Tommy Hilfiger Puts Fashion, Art, Music, Entertainment and Sports at the Heart of the Brand

Tommy Hilfiger has achieved great success connecting fashion, art, music, entertainment and sports to his brand.

Speaking at the “The Wear House” March 9 during SXSW in Austin, Hilfiger spoke to James Fallon, editorial director at Fairchild Media Group, about F.A.M.E.S. (fashion, art, music, entertainment and sports), and how it has propelled the fashion house for the past 40 years.

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“I always thought there was a marriage between entertainment, media, celebrity and fashion, and I always thought there was a connection between fashion and music,” said Hilfiger, honorary chairman and principal designer.

He recalled when he started in business 50 years ago as a teenager, he opened a shop called People’s Place in Elmira, N.Y., “which was all about selling cool clothes to cool people who were like-minded, and music was at the core.” He sold tickets to concerts, dressed musicians and also had a record shop within the store. “It was in 1969, the summer of Woodstock,” the designer said.

When he launched his own brand, he felt if he dressed musicians, their fans would become customers, too — and that’s what happened. “It happened through dressing musicians and using musicians in the advertising, when it was everybody from Britney Speaks to Usher to Aaliyah to P. Diddy, Snoop Dogg and many other musicians,” he said. Eventually, that extended into the arts and entertainment.

Hilfiger said he was a fan of Andy Warhol whom he met in the ’80s in New York. “I was obsessed with Andy’s attraction to celebrities.…To me it was really exciting, because you’re looking at a painting of Elvis Presley or Mick Jagger or Diana Ross. I thought, ‘art, celebrity, music, fashion,’ should all go together and I made up this word, F.A.M.E.,” and then he added sports to make it F.A.M.E.S.

“We live by that as an ethos at the Tommy Hilfiger company,” he said. The brand recently debuted ads with Kendall Jenner, and in fall 2022, featured musicians Travis Barker and Jon Batiste.

Over the years, the concept has only strengthened.

“It’s really about pushing the buttons in society. I think F.A.M.E.S. moves the needle in society, whether you’re Gen Z or Millennial or my age, or whether you’re living anywhere in the world, people are attracted to celebrity.…The Korean K-pop stars are so enormous. In Asia it’s happening, it’s happening in South America,” he said.

Hilfiger has had an uncanny ability to pick out stars before they explode into pop culture, which he said comes from “a strong curiosity to find out what’s next.”

“When we chose Zendaya, Zendaya was previously a Disney star,” he said. People questioned the choice after he’d partnered with Gigi Hadid and Naomi Campbell. “I said absolutely because she [Zendaya] is going to be a fashion star. And today she’s probably one of the most sought-after fashion stars in the world, in addition to being multitalented on many other levels,” he said.

Recently, the brand signed Sofia Richie as its next collaborator and face. “Sofia is going to be another Gigi. She’s really in the Zeitgeist. She looks great, and again, is a California girl. We’ve also signed another actor, Damson Idris. He’ll be starring in a movie with Brad Pitt and I think he’s going to become a big star and a lot of people don’t know who he is yet. We also like to pick them before they become so big we can’t afford them,” he said.

Hilfiger has sought models who have a taste level and have something to offer the company in addition to their beauty, he said. When Hadid approached the business, he wanted to use her brain and her styling expertise to make clothes that she would wear. He surrounded her with his design team of sketchers and fabric and trimming experts and told her to pick out the colors and fabric she liked.

“At that time, she really wanted high waisted jeans and we were in the middle of a low-waisted era.…We couldn’t keep them [Hadid’s jeans] in stock,” he said. “We did the same thing with Zendaya, the same thing with Lewis Hamilton, and the same thing with the musician H.E.R., and now we’re continuing to do it with a lot of others,” Hilfiger said.

Last February, Hilfiger held a fashion show at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal, a first for the restaurant. Hilfiger elevated the collection and felt it was a major step for the brand.

“Everybody’s obsessed with luxury. If you look at Louis Vuitton and Gucci and Prada and a lot of the luxury brands, they’re quite expensive.…I want affordable luxury to be a cornerstone for us. I want to dress people who love fashion and love luxury but at an affordable price point with the highest quality possible. That was a turning point,” he said. “I’ve always had that philosophy….I’m just elevating all the clothes now. I’m just making them more luxurious from a fit, a fabric and quality standpoint while keeping the prices affordable. No sticker shock,” Hilfiger continued.

For fall 2024, Hilfiger moved away from the see now, buy now model.

“‘See now, buy now’ was the emphasis we put on our fashion shows before COVID-19 all the way through this past show. What we wanted to do was offer the audience whatever they saw on the runway, click and buy. It was phenomenal, and it worked really well. Now, we still have ‘see now, buy now,’ but we put the clothes on the celebrities in all the front rows. Whatever they’re wearing can be bought at that moment in time. What is shown on the runway they have to wait for another six months,” the designer said.

Hilfiger has also developed an interactive fashion game on Netflix called FashionVerse though a private investment vehicle co-founded by Hilfiger in partnership with leading game publisher Tilting Point. The game launched last January on all iOS and Android devices through their respective App Stores. Netflix members have FashionVerse included in their membership on iOS and Android devices through the Netflix mobile app.

“Technology and AI, and video games, and where people are buying and looking at fashion is very meaningful to me,” said Hilfiger. “You can be your own stylist and you will be given an avatar to dress [in FashionVerse]. There will be a lot of different clothes, from Michael Kors to Alice + Olivia to rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts and accessories. You’ll be able dress your avatar, pick your background.…She can be in London or Paris or Austin, and then you’re judged on how you put your look together and they’ll be rewards and prizes,” Hilfiger said.

An audience member asked if Hilfiger would ever collaborate with The Sims or Fortnite. “We did Roblox and it was really fun and really exciting. I would be open to that. Those are great games,” the designer said.

Hilfiger is embracing technology, though he cautioned that if misused, “AI will be very dangerous. It should be regulated.”

But, he said, “You can’t fight technology. Technology is here to stay, and you have to take advantage of it.”

Hilfiger’s company started using 3D printing many years ago and it sped up whole design process, spurring the team to do more collections and more styles. When they come up with an idea, it can be done in 60 days. In fact, he recently did a collaboration with DJ Khaled, who loves golf and grew up wearing his clothes, with a line of ’90s-inspired golf shirts that sold out. It took 45 days to get them into Khaled store in Miami, called We the Best.

Down the road, Hilfiger predicts the F.A.M.E.S. model is here to stay.

“People need clothes and people always want something new to wear. Art is not going anywhere. The art may be changing. Obviously, Warhol and Pop Art will always be here to stay, but there are new artists coming up who are incredibly talented. Music is not going anywhere. It’s changing and evolving all the time.…Entertainment goes way beyond a TV set. Entertainment is social media, entertainment is Instagram, Reels, Stories, TikTok. Entertainment is the Kardashians and entertainment is also sports,” he said.

During the question-and-answer period, one audience member, a menswear designer whose brother uses a wheelchair, asked what made Hilfiger launch his adaptive line in 2017, when some brands have been hesitant to enter that market.

“I have three autistic kids,” Hilfiger said. “I watched them over the years trying to get dressed, and because of the dexterity they find it difficult to button buttons, and close snaps. One of my daughters had braces on her legs. We designed them with the idea to make it easy for these type of people to get dressed for school and work.…We put in hidden Velcro and all sorts of snaps and zippers that were easy to work. We altered some of the fabrics that were really stretchier. We really put a lot of time and effort into it. I’m surprised other brands have not done it,” Hilfiger said.

Another audience member asked about Hilfiger’s fashion inspirations, and if he’s had a chance to collaborate with them yet. Hilfiger said he’s collaborated with Vetements, Kith and Ralph Lauren’s nephew Greg Lauren.

“When you bring two talents together, maybe you come up with something that wouldn’t otherwise be thought about. I’m looking forward to the collaboration we’re going to do with Sofia Richie. The ones we did with Lewis Hamilton were incredible,” Hilfiger said.

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