Byline: Lisa Lockwood

NEW YORK — Don’t tell Tommy there’s no turning back.
The designer has returned to his Americana roots in a $15 million women’s and men’s spring sportswear TV and print ad campaign. The move signifies a homecoming of sorts for Hilfiger, whose image in recent years has veered from preppy classic to hip urban, pure rocker and renegade. Even controversial: Hilfiger got himself in hot water with the White House when he ran a photo of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos sitting in a sexy pose on the desk in the Oval office.
But his new ads, complete with the red, white and blue flag logo and fresh-scrubbed sportswear-clad models, also reference American icons such as Natalie Wood, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart.
Created by Deutsch Inc., the print ads were shot by Walter Chin. They feature models Joy Bryant, who is now under contract to Hilfiger; Rebecca Romijn-Stamos; Ashley Wood; Faithimah Durkee, and Sara Foster, who are interspersed with the celebrities in a montage.
Natalie Wood appears in a photo from “Love With the Proper Stranger”; Monroe is shown in newsreel footage from the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles the morning after her marriage to Joe DiMaggio; Peter Fonda is shown in a clip from “Easy Rider”; Humphrey Bogart appears in a scene from “Casablanca,” and there’s a photo of Duke Ellington.
“We wanted to create an American icon campaign,” Hilfiger told WWD. “Last year was the year of music, and this year is the beginning of our return to American classics, with a twist. The fashion show was an indication of it.”
As honorary chairman of what is characterized in the industry as a $1.7 billion “machine,” Hilfiger conceded in a story last fall that when he parted ways with AG Brand Consulting, he was at something of a crossroads, trying to figure out how to build a strong fashion image when each of his numerous businesses is targeted to different demographics and mind-sets.
“The American preppy heritage we started with is so important to so many of our businesses,” Hilfiger acknowledged this week. “We don’t want to lose sight of it. I feel it gets us back to where we belong as a brand. This is the beginning of my strong emphasis on American classics.”
But he’s not entirely turning down the volume. Hilfiger said the company’s jeans and junior campaigns, created by Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners, will continue to be music related.
After catapulting to the top of the fashion heap, Hilfiger’s business stalled recently. As reported, the company’s third-quarter earnings, although better than expected, were up only marginally. The company announced it would close its money-losing Beverly Hills and London flagship stores and postpone a better-priced career collection, due out in stores for fall 2000. The company is undergoing some major cost-cutting and re-strategizing of the various businesses. Although its women’s sportswear did better in 1999 than the previous year, its margins were lower because of markdowns, especially on basic women’s sportswear.
The $10 million TV campaign breaks April 20 and will appear on such networks as VH-1, ESPN, ABC, NBC, Fox and WB. Among the shows it will be featured on are “South Park,” “Stand Up Live,” “The Man Show,” “True Hollywood Stories,” “The Practice,” “Friends,” “Ally McBeal,” “Dharma & Greg” and “Monday Night Football.”
The TV ads have a celebrity quotient, as well. Aretha Franklin is featured, along with Marilyn Monroe and the models, with “American Woman” by The Guess Who playing in the background.
The print campaign, with a budget of $5 million, also incorporates the company’s licensed handbags, optical, sunwear and footwear. It breaks in the April editions of Elle, Essence, Harper’s Bazaar, Mademoiselle, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, the New York Times Magazine and W. Hilfiger will also run an eight-page handbag insert in the April edition of Glamour.

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