Tommy Hilfiger - King of American prep

Tommy Hilfiger.   | Photo Credit: GRJGM

So what if you cannot become a sensation like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison or Led Zeppelin? You can at least dress like them! This was the thought that pushed a teenager with a can-do spirit to buy bell-bottom jeans from Manhattan and sell it in his style-famished town of Elmira, near New York. While the entrepreneurial strategy worked initially, bad management ruined his business. As he drifted about New York’s fashion fringes unwilling to give up on his dream of building a brand that reflected the essence of prep and American cool, businessman Mohan Murjani recognised his potential and backed him financially to launch his eponymous label. Today, Tommy Hilfiger is a fashion icon, and his rectangular red-white-blue logo can be spotted at fashion stores across the world. In this interview, the self-taught designer talks about a range of topics – from music-driven mood-boards to sustaining the rhythm of success.

It’s been 10 years since Tommy Hilfiger was launched in India. How has it performed in a place where a number of brands from the West have entered the market?

We are excited to be celebrating our brand’s 10th anniversary in India and are proud of our success here. As one of the first global American lifestyle brands in India, we have focussed on bringing our Americana heritage and the preppy lifestyle at the heart of the brand to consumers across the market. We believe India’s growing fashion industry is a strong platform to continue to elevate our business and reach more consumers. I founded the brand in 1985 in New York, and today we have over 1,400 stores across 90 countries. No matter where we are opening a new location — India or Japan, Brazil or New York — we always work to incorporate a local vibe that mixes with our global retail creative identity.

What is it about Tommy Hilfiger’s DNA that worked in diverse markets?

From the beginning, my goal has been to reinvent our signature “classic American cool” style. People worldwide have embraced the preppy, classic, all-American look at the heart of our brand, and they’re interpreting it in their own way. Our brand is about great style. After 40 years in the industry, I’ve found that style has an enduring quality that outlasts trends.

A retailer turned designer, when did you first realise you had it in you to handle the creative side?

I grew up in Elmira, a small town in upstate New York. The styles I wanted weren’t available there so it became my dream to develop cool, rock-and-roll-inspired clothing. When I was 18, I opened my first store, People’s Place, where we sold bell bottoms and other cool styles that hadn’t been seen in our small town before. I learned to do a lot myself: decorate the store, display merchandise and work with customers. Most importantly, the experience made me realise that design was my true passion, which set the foundation for my career. After my experience with People’s Place, I had a strong creative vision and wanted to express this through my own designs. I was fortunate to work with an inspiring group of business partners. To run a successful business, you need to have a solid grasp on all aspects – from design and production to finances and marketing. It’s important to understand and nurture the business side as much as the creative side.

Music has been an integral part of your evolution. How have the various genres influenced your mood boards?

It was classic rock-and-roll styles that first drove my career in fashion. While I couldn’t play an instrument, I figured I could look like a rock star instead. I loved the edgy individuality of The Rolling Stones, the laidback 1970s cool of Led Zeppelin, and the Brit-inspired styles of The Beatles. These are just some of the influences from the music world that continue to inspire my collections.

Prep continues to be cool…

Prep is rooted in the American East Coast and celebrates classic, clean-cut styles — the look is all about confidence, eclectic details and not taking yourself too seriously. The appeal of prep is that it can be worn in so many ways: classic, laid-back, cool, or even rock-and-roll. The phenomenon has gone global; I love to see the way the style differs across borders and how every one gives it their own spin.

What is your role after the takeover of Tommy Hilfiger by Phillips Van Heusen?

I am the Principal Designer of the Tommy Hilfiger brand and oversee the global creative vision and direction of our business.

What are your impressions of the Indian fashion scene?

I find traditional Indian fashion very inspiring — beautiful fabrics, stunning colours and details. Our Indian consumers have a great sense of style; they love classic cuts and silhouettes, redone with their own twist. There’s a great amount of talent in India’s fashion industry, as seen in both established and up-and-coming designers. I like Sabyasachi’s beautiful traditional designs and Rajesh Pratap Singh’s clean and minimal aesthetic. Miuniku is also a talented duo to watch; they combine colour, print and silhouette in a very fresh and unique way.

What are the three things that dominate your mind when you think of India?

Rich culture, bright colours, friendly people. I’ve visited India many times and have fantastic memories. I have a busy schedule planned, and look forward to taking in the sights, sounds and the incredible culture. I am definitely looking for a great gift to take home for my five-year-old son.

How have friendships from the art world enriched your work and life?

I’m an avid art collector — especially modern and pop art — and have always been inspired by art in my design process. My favourites are Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. I knew Andy personally and consider him to be one of the ultimate icons of New York City life and culture. He embraced a unique point of view about the world and introduced a new framework for pop culture that created unparalleled momentum for pop art as a major new artistic movement.

Who are the musicians that make it to your all-time favourite list?

Music has been a passion since I was young, and it’s a constant source of inspiration for me. I like a mix of old and new; from The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie to Kings of Leon, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, HAIM, Lorde and Imagine Dragons. I’m lucky, today, my kids keep me up-to-date on cool new artists.

You didn’t have any formal education in fashion, yet chalked out a singular path…

I think with passion, drive and determination, anything is possible. I didn’t have a formal education but had incredible real-life experiences that gave me all the tools I needed to excel in the industry. I was open-minded and eager to learn from everything and everyone around me, and by channelling that energy into my career, I was able to build a successful global lifestyle brand.

The best and worst part of being Tommy Hilfiger…

The best part is having an incredible family who love and support me unconditionally. The worst part is not being able to get enough sleep, which all parents and designers can relate to.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2022 10:42:31 PM |

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