former Susan Cirona in 1980, whom he met when she applied for a job at his first store, People's Place. Together they have four children, Abby, Richard, Elizabeth, and Kathleen. Hilfiger resides in a 22–room mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, and also owns a home on Mustique in the Caribbean's Grenadine Islands.

Career Details

Following the failure of Hilfiger's first business venture, he and his wife moved to New York City to look for design work. By 1985, he was being offered design assistantships for Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein, but declined them both. Eager to start his own label, he needed extensive financial backing, and found it from Mohan Murjani, owner of Gloria Vanderbilt blue jeans and Coca–Cola clothes licenses. Hilfiger and Murjani formed a partnership in which Hilfiger's job was to design men's sportswear similar to Ralph Lauren's, but appeal to a slightly younger clientele and be more modestly priced. As he states in All American, "Picturing a more New England, outdoorsy, and classic campus look that I knew would last, I launched Tommy Hilfiger."

When Hilfiger first launched his clothing line, he decided to "self–proclaim" himself a top designer. With the help of a publicity agent, he announced his arrival on the fashion scene in 1985 as one of "the 4 great designers for men," along with Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, and Ralph Lauren. Critics thought he was incredibly presumptuous and "tasteless." Hilfiger was an unknown who had never attended design school. Analysts were resentful that Hilfiger ads proclaimed Tommy a new star. But Hilfiger continued his aggressive marketing campaigns, commenting in an Advertising Age interview "To be successful in this business, you have to be both a designer and a marketer. I am proud to think I have both sides of the brain working at all times."

In 1989, Hilfiger left Murjani International. He began searching for money to expand his own private label. He teamed up with Silas Chou, who had the financial resources to build a company but needed a brand name to sell. The two signed up former Ralph Lauren executives Lawrence Stroll and Joel Horowitz and formed Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. Capitalizing on Polo's success with the "preppy" look, Hilfiger designed men's and boys' sportswear in brighter colors with a more casual, loose fit.

Chronology: Tommy Hilfiger

1952: Born.

1971: Opened People's Place in Elmira, New York.

1981: Founded 20th Century Survival.

1982: Started to design women's clothing.

1985: Hired by Mohan Murjani to oversee design of Coca–Cola clothing line.

1986: Launched Tommy Hilfiger clothing line, backed by Murjani.

1989: Formed Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. with Silas Chou.

1992: Tommy Hilfiger Corp. is made public.

1997: Opened Tommy Hilfiger store on Rodeo Drive.

1997: Published All American: A Style Book.

1999: Named in class–action law suit charging manufacturers of violating workers' rights.

1999: Published Rock Style: How Fashion Moves to Music.

1999: Sponsored Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition of rock music fashion.

Hilfiger admits it was Silas Chou that pushed the company toward such rapid expansion and success. Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. went public in 1992. In 1995, they licensed Pepe Jeans USA. In late 1997, Tommy Hilfiger opened his first store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and a second store in London in early 1998. Soon thereafter, Tommy Hilfiger clothing became available in stores throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Central and South America, Europe, and the Far East. In November 2001, the company announced the opening of its first specialty store, Soho, in Manhattan, New York —dedicating four stories and 11,000 square feet exclusively to the best of Tommy Hilfiger. Also in 2001, Hilfiger announced that software giant IBM had been chosen to launch Hilfiger's e–business Web sites.

In his book, All American, Hilfiger explains his success in foreign markets by saying, "When I started to travel the world, I saw the fruits of American labor everywhere I went, the products and logos that are the trademarks of our industry and our culture. In the most exotic places in the world, you will see people wearing Levi's and drinking Coca–Cola, obsessing over 1950s cars, and sporting cowboy shirts and boots, or wearing the rugged clothes we made for the great outdoors. No matter how different the customs, the world is tuned in to the signature emblems of the American lifestyle."

No longer limited to his men's line, in the mid–to late 1990s Hilfiger began expanding clothing lines to include products for women, children, and teenagers. His company also manufactured its own clothing and was able to keep marketing and distribution costs down. Because of this, Hilfiger was able to offer high quality clothing, comparable to Polo, but at prices more accessible to the American public. He also added a range of accessories, bedding and other home furnishings, cosmetics, and fragrances. Many of these additional product offerings were made possible through licensing agreements. For example, Tommy and Tommy Girl colognes were manufactured by Aramis, to whom he licensed the Tommy Hilfiger name. Hilfiger did not exclude customers seeking more specialized, high–end alternatives. To address that market, Hilfiger designed dressier, more expensive product lines that were marketed through specialty shops.

Hilfiger kept his hand in promoting his designs as well. He hosted fashion shows and autograph sessions, and conducted briefings for sales personnel via satellite. He educated retailers about Hilfiger products and how to display them. Hilfiger also solicited feedback directly from consumers and used that to influence future clothing lines. He was quick to incorporate changes to make his line attractive to teens, African Americans, and Hispanics. Noticing that these young people liked to wear oversized clothes, Hilfiger designed garments in "extra–extra–extra" large sizes. Billed as a "cross–over" artist, Hilfiger's designs were seen on everyone from Bill Clinton to Snoop Doggy Dog to the Spice Girls.

For the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Hilfiger was approached by the Olympic Committee to create a new look for athletes at the formal parade ceremonies at all events through the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece. When the Committee rejected his proposed design as too casual, the deal fell through, but not before a multi–million dollar lawsuit was filed by the Committee against Hilfiger in July 2000. Hilfiger's lawyers defended that a final agreement had never been reached. Meanwhile, U.S. athletes wore Adidas designs for the opening ceremony in Sydney, and were to wear apparel by a different designer for the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Social and Economic Impact

Hilfiger has been particularly successful in merging fashion, media, and entertainment. He has sponsored concerts by the Rolling Stones, Jewel, Britney Spears, and Lenny Kravitz, and designed many of the outfits for the Stones' "Bridges to Babylon" tour. In an unusual move, he signed a deal with cable network VH–1 to produce commercials. Hilfiger designs clothes for many top rap artists, including Salt–N–Pepa, Snoop Doggy Dog, and TLC. "We pushed certain buttons within the music world," he said in Women's Wear Daily. "Rock and rap stars started wearing my clothes. We dress a lot of athletes and actors. These people send a message of what is hip and what is allowed."

Long before September 2001, Hilfiger believed the nation's colors of red, white, and blue were hip. In early spring of that year, the Hilfiger company conducted a poll on its Website and found that 69 percent of Americans who did not own a flag wished that they did. Hilfiger launched his Stars & Stripes event that offered a top–quality full–sized American flag for $15 with any $50 purchase. The campaign also created a $25,000 opportunity for persons to submit a 20–50 second video that demonstrated what the American flag meant to them; over 700 videos were received, and the winner's was aired on national television in November 2001.

Sources of Information

Contact at: Tommy Hilfiger Corporation
25 West 39th St.
New York, NY 10018–3805
Business Phone: (212) 840–8888
URL: http://www.tommy.com.

Bibliography

"Designer Tommy Hilfiger and Photographer Anne Menke Join Forces to Publish 'Our New York.'"PR Newswire, 04 December 2001.

Doebele, Justin. "A Brand Is Born." Forbes, 26 February 1996.

Donnally, Trish. "Hilfiger Rocks." San Francisco Chronicle, 21 September 1999.

Donovan, Aaron. "The Fresh Air Fund: Designer's $2.5 Million to Improve Camps." New York Times, 27 June 1999.

Goldstein, Lauren. "Tommy Sings America." Fortune, 6 September 1999.

Greenhouse, Steven. "Suit Says 18 Companies Conspired to Violate Sweatshop Workers' Civil Rights." New York Times, 14 January 1999.

Hethcock, Bill. "USOC Seeks Millions From Tommy Hilfiger." The Gazette, 30 September 2001.

Hilfiger, Tommy. Current Biography Yearbook. H.W. Wilson Company, 1996.

Hilfiger, Tommy with David A. Keeps. All American: A Style Book by Tommy Hilfiger. New York: Universe Publishing, 1997.

Hilfiger, Tommy with Richard Martin, James Henke, and Anthony DeCurtis. Rock Style: How Fashion Moves to Music. New York: Universe Publishing, 1999.

"IBM to Provide Technology Behind Tommy Hilfiger e–business Web sites." M2 Communications, 11 December 2001.

Knight, Molly and Annmarie Dodd. "Long Live Rock Style: Costume Institute Exhibit to Include 100 of Rock–and–Roll's Greatest Looks." Daily News Record, 15 September 1999.

Lockwood, Lisa. "Tommy Hilfiger: Crossing Over; Hilfiger Charts His Course in Women's Wear." Women's Wear Daily, 13 September 1999.

Lockwood, Lisa and Anne D'Innocenzio. "The Hilfiger Enigma: An Empire in Search of Its Latest Identity." Women's Wear Daily, 30 September 1999.

"Tommy Hilfiger Announces Winners of the 'Earn Your Stripes and be a Star' Contest."PR Newswire, 14 November 2001.

"Tommy Hilfiger Corporation Capsule." Hoover's Online. 2001. Available from http://www.hoovers.com.

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Hilfiger, Tommy

HILFIGER, TOMMY

The ubiquity of Tommy Hilfiger's fashions, particularly among urban youth, is a testament to the marketing and image branding that has characterized contemporary American fashion. Hilfiger was born in 1952, one of nine children raised by a jeweler and nurse in upstate New York; he described his childhood in his 1997 stylebook, All American, as living in "Leave it to Beaver-land" (p. 2). In his senior year of high school Hilfiger and two friends opened People's Place, a clothing shop in their hometown of Elmira that sold candles and bell-bottom jeans; Hilfiger enjoyed decorating the windows and designing in-store merchandise displays. People's Place thrived for nearly eight years, with additional stores opening in other towns, until it went bankrupt in the late 1970s.

In 1980 Hilfiger moved to New York City to pursue a career in fashion. He had a brief stint designing for Jordache jeans before joining forces with a woman's clothing manufacturer and starting 20th Century Survival, a junior-sportswear company that offered a variety of clothes in western and nautical styles, as well as Victoriana dresses, khakis, and camouflage gear. In the mid-1980s Hilfiger contemplated job offers from Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein but instead accepted an offer from Mohan Murjani of Murjani International (the clothing manufacturer behind the fame of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans) to fund his own men's wear company. Murjani was looking to create a "name" designer like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, and in 1985 Tommy Hilfiger was launched.

The building of Tommy Hilfiger was as much about marketing as it was about the clothes. Hilfiger embodied this approach, referring to himself in a 1986 New York Times article as a "natural, all-American-looking, promotable type of person with the right charisma…. I'm a marketing vehicle" (Belkin p. D1). Shortly after the debut of his first collection of preppy classics like chinos, oxford shirts, and polo knit tops and the opening of his Manhattan flagship store on Columbus Avenue, Murjani boldly put Hilfiger's name in lights. A billboard in Times Square read, "The 4 Great American Designers for Men Are: R—L—, P—E—, C—K—, and T—H—," referring to Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein, and Hilfiger. Hilfiger's name did not appear in the ad, just his red, white, and blue flag logo and the address of his newly opened store. A 1987 advertising campaign for Tommy Hilfiger polo knit shirts pictured the Lacoste alligator, the Lauren polo player, and the Hilfiger flag logo type.

From the outset Hilfiger has been compared to Ralph Lauren. He has been criticized for copying Lauren's preppy style but gearing his signature red, white, and blue styles toward a younger market at more popular prices. Hilfiger, like Lauren, has appeared in advertisements for his clothing line; both men have used the American flag as an important marketing tool. Hilfiger has also replicated Lauren's business model, even employing former Lauren executives to help build Tommy Hilfiger, which Hilfiger, with backing from Silas Chou and Laurence Stoll of Novel Enterprises, bought from Murjani in 1989; Chou and Stoll then incorporated Tommy Hilfiger in Hong Kong. Following Lauren's lead in "lifestyle merchandising," Hilfiger expanded his franchise by opening a number of stores whose interiors reflect the all-Americanness of his clothing; by signing licensing agreements around the world; and by offering a range of lines, such as underclothing, accessories, fragrances, home décor, designer jeans, women's wear, children's wear, and a higher-end men's wear collection. Hilfiger spent $15 million in advertising to launch his men's fragrance "tommy" in 1995, which, at the time, was the most money spent on a campaign for men's fragrance.

Unlike Lauren and other big-name American designers, Hilfiger tapped into hip-hop street styles, making him one of the hippest and wealthiest designers of the 1990s. Hilfiger had always been interested in music, and he saw the potential for musicians to dictate fashion trends. He sponsored a Pete Townsend tour; designed stage costumes for Mick Jagger and Sheryl Crow, among others; and wrote the 1999 book Rock Style: How Fashion Moves to Music to accompany an exhibition cosponsored by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. However, Hilfiger's biggest coup in the music world occurred in 1994 when the rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg appeared on Saturday Night Live wearing a rugby shirt with the word "Hilfiger" running down the sleeve, which Hilfiger's brother Andrew had given the musician; the shirt sold out the next day at many New York department stores. Andrew, who worked in the music industry, acted as a goodwill ambassador for Tommy, handing out logo-emblazoned shirts and bags to musicians when he arrived on sets for concerts and music videos.

Hilfiger's logo-laden street styles of the 1990s came about after he saw that counterfeiters were knocking off logos, enlarging them, and sporting them on oversized shirts, sweatshirts, and outerwear; they looked like walking advertisements. He also realized the huge possibilities in the status-symbol-conscious hip-hop movement that revolutionized the music scene in the 1990s. Hilfiger made regular in-store appearances, learning what young consumers wanted. Multiculturalism played a big part in his advertising campaigns; he employed stylists from hiphop record labels, such as Rashida Jones, to appear in his ads and style his runway shows, which often featured such rappers as Treach, who mentioned Hilfiger in their songs.

In 1995 his once skeptical peers recognized Hilfiger with the Menswear Designer of the Year Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Hilfiger made a name for himself by prominently putting his name and logo on his clothes and marketing them to urban youth in a way that other American designers had not done. He harnessed a diverse following of consumers with his oversized, street-style sportswear and his relaxed, all-American style of jeans, khakis, and polos that fit into the more casual approach to dressing that began to be taken at the end of the twentieth century. Hilfiger invested a great deal in advertising to keep his name and logo prominent; his packaging of the product has surpassed any originality in the clothes themselves. He has raised the bar for the fashion merchandising and image branding that have come to define American fashion.

See alsoFashion Advertising; Fashion Marketing and Merchandising; Hip-hop Fashion; Logos; Music and Fashion .

bibliography

Agins, Teri. The End of Fashion: The Mass Marketing of the Clothing Business. New York: William Morrow, 1999.

Belkin, Lisa. "Big Campaign for Hilfiger." New York Times, 18 March 1986.

Collins, Glen. "Campaign for Fragrance Plans to Assure That Men See It, Hear It, Sniff It." New York Times, 18 May 1995.

Hilfiger, Tommy. Rock Style: How Fashion Moves to Music. New York: Universe Publishing, 1999.

Hilfiger, Tommy, with David A. Keeps. All-American: A Style Book. New York: Universe Publishing, 1997.

McDowell, Colin. Fashion Today. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 2000.

White, Constance. "The Hip-Hop Challenge: Longevity." New York Times, 3 September 1996.

——. "If It Sings, Wear It: The Hilfiger Ploy." New York Times, 26 October 1997.

Tiffany Webber-Hanchett

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