Who is Tommy Hilfiger?

By Shannon King
September 27, 2001

Justine DiFilippo

The new fashion trend nowadays seems to be traditional Americana wear. Following the tragedy in New York and Washington, flag bandanas, red white and blue ensembles, and t-shirts with “God Bless America” sprawled across the front are seen pretty much everywhere. For most people this display of patriotism is newly found, but for one designer the colors of the flag are a basic ingredient for his successful clothing line.

Tommy Hilfiger, born in 1952, began his business in 1969 when he took his $150 life savings and drove to New York City to buy a pair of trendy bell-bottom jeans. He returned to his hometown of Elmira, N.Y. and sold the jeans to his neighbors and local teenagers. With the profits that he made, he was able to open People’s Place, the first of 10 “hip” specialty shops in upstate New York that he owned by the age of 26.

During the 70’s, Hilfiger designed clothes for Jordache before launching his own label in 1985. By 1990, Tommy Hilfiger sales had brought in $25 million thanks in part to a $3 million ad campaign that proclaimed him one of the “Four Great American Designers for Men.” The other three designers were Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis and Ralph Lauren. Today, 16 years after the introduction of his label, his $25 million has turned into a $400 million a year “fashion empire.”

Originally worn by American middle-aged, middle-class white males, Tommy Hilfiger clothing made a huge break into other markets with the appearance of Snoop Dog in 1994 on Saturday Night Live wearing a Tommy red, white, and blue rugby shirt. This gave Hilfiger the chance to design baggier, more casual clothes to meet streetwear demands.

His public popularity, not just with the fashion world, was made clear with an award from VH-1 in 1995. “From the Catwalk to the Sidewalk” award was given to Hilfiger for his clothing’s ability to be worn so easily by the person on the street without having to make alterations. Also in 1995, the Council of Fashion Designers of America voted him Menswear Designer of the Year. One fan of Ralph Lauren in 1992 summed up Hilfiger’s success saying, “Tommy got the colors.”

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Shannon King

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