THE HUS­TLE OF TOMMY HIL­FIGER

COLUMNIST DAN ROOK­WOOD SITS DOWN WITH ONE OF FASH­ION’S MOST LIKE­ABLE, AND SUC­CESS­FUL, AMER­I­CAN DE­SIGN­ERS.

GQ (Australia) - - STYLE -

Be­fore be­ing al­lowed to in­ter­view Tommy Hil­figer comes a quiz. He lit­er­ally looks me up and down and asks where each item of cloth­ing I’m wear­ing is from. I’d de­cided to go suit­ably ‘Amer­i­can preppy’ – it’s Hil­figer’s sig­na­ture, af­ter all. he floppy-haired, be­spec­ta­cled de­signer is him­self ed for­mally in black suit and tie, with a pur­ple check way col­lar shirt and black leather dou­ble-monkstrap worn – some­what in­con­gru­ously for a man of 66 – ut socks. es he ex­clu­sively wear his own la­bel? “For the most but I some­times try other brands,” of­fers Hil­figer. nk [Brunello] Cucinelli, I think Loro Piana from ury stand­point. And there’s noth­ing like a five-pocket f au­then­tic Levi’s.” ’re sit­ting on a sofa in the large ex­ec­u­tive of­fice ent to Hil­figer’s im­pres­sive cor­ner suite with im­pos­ing, egree views down the Hud­son River. A TV crew is g up for an in­ter­view he’s about to do for re­al­ity se­ries, Mom, with long­time friend Yolanda Ha­did. She’s er to su­per­mod­els Bella and Gigi, the lat­ter the current f Tommy Hil­figer wom­enswear with her own Tommy i cap­sule col­lec­tion. e de­signer’s long been ob­sessed with fame – “or what FAME: fash­ion, art, mu­sic, en­ter­tain­ment” – and d al­liances with lu­mi­nar­ies decades be­fore other s started har­ness­ing the power of paid ‘in­flu­encers’. hile the cam­era crew sets up light­ing, Hil­figer of­fers a tour of his of­fice. Be­hind a large ma­hogany desk is a wall of fame – framed pic­tures of the great and good, from Michael Jackson to the Rolling Stones to Kate Moss to David Bowie to Q-tip to Mark Ron­son to Brit­ney Spears to Bey­oncé, all wear­ing his de­signs while on bill­boards and magazine cov­ers, while per­form­ing, or stand­ing next to their pal, Tommy. Down the length of the room, a dis­play cab­i­net serves as a time cap­sule of the de­signer’s ca­reer – an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of var­i­ous in­dus­try tro­phies, his

first col­lec­tion of fra­grance bot­tles, a brick sal­vaged from his first store. In the cen­tre of the room sit two Ch­ester­fields re­uphol­stered in a patch­work of vin­tage blue denim jeans. They serve as a neat vis­ual metaphor for his ‘Amer­i­can clas­sics with a twist’ shtick. “I like the mix of high-low,” he says. Hil­figer’s life has been a mix of high and low – pro­fes­sional and per­sonal – but through­out it all, he’s re­mained as up­beat and pos­i­tive as his brand’s ide­al­is­ti­cally whole­some all-amer­i­can ad cam­paigns. Grow­ing up as one of nine chil­dren in up­state New York, he strug­gled at school with un­di­ag­nosed dys­lexia and had a poor re­la­tion­ship with his short-tem­pered fa­ther. He flunked out of col­lege but, at 18, started a suc­cess­ful cloth­ing store/hang­out, which soon led to a wild life­style of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll in his early twen­ties. Dur­ing their peak cool of the ’70s, Hil­figer was a reg­u­lar at leg­endary clubs Stu­dio 54, Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. “It was be­yond,” he smiles, wist­fully. “Even when I talk about it, I get ex­cited to this day be­cause it was an ex­pe­ri­ence one would never for­get.” Thanks to his hip look and shame­less self-con­fi­dence, Hil­figer also be­came part of Andy Warhol’s in­ner cir­cle. “Andy in­vited me to his Fac­tory nu­mer­ous times, and in one part he had paint­ings all over the floor. He’d say, ‘Would you like to buy one of these?’ I could have bought some­thing at a $1000, $2000, $5000 that’s now worth mil­lions. But I didn’t have money then.” He’s since made up for it with one of the world’s great­est pri­vate col­lec­tions of con­tem­po­rary art, fea­tur­ing works by Warhol, Jean-michel Basquiat, Keith Har­ing and Damien Hirst, among oth­ers. Hil­figer’s al­ways been more cre­ative than busi­ness-minded and, at 25, he filed for bank­ruptcy. “I didn’t know how to run the busi­ness, and that was a big prob­lem be­cause I stum­bled across a de­gree in busi­ness and eco­nom­ics as a re­sult of it. Not a real de­gree, but I say that it was my MBA as a re­sult of hav­ing a bank­ruptcy at a young age – it taught me how to re­ally fo­cus on, and un­der­stand, the busi­ness part of the busi­ness.” Fur­ther false starts fol­lowed be­fore he launched his epony­mous brand in 1985. It landed with an im­me­di­ate, and au­da­cious, bang – the ‘Hang­man Bill­board’ in Times Square cov­ered in an ad claim­ing the then-un­known up­start as the suc­ces­sor to the Amer­i­can menswear throne, oc­cu­pied by Ralph Lau­ren, Perry El­lis and Calvin Klein. “There was back­lash, im­me­di­ately,” recalls Hil­figer. “So I thought the only way I’m go­ing to get out of this cor­ner I’m be­ing painted into is to come up with great prod­uct.” The boast­ful ad proved to be a self­ful­fill­ing prophecy, with Hil­figer fill­ing in the blanks to be­come a multi-bil­lion-dol­lar megabrand, even if the road since has proved a bumpy ride. His brand has been a hip-hop sen­sa­tion be­fore plum­met­ing through over-dis­trib­uted mar­ket sat­u­ra­tion and twice be­ing sold out from un­der­neath him. Per­son­ally, he’s also dealt with a tough and pub­lic di­vorce and suf­fered the pain of see­ing two of his chil­dren strug­gle with se­ri­ous ill­ness and autism. And yet, to­day, he claims to be at his hap­pi­est. “The best pe­riod in my life is right now. Life keeps get­ting bet­ter. I’m in a re­ally great place.” Hil­figer splits his time be­tween lav­ish homes in New York; Green­wich, Con­necti­cut; Miami; and Mus­tique (where he lives next door to good mate Mick Jag­ger). And he en­joys a largely am­bas­sado­rial role at the com­pany that still sports his name – a po­si­tion where he can lever­age his celebrity and chan­nel his phi­lan­thropy. He seems slightly put out that I’m not rock­ing any Hil­figer and so, be­fore fin­ish­ing up, makes sure to state that the current Edi­tion Col­lec­tion for men, “has to be the best we’ve done in men’s in 25 years”. That’s the Amer­i­can hus­tle right there. And Tommy’s still got it.

Pho­tog­ra­phy Saskia Wil­son Tal­ent Luca at Kult Mod­els Groom­ing Joel Phillips at Viviens Cre­ative

FROM LEFT Cot­ton shirt, $130, by Tommy Hil­figer. Cot­ton polo, $110, and cot­ton cap, $80, both by Tommy Hil­figer. Cot­ton jumper, $250, cot­ton polo, $120, cot­ton jeans, $180, and can­vas shoes $129, all by Tommy Hil­figer. Styling Olivia Hard­ing

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