Tommy Hilfiger is one of the greatest references of American taste. The brand’s emblematic tricolor flag has been embraced by preppy aesthetics and by 90s hip-hop, achieving a most particular journey.
Back in the 90s, only a few industry figures showed interest in working with influential personalities outside of professional sports. And even fewer understood its importance as did Thomas ‘Thommy’ Hilfiger: the man behind the brand who boasts one of the greatest successes in the fashion system of the 90s.
Hilfiger’s journey into the world of fashion began in 1969, when the 17-year-old New Yorker traveled to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Together with seven friends, Hilfiguer rented an apartment for the summer and soon ended up working at a local clothing store. That same year, his interest in fashion design was born. Thus, unofficially, he created the first collection of his clothing brand in his hometown of Elmira.
In 1971, and with a total of 150$ to his name, Hilfiger made the decision to open his first store, People’s Place. At first it was quite successful, but the triumph would not last long. His company collapsed in 1977, leaving Hilfiger bankrupt at the age of 23.
Discouraged and defeated, Hilfiger took a step back after the failure of People’s Place. But in 1984, after demonstrating his talent in that ocean of sharks that is the fashion industry in New York City, a great opportunity finally arrived in the life of Hilfiger. A businessman named Mohan Murjani offered to launch a men’s sportswear clothing brand under his own name. Years later, the designer found a new financial sponsor in Silas Chou, the son of the founder of one of Hong Kong’s greatest knitpoint manufacturers. As part of this big change, former Ralph Lauren executives came together to lead the brand and the new Tommy Hilfiger climbed up at breakneck speed. In 1995, Hilfiger was named Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers in America, but the real success of their brand came from the threads that were woven behind the scenes.
Inspired by his passion for Rock&Roll, Hillfiger ensured that his brand, under its new structure, was closely linked to the music industry. During the 90s, the brand sponsored musical tours for a multitude of artists, from Britney Spears to Pete Townshed of The Who. Without forgetting a diverse list of stars from a wide musical spectrum who worked with the brand or were dressed by it. The compromise with top artists from the cultural scene had become a key point of the firm’s strategy. But the core of its success was Hilfiger’s strong faith in the magic of collaborations between brands and personalities, the designer being a great advocate of the idea that the firm should only guide and execute the ideas of an artist, and not force a specific result through pressures and persuasive mechanisms.
While working with well known pop-stars, Hilfiger’s undeniably preppy brand became a hit in the hip-hop community against all odds. His urban attractiveness was cemented by the appearance of his name on the Gran Puba single of 1992, ‘What’s the 411?’, which rapidly attracted the attention of Hilfiger. Soon, he started to give away some of the brand’s clothes to different hiphoppas, who felt attracted by the use of bright colors and the oversized branding of the brand.
The late R&B legend Aaliyah appeared in a Tommy Hilfiger campaign in 1995, and later became a brand ambassador. It was also around this time when the Tommy Hilfiger fashion shows turned into star-studded shows that saw the leader of the band Treach interpreting ‘Hip Hop Hooray’ alongside Kate Moss on the catwalk.
In the fashion terrain of the 90s, a few brands, if any, can rival the success of Tommy Hilfiger. The brand became a true incarnation of the American dream based on the principles of sincerity and authenticity. People didn’t wear Tommy because they got paid to wear it: they wore it because they wanted to
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