Global Fashion Forum Beijing 2016 Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger’s see-now-buy-now fashion extravaganza during the women’s shows in New York last month marked only the first step in “moving the needle in the fashion business in a brand new way.”

Soon he’ll do an encore for his male customers.

“We believe we are at the forefront of changing the way people are buying fashion, the way people are looking at fashion and the way we are presenting fashion,” he said during a keynote address titled “How Global Brands are Built and Remain Relevant.”

“We have to listen to the consumer, and the consumer is demanding immediate gratification,” he said. “We believe it is the future. I strongly believe that the consumer today does not want to see something on the runway in February and wait until September in order to buy it. By that time, it’s old news. By that time, she’s seen it on celebrities, on social media, in magazines and she wants something new. Therefore we are answering to her needs and in the very near future we’re doing the same thing with men.”

The American designer touted the Sept. 10 event on a pier, which spotlighted a collection he designed with model du jour Gigi Hadid, as an unqualified success with the hashtag #tommynow earning 2.2 billion impressions and virtually all products selling out in the immediate aftermath.

The event resonated strongly in China, where it was the most viewed live-streamed content that day, attracting an audience of 3.8 million, according to Hilfiger. What’s more, the content trended on Tmall.com for 48 hours and traffic to the brand’s online shop in China increased by 300 percent, the designer said.

Hilfiger followed up the Manhattan event with a tour whose impact he likened to that of a rock band. It took Hadid to Shanghai, Tokyo and Dubai to meet customers and relive elements of the event’s carnival mood and setting.

“The crowds were so enormous, we had to close down street corners,” he said. “It’s about being part of pop culture and being a part of what’s happening in the world of social media today. Because we’re talking about tapping into influencers and tapping into a consumer base that keeps our brand young and fresh.”

The designer recounted his journey from People’s Place, the groovy store he launched in Elmira, N.Y., with $150 and 20 pairs of bell bottoms as a junior in high school, to a global megabrand boasting 484 stores in the People’s Republic of China.

While he acknowledged the need to adapt products, events and ambassadors to match local tastes and interests, he touted that the “same taste level” exists globally, a refrain heard from many speakers at the one-day event.

The designer characterized his company, founded in 1985, as a serial disrupter, starting with its controversial billboard touting Hilfiger alongside design greats like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis. The brand went on to become Estée Lauder’s first fragrance licensee in 1992 and one of American fashion’s early initial public offerings the same year.

The business then initiated a global expansion and today comprises 454 stores in the Americas generating $3.3 billion in revenues; 624 locations in Europe generating $2.4 billion, and its Chinese network representing $650 million in revenues.

As his businesses matured in the U.S. and Europe, Hilfiger entered the Chinese market in 2004 with a licensee, moving to a joint venture in 2011 and this year to a fully owned and operated model, touted repeatedly as the preferred option at the conference.

“We focus on the Chinese consumer now, we listen to what he and she wants and needs,” Hilfiger said. “From colors and sizing and fabrics and events, we’re always molding and shaping to the regions.”

While Hilfiger’s products are sold on Tmall, part of online giant Alibaba, the designer recently launched his own e-store in China, touted as another disruptive first.

“We really believe that being innovative is the way of the future,” Hilfiger said, flashing slides showing the company’s digital showroom and virtual reality goggles that allow users to step behind the scenes of a fashion shoot with Hadid. “We also feel that if we’re not on the edge of technology and we’re not on the edge of social networks and what’s going on in the world today, we’ll be left behind. We want to stay a step ahead.”

Hilfiger said he and other company principals spend time in Silicon Valley in California to stay abreast of digital developments, partnering with tech giants like Facebook to develop its “chatbot” to aid online transactions and present additional purchase suggestions.

“We are really sustaining the brand into the future,” he said, calling the see-now, buy-now model emblematic of its approach.

“We like the young consumer who buys on a regular basis, and grows up with our brand. We like to keep our brand youthful, affordable, accessible, democratic, fun and always changing,” he said.

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