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Hilfiger, Tommy - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Tommy Hilfiger

clothing american success line

Tommy Hilfiger Corporation


Tommy Hilfiger is the chief designer and cofounder of the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, which designs and markets clothing and accessories for men, women, and children. Hilfiger’s designs, based on classic styles, helped him and his partners build a fashion company rivaling the success of designers Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.

Personal Life

Tommy Hilfiger was born March 24, 1952, in Elmira, New York. His father, Richard, was a jeweler, and his mother, Virginia, is a former nurse. He married Susan Cirona in 1980, whom he met when she came to work in his first store, People’s Place. Together they have four children, Abby, Richard, Elizabeth, and Kathleen. In 1997, Hilfiger published his first book, titled All American: A Style Book by Tommy Hilfiger.

Hilfiger developed an interest in fashion design while running his first boutique, People’s Place, in Elmira, New York. While working there he was responsible for all of the store’s decorations, and Hilfiger decided he preferred selling and designing clothing. He found a manufacturer that would make clothing according to his specifications, and began his design career. The store closed in 1979 due to bankruptcy, but Hilfiger continued the pursuit of his design career.

Career Details

When Tommy Hilfiger discusses his inspiration for designing such a popular line of clothing, his “leave-itto-Beaver” upbringing in Elmira, New York comes up frequently. As one of nine children, he grew up in a middle-class five-bedroom home collecting sports equipment, guns, cowboy hats, and wearing Billy-the-Kid brand jeans, all things he views as part of the “American” image. He also recalls how at 16 he loved to wear his service station uniform, which had a large automobile graphic on it. This may have had some impact on his prolific use of large graphics and logos in his designs. Also around age 16, he became interested in clothing, especially the Ivy League look of chinos, madras, and oxfords.

Hilfiger started his first clothing business during his senior year in high school, selling bell bottoms and candles in a small shop he opened in Elmira. He eventually began designing his own merchandise, and expanded the business to include 10 shops across upstate New York. Unfortunately, his first business venture ended in bankruptcy. Afterwards, Hilfiger and his wife, Susie, moved to New York City to look for design work. By 1985, he was considering offers to work for Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein, but declined them both. It was then that Mohan Murjani offered him a job and his own clothing line. It was also at this time that Hilfiger, having been through stages where he designed fashionable 1970s and 1980s trendy clothing, returned to his preppy roots. As he states in All American, “Picturing a more New England, outdoorsy, and classic campus look that I knew would last, I launched Tommy Hilfiger.”

In 1989, Hilfiger left Murjani International. He began searching for money to expand his own private label. He teamed up with Silas Chou, who had the financial resources to build a company but needed a brand name to sell. The two signed up former Ralph Lauren executives Lawrence Stroll and Joel Horowitz and formed Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. Capitalizing on Polo’s success with the preppy look, Hilfiger designed casual men’s and boys sportswear in brighter colors with a looser fit.

Hilfiger admits it was Silas Chou that pushed the company toward such rapid expansion and success. Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. went public in 1992. In 1995, they licensed Pepe Jeans USA, and in 1996 began distributing women’s clothing. In late 1997, Tommy Hilfiger opened his first store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and a second store in London in early 1998.

Tommy Hilfiger clothing was available in stores throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Central and South America, Europe, and the Far East. In his book, All American, Hilfiger explains his success in foreign markets by saying, “When I started to travel the world, I saw the fruits of American labor everywhere I went, the products and logos that are the trademarks of our industry and our culture. In the most exotic places in the world, you will see people wearing Levi’s and drinking Coca-Cola, obsessing over 1950s cars, and sporting cowboy shirts and boots, or wearing the rugged clothes we made for the great outdoors. No matter how different the customs, the world is tuned in to the signature emblems of the American lifestyle.”

By 1997, Tommy Hilfiger was co-chairman of a $316 million company. His own salary that year was almost $8.5 million. Hilfiger claims he never doubted his eventual success as a designer, and was only surprised it took him so long.

Social and Economic Impact

When Tommy Hilfiger first launched his clothing line, he decided to send himself right to the top. With the help of a publicity agent, he announced his arrival on the fashion scene in 1985 as one of “the 4 great designers for men,” along with Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, and Ralph Lauren. Critics thought he was incredibly presumptuous and “tasteless.” Hilfiger was an unknown, and had never attended design school. Though he was regarded as an overnight success, it wasn’t until several years later, after forming Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. with Chou that Hilfiger truly made his mark on the industry.

Hilfiger’s vision for his clothing centered around combining classic American styles with an updated look. His initial target market was men between the ages 18 and 25 with taste for high quality, designer clothing. Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. also manufactured its own clothing and was able to keep marketing and distribution costs down. Because of this, Hilfiger was able to offer high quality clothing, comparable to Polo, but at prices more accessible to the American public.

Hilfiger’s clothing appealed to a wide market. Billed as a “cross-over” artist, Hilfiger’s designs were seen on everyone from Bill Clinton to Snoop Doggy Dog to the Spice Girls. He enhanced the basic preppy look in some cases simply by splashing his own name across the clothing, using brighter color palettes, and making his clothing slightly looser than traditional styles.

No longer limited to his men’s line, in the mid- to late 1990s Hilfiger began expanding clothing lines to include products for women, children, and teenagers. He also offered a range of accessories and fragrances. Many of these additional product offerings were made possible through licensing agreements. For example, Tommy and Tommy Girl colognes were manufactured by Aramis, to whom he licensed the Tommy Hilfiger name. Tommy Hilfiger did not exclude customers seeking more specialized, high-end alternatives. To address that market, Hilfiger designed dressier, more expensive product lines that were marketed through specialty shops.

Chronology: Tommy Hilfiger

1952: Born.

1971: Opened People’s Place in Elmira, New York.

1981: Founded 20th Century Survival.

1982: Started Click Point—designed women’s clothing.

1985: Hired by Mohan Murjani to oversee design of Coca-Cola clothing line.

1986: Launched Tommy Hilfiger clothing line, backed by Murjani.

1989: Formed Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. with Silas Chou.

1992: Tommy Hilfiger Corp. is made public.

1997: Opened Tommy Hilfiger store on Rodeo Drive.

1997: Published All American: A Style Book.

Hilfiger kept his hand in promoting his designs as well. He hosted fashion shows and autograph sessions, and conducted briefings for sales personnel via satellite. He educated retailers about Hilfiger products and how to display them. Hilfiger also solicited feedback directly from consumers and used that to influence future clothing lines.

Hilfiger’s influence on the fashion industry has been widespread. Retailers were devoting increasing amounts of floor space to highlight his designs. Even before Hilfiger began marketing women’s clothing, women purchased it straight out of the men’s department. In fact, Hilfiger’s first attempt at women’s clothing failed because the line was too formal, not close enough in style to his classic, casual men’s look. Hilfiger redesigned the line, staying truer to his roots, and met with success. Hilfiger also found great success in the 1990s market because of the shift toward “business casual” dress codes in the work force.

One of the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation’s primary goals was to build a “global designer brand.” As of 1998, Tommy Hilfiger products could be found in leading department and specialty stores throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Central America, South American, Europe, and the Far East. To further their goal of global expansion, the company looked for industry leaders in markets that shared Tommy Hilfiger, Inc.‘s vision for worldwide growth when arranging licensing agreements. Tommy Hilfiger’s personal role in that vision was to make sure the company’s designs remained fresh and continued to appeal to their respective markets.

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almost 8 years ago

hiii well i love this cologne... i got my first bottle when i was 6 my uncle gave it to me befor he when in to the army and i still have it bc it reminded me of him every time i used it bc i missed him alot but i still have it and im 15 soo its about 9 years old!!