LONDON — The last time Tommy Hilfiger took a bow in London was February, 2020, a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic struck Europe. He was in the Tanks at Tate Modern, staging what would be his final Tommy Now see now, buy now extravaganza, which featured an all-star cast including Naomi Campbell, Lewis Hamilton, Yasmin Le Bon and Georgia May Jagger.
While it was less than two years ago, it might as well have been an eon away for all that has changed in the world at large — and in the mind of Hilfiger.
The unflinching optimist and winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award at The Fashion Awards 2021 on Monday night is moving on — to the metaverse — although he’s still worrying about the number of buttons on the sleeve, whether a fabric is too shiny, or the jackets hanging over there on the rack need lining.
“I want to do something way different” than Tommy Now, said the designer during an interview at his Brompton Road showroom a few hours before the Fashion Awards at Royal Albert Hall.
“During COVID-19, I was studying and understanding the metaverse and video gaming — we want to be a step ahead digitally. That is what I’m always asking my team: ‘What’s next?’ We have to stay ahead. All of that is very intriguing to me,” said Hilfiger
He sees NFTs as brand assets, and likes the idea of them being stored in a crypto-wallet. “Avatars, gaming, AR, VR — they’re important to every industry, but certainly to the fashion industry,” said Hilfiger over an espresso, and in the shadow of the showroom’s clothing racks.
Monday night’s award recognizes that curiosity, open-mindedness and knack for forward-thinking.
When it unveiled the award, the British Fashion Council described Hilfiger as “driven by an ever-optimistic vision to break conventions and celebrate individuality” and nodded to his partnerships and celebrity endorsements and his efforts to “foster inclusion and diversity in the fashion industry” and to pioneer sustainable initiatives.
The organization described Hilfiger, the latest international designer to pick up the prize after Giorgio Armani, Miuccia Prada, Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld, as one of the most influential fashion leaders of the last two centuries, and “an inspiration” to the future generation.
“When I started my first business, People’s Place, it was literally a place for the people — for anybody who wanted to look cool. And, at the time, cool was bell bottoms, fringe vests and platform shoes. The kids who worked for me had either hair down to their shoulders or Afros — it was a fashion music revolution,” said Hilfiger, who opened his first store in 1969 in his hometown of Elmira, N.Y.
“Today, everybody’s talking about hiring chief diversity officers in companies. A lot of people think it’s a new thing, and many corporations think they should jump on the bandwagon of being inclusive and diverse all of a sudden. For over 50 years we’ve been doing it. We’ve been using diverse models since the day we started, and our adaptive collection, where we make clothes for people with special needs, has been doing amazingly well.”
It wasn’t long before Hilfiger added celebrities to his music and fashion mosaic. He worked with a young Britney Spears (the brand sponsored her 1999 “Baby One More Time” tour); tapped a teenage Beyoncé to front his fragrances, and partnered with Aaliyah, who was one of his spokespeople before her death in 2001.
During the interview he also recalled a magical moment in London, his first show outside the U.S., which he staged at the Museum of Natural History in South Kensington in the mid-’90s. “I brought the hip-hop [trio] Naughty by Nature. We had Naomi and Kate [Moss] walking down the runway.” He said it was quite a shocker for the audience to see all the logos, the bright colors — and American streetwear.
All of those celebrities would later make room for the likes of Gigi Hadid, Zendaya and Lewis Hamilton, all of whom have collaborated with the Tommy Hilfiger brand in past years.
During the interview, Hilfiger also talked about the company’s strides on the sustainability front, and his enduring “anything is possible” approach to work and life.
He said he still can’t believe he has this job.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe that I wake up every morning loving what I do. It never seemed like work to me. Ever. And I just can’t see myself ever slowing down or stopping.”
And while his mind may be on the metaverse right now, it still wanders frequently into the physical realm.
“I’ve been looking at every single detail in this showroom today. I want to talk to some of the guys because I think that fabric is a little too shiny, and I also want to talk about some of these jackets that really don’t need lining. I think they’re better without it.”
Asked what his priorities for the business are right now (aside from the buttons and the lining), Hilfiger doesn’t hesitate.
“The image of the brand is one of the most important things because now that we’re global, I want to be very much in tune with how we show up. I want to look to the consumer, and how we interact with the consumer. He or she is the judge, and we have to listen to them. We also have to work together as a team.”
That sounds just like People’s Place, all over again.