Tommy Hilfiger talks about building his brand, the evolution of menswear and creating a legacy that lasts

Tommy Hilfiger heard the rumours. Then, he heard the music and right on cue, he knew exactly what to do next to transform himself from fledgling fashion designer to leading menswear brand.

It was Hilfiger’s brother Andy who first introduced him to some of the hip hop and other artists who were not only wearing clothes sporting his trademark red, white and blue logo, but including his name as lyrics in their songs. This, he says, is when he learned the Tommy Hilfiger brand was developing a unique personality, and just like music, it becomes better the more it’s amplified. That’s why he decided to invite some of those musicians into his studio, take control of the narrative and offer them clothes specifically to be worn on tour.

Tommy Hilfiger and Dwight Drummond at Audi Canada Innovation Series
Tommy Hilfiger with Dwight Drummond attend the 3rd Annual Audi Innovation Series in Toronto on April 30, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Sonia Recchia/Getty Images for Audi Canada)

“What I didn’t realize at the time though, was that everyone wanted everything in giant size. So these young kids who were maybe, I don’t know, a size small men’s would wear a double extra-large,” Hilfiger recalled during a recent appearance in Toronto as as part of the Audi Innovation Series of fireside chats. “Those were really happy, fun days, because now it’s difficult to set a brand-new trend that consumers have not seen before.”

Difficult, but not impossible. Sneaker aficionados, for example, may soon get to enjoy a collaboration with high-end concept store Kith that revamps a classic Hilfiger running shoe. There have also been partnerships with Kith, Zedyana and others. 

Hilfiger’s track record in fashion is so storied, at this point, that setting new trends hardly matters. Earlier this year, for example, street-wear observers went nuts over a reboot of a capsule collection the brand had developed with Coca-Cola. Then there’s the presence of Hilfiger clothes on both men and women who attend high-profile events like the recent Met Gala.

Toronto FC's Jay Chapman and Alex Bono with Tommy Hilfiger at the 3rd Annual Audi Innovation Series
Toronto FC’s Jay Chapman and Alex Bono with Tommy Hilfiger at the 3rd Annual Audi Innovation Series in Toronto on April 30, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Sonia Recchia/Getty Images for Audi Canada)

Swagger Editor-in-Chief (also known at the @ChiefSwaggerOfficer), Steven Branco had the opportunity for an exclusive one-on-one conversation with Hilfiger amid the Audi Innovation series, where he looked back at his career and what he’s learned. This interview has been edited and condensed.

-SS

“I think that men are just as flashy as women nowadays when they go out. I mean, I see men in sequinned motorcycle jackets at a black-tie event.”  – Tommy Hilfiger

Swagger: In a world where fashion has evolved quite a bit, what does it mean to you to be a man in 2019 and how is masculinity reflected in fashion today?

Tommy Hilfiger: I think that it really doesn’t matter. And I think that in years passed..people tried very hard to make men look masculine from photography, to the clothes and I don’t think it matters. I think what matters is that you choose clothes you like to wear, that are comfortable, that are making the statement you want them to make and I think that we’re very modern, in that sense, in the fashion world. We’re embracing inclusivity and we really feel that anyone should be able to wear anything. As a designer, I don’t want to dictate to anyone. I would like to put the clothes out, you buy what you like, you wear what you like.  I’m not one to say, “…this is a Tommy Hilfiger jacket and you have a Calvin Klein shirt, and Levi’s jeans and a YEEZY sneaker.”  To me, that’s great because that’s your look that you chose. It’s freedom of choice.

Swagger: We’re definitely seeing that with runways, how they’ve evolved and they’re starting to merge all of them into one versus separating everything.  So, to what extent has your notion of what it means to be a stylish man changed over the course of your career?

Tommy Hilfiger: I think men are much more conscious of how they look now. They’re buying all sorts of personal care products, they care about the fit, they care about having a wardrobe rather than just a uniform. They’re very conscious of what they are wearing and how they look.  Actually, the statistics show that the men’s business is growing faster than the women’s business, so that tells you something.  

Swagger: How do you want your brand and legacy to be remembered?

Tommy Hilfiger: I want people to know that we are a very generous company when it comes to helping other people. We’re very involved with autism and Autism Speaks, with breast cancer, with AIDS, with helping people with special needs. We’re big donors to MS. As a company, we’ve been successful but I always tell my people that if we’re successful, we have to give back and we have to make that part of our duty. It actually is very satisfying because when you’re helping others you feel good about it. We built a summer camp for underprivileged youth and this a great example. We visited about a month ago and to see these children embrace everything that is going on in the summer camp and really it shows that we’re making a difference and helping people who otherwise might be at risk.

Swagger: Finally, in your opinion, what will define excellence in style for men in 2019?

Tommy Hilfiger: I think that fitted tailoring is in style. I think that if you look at what’s coming out of Europe you are seeing incredibly luxurious fabrics. I also think that jeans will never die but it’s a different fit, it’s a different wash, it’s a different fabric that will be in style. I think sustainability is enormously important. We’re recycling denim, we’re making all sorts of garments out of recycled plastic and we’re really diving into sustainability. I think that’s really important. But, I think that men are just as flashy as women nowadays when they go out. I mean, I see men in sequinned motorcycle jackets at a black-tie event. Whereas before, a black-tie event would mean men in tuxedos and women in gowns.  Men now feel the freedom to step out and wear exciting items to events and wherever else they’re going.

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