NEW YORK — Tommy Hilfiger and Harlem’s Fashion Row named New York City-based designer Clarence Ruth as the winner of the first New Legacy Challenge, a design competition developed as part of Tommy’s People’s Place Program, at the Roxy Hotel here Thursday night.
Ruth was one of three finalists selected for the prize, alongside designers Megan Smith and Johnathan Hayden. The three finalists were tasked with recreating and reinterpreting classic preppy styles for an opportunity to receive a grant of $20,000 and codesign a capsule collection with the Tommy Hilfiger team.
The competition was a full circle moment for Ruth, who was inspired by Hilfiger to pursue fashion and modeling. He graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked at Ralph Lauren, John Varvatos and Andrew Buckler before founding his denim label Cotte D’Armes, which is available in the U.S. and Asia. The designer accepted the grant with tears in his eyes, his son by his side and his mother in attendance, who reluctantly joined her son onstage proclaiming, “This is your moment.” She hugged Hilfiger as well.
“I thank God,” Ruth said in an emotional moment. He said the win is bigger than him, Tommy Hilfiger and the competition because it opens doors for more talents to step through. During a panel talk after a preview of the competition film by Luchina Fisher, he said that his legacy began with the birth of his son, who he wants to make life easier for. After the win, Hilfiger said, “Your promise to your son will live on.”
Ruth’s featured looks included a striped shirtdress paired with navy varsity jacket and a convertible ensemble with a navy jacket that is half double-breasted pinstripe jacket with elbow patch details and half denim jacket on the back paired with khaki chino pants that can become shorts. “When I started the brand, I thought everyone was doing the same thing,” he said before the event. “I approach with an outside the box mind-set.”
As for the other finalists, Smith incorporated bold prints in her work and added a feminine flair to her coed proposition that featured khaki cargo pants with loose suspenders and jackets with ties on the back and shirt cuffs that hang loose. Hayden imagined friends taking a cross country trip and making memories together for his collection, which included a navy pinstripe blazer with pleated bottom and a gray varsity jacket with custom patches he created.
“It’s so important for us as a brand to ensure we are using our global platform to champion the next generation of BIPOC talent, and the New Legacy Challenge truly sets the foundation for that,” Hilfiger said. “It was very meaningful to partner with Harlem’s Fashion Row on this journey because they have been leading this charge in our industry through impactful initiatives for designers of color. Our New Legacy Challenge finalists Johnathan, Megan and Clarence are immensely talented and you see each of their unique visions shine through their designs. We’re very excited for the next step of this challenge where we will invite the winner to codesign a capsule collection with our design team.”
Hilfiger and HFR received responses from close to 100 applicants and narrowed the selection down to a dozen in 2021 before revealing the three finalists in February. Harlem’s Fashion Row founder and chief executive officer Brandice Daniel said the designers received $20,000 to produce the collections, as well as textiles and a mentor from the Tommy team in Amsterdam to help the designers in their process. The three then worked with photographer Justin French, hairstylist Jonathan De Francesco, models Elaine Palacios and Baba Diop and Randy Cousin, senior vice president of product concepts and People’s Place Program at Tommy Hilfiger to bring their designs to life.
“The project has been incredible for the designers,” Daniel said. “I always sit back and think how are they feeling? How do designers feel about the project? They are so excited about the process and to present to Tommy himself has been an incredible opportunity.”
Daniel presented the idea to the Hilfiger team after they established its People’s Place Program, the company’s three-pillared platform intended to increase the representation of people of color within the company and the industry. She and Cousin teamed to build the project, which follows Hilfiger’s collaboration with Romeo Hunte in August 2021.
“I read an article about the amazing work Brandice is doing and I thought I have to meet her,” Cousin said. “She is a force. We completely vibed on our first phone call and that’s where the challenge was born.”
Cousin said so many designers work four times as hard to launch their businesses because they juggle design, sewing, patternmaking and the supply chain, but many succeeded despite this. He said, “What if we opened up an opportunity for designers to get those resources?”
Jurors including Hilfiger; actor Anthony Ramos; Harlem’s Fashion Row chief strategy and revenue officer Felita Harris; Shawuan Johnson, Tommy Hilfiger executive vice president of merchandising company stores/e-comm, and Leonello Borghi, Tommy Hilfiger EVP global creative director, footwear, accessories, licensed product and North America apparel, viewed the finalists’ collections on March 8 at a final showcase at The Times Square Edition Hotel.
Hilfiger and HFR tapped filmmaker Fisher to capture the designers’ processes through the competition, which premiered at the event at The Roxy Hotel and will release on the company’s website in April and on YouTube. “The series gives an opportunity now for the world to see the great talent these designers bring to the table,” Cousin said.
Both Daniel and Cousin are evaluating the potential for another possible partnership. Cousin revealed that a podcast with Kimberly Jenkins of the Fashion and Race Database is coming in April as part of their partnership for the People’s Place Program.