Fashion is a fickle beast, and no one knows that better than Tommy Hilfiger. For this reason, the man who built a multibillion-dollar business in part by bringing streetwear to the masses is happily sounding his death knell on a navy blue couch on the ninth floor of his flashy office at 285 Madison Avenue, New York. “We evolved from streetwear,” says the 72-year-old designer, about the baggy jeans and splashy logo T-shirts he borrowed from skate, surf and hip-hop enthusiasts and which have been a staple of his brand since the 1990s. be a brand. .
Ironically, today he’s dressed in an all-white branded tracksuit and crisp white trainers, “but I’m catching a flight to Palm Beach later, this is just comfortable,” he jokes. “Streetwear had its moment. We did it in the early nineties and again recently. Now it will take a break and come back in a different way in ten years.”
This was the take-away from his Friday night New York Fashion Week show giant. There was a good reason to go big: the King of the Big Apple was back after his two-year hiatus from the show. “New York is where it all started, in 1985, almost forty years ago. This is home. And when we show at home, we want to do something special,” he says, as the American veneer gleams.
And it was certainly special. At about 8:30 p.m., at Grand Central Station’s Oyster Bar, a crowd of 400 had broken through the NYPD-controlled crowd hoarding the entrance and models began stomping over the wooden tables, rinsed with dirty martinis and lipstick-stained champagne flutes.
The usually gingham-strewn restaurant was royally Hilfigered: a crisp navy blue carpet had been rolled out and framed red, white and blue logo flags hung on the walls. Many Londoners made the journey; Seated in the front row were Peckham actor Damson Idris, Shepherd’s Bush-born rapper Central Cee, Bollywood star and Notting Hill resident Sonam Kapoor, comedian Gstaad Guy and Romeo Beckham’s model Mia Regan.
It was the first headline show of New York Fashion Week, and the crowd’s expectations matched those of the city’s sports bars on Super Bowl Sunday, two days later. On the clothing front, Hilfiger went back to zero with the style he cut his teeth with – all preppy everything. “We wanted it to be classically American, cool and preppy, but lifted and polished,” he says. The opening look, the slouchy, baggy beige trousers, worn with an exaggerated collar, button-down and a stealth gray, worsted hat, set the tone.
What followed resembled a sixth-grade heartthrob: girls in Prince of Wales checked miniskirts, navy pea coats and polished loafers; boys with their crooked striped ties, rugby shirts and backpacks hanging from one shoulder – times 59. Or, in New York terms, as if they had stepped out of Gossip Girl, the TV series that followed the elites of the Upper East Side through the prep school, and which aired in 2007 with an opening scene set in Grand Central.
Real-life rich boy and fake baby Scarlet Stallone, the 21-year-old daughter of action star Sylvester, walked down the catwalk. “He’s a good friend,” Hilfiger said of her father, who was cheerleading from the front row. “It’s schoolgirl, Ivy League, collegiate,” Hilfiger says. Why? Because we are witnessing the return of chic, he thinks. “People want to look like they are wearing expensive clothes. It’s becoming more mature, more advanced. The pendulum is constantly swinging back and forth.”
You only have to look at the runaway success of Saltburn, Emerald Fennell’s romp film obsessed with the lives of Britain’s crumbling Aristos, to understand that there is an appetite today. On the catwalk, notes of the British upper class emerged – particularly in the riding boots borrowed from hunters, complete with the wide-ankle fit you’d be more likely to see in stirrups and surrounded by dogs in the Cotswolds, than in a trendy New York . executive.
“A lot of [those wanting to look posh] cannot afford to shop in the luxury market. If you look at the prices of Vuitton, Prada and Loro Piana, it is unattainable,” he says. Its mid-range offering, which feels sturdy and well-made to the touch (“the quality is fantastic,” he chirps), is built to fill that void.
It is a testament to his persistent business acumen that has defined Hilfiger’s powerful rise; a story that started with an 18-year-old student flogging jeans in Elmira, a town in upstate New York, and graduating to an eponymous label, launched with the backing of Indian textile magnate Mohan Murjani, when he was 34.
Three years later, in 1988, he achieved sales of $25 million. By the mid-1990s, as the brand took off in the hip-hop and rap community, that number quickly multiplied to $500 million, and before the turn of the millennium, it had topped the $1 billion mark. In 2006, Hilfiger sold the company for $1.6 billion. He is still the company’s chief designer and seems as motivated as ever to bring in new customers.
Celebrity collaborations have been his most recent golden ticket, counting lines designed with Gigi Hadid (from 2016), Lewis Hamilton (from 2018) and Zendaya (from 2019). In 2024, Sofia Richie, the model daughter of singer Lionel, took over. “We’re always looking at who could be next,” he says. “And Sofia will be the world’s next big It girl.” Her flashy dazzling entrance to the show, with British music director Elliot Grainge in tow, was typical Hilfiger fashion-tainment, as he calls it.
“A normal fashion show is old-fashioned,” he says, and adding extra flair to the runway is an industry standard he pioneered. This was true as early as 1996, when he expanded to Europe with a spectacular show at the Natural History Museum in London. The editors went into an uproar when the rap trio Naughty By Nature performed, and Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Karen Elson and P Diddy revolved around him.
The format was so good that it stuck. Friday night’s spectacle ended on cue with a surprise performance by Grammy-winning singer Jon Batiste, who performed his hit Freedom. “You always have to turn like this,” he says. “If it’s just a regular fashion show, everything feels very boring.”