Tommy Hilfiger Jay Fielden Hearst

Tommy Hilfiger likes to think of himself as a “disruptor,” which is perhaps the most overused word when it comes to the technology industry. But when it comes to fashion, the notion of disruption is less connected to foundational upheaval than a shift in trends.

Hilfiger, however, put himself at the center of a potential foundational change when he joined a handful of designers during New York Fashion Week to produce a collection that was immediately shoppable in store and online after his runway show.

The designer stopped by Hearst Tower in Manhattan on Tuesday to chat with Esquire editor in chief Jay Fielden about his desire to shake up the industry by using technology. He also addressed the somewhat controversial idea that magazines become e-commerce brands, while also giving his thoughts on the vitality of Ivanka Trump‘s fashion line after the presidential election.

Hilfiger on consumers in the digital age: 

I believe that people today want instant gratification and I think they want experiences. Case in point is that we have been looking at this for a while. It has been at least five years that I have been thinking about how to do a buy-now-wear-now fashion show because being a democratic brand, I wanted to open it up to the public. I wanted to actually sell clothes to lots of people rather than very few people and I wanted lots of people to enjoy the experience of coming to a fashion show rather than very few people….about a year ago, I decided we should do a buy-now-wear-now fashion show. That wouldn’t be enough to do a buy-now-wear-now fashion show. It had to be full of bells and whistles, experience, cool factor, uniqueness. It’s got to be disruptive. You’ve got to change a whole design and manufacturing calendar to get the clothes ready for the show. Then we needed to do some sort of headline. Gigi [Hadid] was modeling for us….she came in and out of fittings wearing the coolest clothes….I asked her to design with me…we teamed up with Facebook [to publicize via chatbots]. We did a deal with Snapchat, with Instagram. We said, “OK, we want our company to be, not only social-media savvy, but we want to be on the edge of technology.” We want to be a step ahead because I really, truly believe that if you’re not a step ahead, you can easily fall behind. And if you fall behind, it’s going to be very difficult, if even possible, to catch up and leapfrog the next.

On the future of his brand using technology: 

I could say we have a lot to do with changing the way people are looking at how fashion is sold. I like to be at the forefront of it because I think that the next step could make it even more modern. I’ve been talking to these tech people in Silicon Valley about how you click and buy from a TV show, how you shop on mobile in a certain modern way where you don’t have to go to an app and you can do it by voice. All this great technology, I want to absorb into our company and share with the public.

On the problem with department stores:

When you listen to what stores want you to be rather than doing what you want to be, you fall into the trap of “last year-itice,” what they think you should be. If I heard another department store say that they needed more plaid shirts when everyone from J. Crew to their private label had plaid shirts, it was like, “why would I want to do more plaid shirts when you have them from everybody else?”

On leadership and success:

I think you have to give creative people opportunity and enough rope to be creative. I think you have to not be afraid of taking risks. I like the idea of thinking out of the box before you think in the box.

On whether magazines should develop product lines to grow new revenue streams: 

In my opinion, you have global, respected, cool, chic brand names. You have Esquire, you have Harper’s Bazaar, you have Elle, you have Town + Country. You have some great brand names, but you’re only selling magazines and doing some digital. Why don’t you have your own brands? Why isn’t there an Esquire men’s clothing brand that you talk about on your site, show in your magazine, you sell to Saks Fifth Avenue, to Neiman Marcus? I think it’s a missed opportunity. This is just from where I stand — especially now when magazine sales are coming down somewhat. I think that you have to find new ways to create new revenue. I mean, Oprah [O Magazine], not a bad brand. She has a few fans around who might buy some Oprah fashion or whatever. I just think it’s money left on the table, so to speak.

Will Ivanka Trump’s brand survive the fallout from her father’s presidential campaign?

That’s hard to tell. Ivanka is a very smart, well-respected young woman with great taste. I think at the end of the day, if the clothes are great, people are going to buy them. I’ve seen that happen so many times with brands that have been spoken about negatively, but if people like the clothes, people will buy them. But I don’t know what will happen long-term to her [brand].


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