Tommy Hil­figer says you can be too pop­u­lar

The de­signer who trans­formed preppy Amer­i­can fash­ion into main­stream style talks about the arc of his ca­reer over five sound bites

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PEOPLE - By LEILA MACOR in Mi­ami Agence France-Presse

Some­times, there is such a thing as be­ing too pop­u­lar, Tommy Hil­figer says, ex­plain­ing that after his la­bel’s crazy romp in the 1990s, he had to rein­vent the brand.

Decked out in red trousers and a white shirt with blue stripes, and white sneak­ers — poster boy for his brand’s sta­ple col­ors — the 65-yearold de­signer chats with AFP about the evo­lu­tion of his la­bel, and his mem­oir Amer­i­can Dreamer, at the Mi­ami Book Fair In­ter­na­tional on Sun­day.

“I knew that if I re­designed Amer­i­can clas­sics, and made clas­sics new again, it would be a great busi­ness.”


“When I was a teenager, I didn’t re­ally know what to do with my life. I liked rock mu­sic, I liked the clothes they were wear­ing and I opened a small shop with $150 I earned from work­ing at a gas sta­tion.

“I started with 20 pairs of jeans in a small shop. And then I started ex­pand­ing on col­lege cam­puses with very cool clothes.

“I opened it in 1969, when the fash­ion-mu­sic rev­o­lu­tion was tak­ing place. It was the sum­mer of Wood­stock, Jimmy Hen­drix and The Who, and all of these in­cred­i­ble mu­si­cians that were wear­ing the most amaz­ing clothes: low bot­toms, head­bands, beads, the hip­pie type fash­ion. It was re­ally a move­ment with the young peo­ple and I wanted to be part of that move­ment.”


“I evolved away from this hip­pie style in the early 80s, be­cause I wanted to make clothes that were clothes that ev­ery­one could wear. And I knew that if I re­designed Amer­i­can clas­sics, and made clas­sics new again, it would be a great busi­ness and at the same time it would be a lot of fun to do.

“So I took this preppy look I grew up with ... but­ton-down shirts and chino pants, sort of sporty, ca­sual. So I re­designed ev­ery­thing. I wanted to make ev­ery­thing new, unique, fresh and fun.”

3 Hil­figer’s be­gin­nings From hip­pie to preppy 1985: who is this guy?

“I didn’t re­ally have any money for ad­ver­tis­ing. But I met this guy Ge­orge Louis, a ge­nius. He Amier­canDreamer. said: ‘If you ad­ver­tise the way other peo­ple in fash­ion ad­ver­tise, it’s go­ing to take you 20 years to build a brand. You have to do some­thing re­ally dif­fer­ent and dis­rup­tive, out of the box.’ Then he showed me his idea. His idea was to com­pare me, Tommy Hil­figer, an un­known, to the big­gest de­sign­ers — Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Perry El­lis.

“And when the ad went up in Times Square, New York City, it said ‘The four great Amer­i­can de­sign­ers’ and I was the fourth of them. At that time those were the big­gest Amer­i­can de­sign­ers and my name was with theirs. So every­body said ‘Who is this guy?,’ ‘Who does he think he is?,’ ‘And by the way, what do his clothes look like?’ So every­body was look­ing at the clothes.

“You have to be dis­rup­tive, you have to do some­thing dif­fer­ent, you can’t do the same as every­body else. That’s how you’re go­ing to suc­ceed.”

4 Hip-hop cre­den­tials

“In the early 90s, I started do­ing this ath­letic type of cloth­ing, with big numbers, big lo­gos, I went very bold with the lo­gos. And the street kids started wear­ing it, and then the hip-hop kids started wear­ing it. And then Snoop Dogg, Puff Daddy and Jay Z, all them started wear­ing my clothes and it spread like crazy. The busi­ness be­came very big in the 90s, too big.

“When every­body is wear­ing the same thing, the first adopters usu­ally say, ‘I don’t want to wear it any­more, be­cause I’ve seen it ev­ery­where.’ It be­comes too big.

“This is what hap­pened with Abercrombie re­cently. Then the busi­ness goes through a dif­fi­cult pe­riod, be­cause a lot of peo­ple just stop wear­ing it. This hap­pened to the Gap even.

“So we had to rein­vent and the busi­ness took off again.”

5 ‘Hurt­ful’ ru­mors

Hil­figer bat­tled a per­sis­tent on­line ru­mor in the late 1990s and early 2000s that claimed he had told Oprah Win­frey his clothes were not made for mi­nori­ties. De­spite the de­nial from both par­ties, the bo­gus story re­fused to die and the chat show host fi­nally in­vited Hil­figer on set, in 2007, to clear up the mess.

“It’s a lie, it’s false, it was made to hurt my busi­ness and me ... The busi­ness con­tin­ued to be strong, we didn’t see the numbers be af­fected, but it was hurt­ful.

“I never would have made my clothes af­ford­able and ac­ces­si­ble for every­body had I not wanted every­body to wear the clothes!”


De­signer Tommy Hil­figer speaks on­stage dur­ing the 2016 An­gel Ball hosted by Gabrielle’s An­gel Foun­da­tion For Cancer Re­search in New York City.

The cover of Tommy Hil­figer’s mem­oir

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