Tommy Hilfiger: Andy Warhol, incense-burning and me

The jovial designer has brought all-American style to the masses since 1985. On the 30th anniversary of his eponymous brand he talks about bell bottoms, rock star aspirations and why blazers matter

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For Hilfiger, the blazer is the male equivalent of the handbag. Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

7 September 2015

Tags:fashion, fashion style, women clothing, fashion for men


Hilfiger as hippy

Before the birth of the Tommy Hilfiger brand, the designer sold jeans in People’s Place, a store he founded, in his teens, in his home town of Elmira. “I painted the Elmira store black, burnt incense, played rock music and opened for business. I had long hair back then, bell bottoms. I couldn’t play the guitar or sing but I wanted to look like a rock star.”

Naomi Campbell at London fashion week, 1996.
Naomi Campbell at London fashion week, 1996. Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

His wardrobe now
“It’s very simple. I wear jeans, chinos, navy or grey suits and navy jackets. When you’re working with [fashion] all the time, you want to be able to take a little bit of a breath from it.”

The Tommy look
The signature Tommy preppy look, Hilfiger believes, is an everyman style. “Preppy refers to collegiate classics but I also think it can be sporty, rock’n’roll, surf, outdoorsy, technical,” he says. “It can be a lot of different things.”

His hero piece
The blazer is, for Hilfiger, the male equivalent of the handbag. “I throw all my things in the different pockets and sometimes I just wear the jacket for that reason. I have stuff everywhere – a charger, a wallet, a pen.”

Gisele Bündchen walks the runway at the Tommy Hilfiger spring/summer Ready to Wear show during the New York fashion week 2000.
Gisele Bündchen walks the runway at the Tommy Hilfiger spring/summer Ready to Wear show during the New York fashion week 2000. Photograph: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Hilfiger and Andy Warhol
Warhol was an early influence. The pair met when Hilfiger moved to New York and became a visitor to the Factory. “He really was the first person I ever met who understood pop culture better than anyone else. Not just art but fame – fashion, art, music, entertainment.” Decades on, Warhol is still one of his style icons. “He dressed very preppy sometimes, little button-down shirts and striped ties.”

Hilfiger at home
He lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, and commutes to New York every day. “I get up at 6.30am, have black coffee and read the newspapers on my iPad. Then I do some exercise and try to have some berries. I take my son to school, then I go into New York City,” he says.

His beginnings as a designer
He is self-taught and sees this as a strength. “It meant that I was entrepreneurial,” he says. “If I can’t do something, I find someone who can.”

A model walks down the runway at the Tommy Hilfiger fall 2007 show during Mercedes-Benz fashion week at the Roseland Ballroom in New York.
A model walks down the runway at the Tommy Hilfiger fall 2007 show during Mercedes-Benz fashion week at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. Photograph: Gerald Holubowicz/ABACA USA

First-business blues
Hilfiger’s path did not always run smooth. His first business soon got into financial trouble and he had to start from scratch. “It was scary but also exciting. I literally did everything. I chose every thread, every button, every zipper.” It all worked out. The brand now has 1,400 shops in 90 countries and in 2013 had global sales of more than £4bn.

The importance of a schedule
A stickler about his plans, Hilfiger says: “I have a great assistant, but I have to know everything that’s going on. It’s easy to get out of balance and you feel it right away. To get back on an even keel, I redo my schedule.”

When the working day ends
Hilfiger likes a night out. On a recent visit to London, he checked out Chiltern Firehouse. “It slowed me down a little bit,” he says, “but it was fun.”

A model on the catwalk Tommy Hilfiger 30th anniversary fashion show, Beijing, China.
A model on the catwalk Tommy Hilfiger 30th anniversary fashion show, Beijing, China. Photograph: Imaginechina/Rex Shutterstock/Imaginechina/Rex Shutterstock

His favourite kind of weekend
“One with no plans. I do like to eat, though, so I have to work out what we’re having for lunch, what are we having for dinner. I’m always thinking ahead to the next meal.”

In his own words
We’ll know more about the Hilfiger story next year. He’s currently writing an autobiography.

On the rest of the industry
Hilfiger is up with younger designers. Christopher Kane and JW Anderson are favourites.

His motto
“Stay true to yourself.” He always has.
uk.tommy.com

Timeline: the greatest hits

Spring/summer 1997
Hilfiger’s London show has Naomi Campbell in his hallmark preppy, sportswear and red white and blue.

Spring/summer 2000
A rockier aesthetic for women comes in, with denim, bustiers and chokers, and Gisele Bündchen in low-rise trousers with flames licking up the legs.

Autumn/winter 2007
Hilfiger returns from a two-season break with a “rebirth” collection of slick winterwear, smart tailoring and luxe fabrics.

Autumn/winter 2015
The label celebrates 30 years with a show inspired by American football, an apt connection for a brand that embodies US design now.

 

Tags:fashion, fashion style, women clothing, fashion for men

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