The designer spoke with WWD on Saturday, ahead of a talk he was set to give with brother Andy Hilfiger while at the two-day ComplexCon festival.
“We were embraced by the hip-hop community in the late Eighties, early Nineties and it was the beginning of a new fashion revolution taking place,” Hilfiger recalled. “It was the birth of streetwear and we were leaders. We listened to what the customer wanted and we gave the customer what they needed before they knew what they needed.”
At the time, the designer recalled, everything was oversize. The logos, he said, were “bigger and bolder” and the use of celebrities were key in also helping drive chatter around the brand. Hilfiger worked with everyone from Aaliyah to Usher.
“We actually used a lot of stars in our advertising at the time, who represented the brand in a multicultural, diverse way,” he said. “We took a road tour throughout America on a bus and we stopped in different cities and did fashion shows and parties. At this time, Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child was performing for us during our big runway show in New York. We saw this as sort of an awakening of fashion in a modern sense. We think that a lot of the other brands were not really well aware of what was going on in the streets and we thought that if we continued to grow the business by incorporating this sport-tech-denim-ath-leisure look really early on, we would be able to further establish the strength of our business.”
It no doubt did. When Andy parted ways with the firm in 2001, the business had ballooned to $1 billion in sales. And now streetwear is once again at the forefront, driven by a new generation of brands and a renewed interest in the category that’s helped propel it to a more mainstream stage, where new money is being infused.
Collaborations for heritage brands such as Tommy Hilfiger are seen as key to staying in front of the next wave of consumers, the designer said.
“Every time we do these collaborations, we evolve the brand more and make the brand more relevant with the youth culture,” he said.
So where does Hilfiger see streetwear going — a question on the minds of many throughout the weekend at ComplexCon — especially as it relates to non-streetwear brands’ interest in the space?
“I think with anything, whether it’s the denim business or the tailored clothing business, it’s all cyclical,” Hilfiger said. “Depending on how exciting you make the product and the marketing will depend on how successful you are. We’re always looking to push the product forward to make it more exciting, more interesting and fresh. And at the same time, we like to be disruptive with marketing. We think that’s very important because if you’re not disruptive, I think it could easily get lost.…It can’t just be, ‘Oh, we’re going to run a big ad campaign and have cool product and be the next.’ Authenticity behind it is very important because Generation Z and Millennials see through it if it’s not authentic.”