PARIS — At a massive party headlined by Lenny Kravitz performing for a busload of celebrities, Tommy Hilfiger this week feted his new flagship here in fine, flashbulb-popping style.
The $1.7 billion company soldiers on with a global upgrade and expansion, but aims to do so in modest, measured fashion, now that it's out of Wall Street's glare following its acquisition last May by an Apax Partners fund.
"The one thing we want to avoid at all costs is overexposure," said Fred Gehring, chief executive officer of Tommy Hilfiger Corp. "We're not going to be volume-driven."
That's quite a change for the former stock market darling. After rapid growth in the Nineties, the company ended up humbled by a sportswear-saturated U.S. retail scene that had maxed out on the brand.
Gehring and Hilfiger have now mapped out their plan to reclaim the American brand's energetic ethos, and to carefully extend a premium positioning in markets like Asia and Eastern Europe.
"I really believe I built this business as a result of breaking rules, pioneering new ground, thinking outside the box," said an upbeat Hilfiger, dressed in a velvet jacket, striped shirt and jeans. "After five years of being a public company, I felt compelled to do everything to please Wall Street every four months.…But sometimes, those decisions aren't the best for the long term."
In an interview, Hilfiger said he now spies an opportunity "to rejuvenate, reinvent and put strength and power back into the brand — and it doesn't have to be on a grand scale.…We just have to be great at what we do. It's a new life, a new chapter. It's exciting."
Gehring, an energetic and articulate executive, spoke in similar terms, expressing fist-thumping enthusiasm, but tempered with a disciplined approach to business.
For example, although Italy and France are now focus countries in Hilfiger's European onslaught, Gehring acknowledged they are difficult markets for international brands to penetrate.
In the past year, the company has opened flagships in Milan and Florence, and Gehring said a location in Rome, or possibly a second in Milan, is among immediate expansion priorities in the country. "In Italy, we're already strongly on our way, with high double-digit growth in wholesale," he said. "France, particularly, is a tough nut to crack.…Eventually, we will succeed here, too."
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