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We ran what we called a multipronged attack. We didn’t just do advertising. We dressed celebrities. We hosted and sponsored events. I did personal appearances in stores and fashion shows, and traveled all over the country and the world meeting customers, signing autographs, and doing newspaper interviews. This was the early 1990s, the beginning of celebrity marketing.

Record companies were using street teams, and we followed that model, the concept being that wherever there were cool people there should be Tommy Hilfiger clothes. My brother Andy and Peter Paul Scott were completely plugged into the music scene and perfect for this job. They would go to a music video shoot, a movie shoot, or a dance party and get our product in the hands of the right people. We were also doing charity events and hosting parties with DJs—promoting all the time.

The Tommy Jeans campaign shoot starring China Chow, Kidada Jones, Aaliyah, and Kate Hudson, 1997

“Comfort was a factor, but more than that, this was the
beginning of American streetwear.”

Early in our business relationship, Silas [Chou] had asked me about my vision for the company, and I’d told him, “Eventually I’d like to have a separate jeans division.” I was thinking back to my roots, where jeans meant youth, but at the same time I saw an opportunity to build the designer jeans business with a different point of view.

In 1994, we bought a company called Pepe Jeans and used it as our infrastructure. We licensed Tommy Jeans to Pepe and asked my sister Ginny, a talented designer who was working alongside sweater expert Voula Solonos, to work there. Of course we didn’t want to make jeans like everyone else’s, so I said, “Ginny, why don’t you take athletic wear and jeanswear and marry the two?” Not long thereafter, she showed me boards that blew me away. She had disassembled those cultural staples and reassembled them in remarkable ways, uniting denim and athletic details in jeans, jackets, and warm-up suits.

Destiny’s Child, 1996

“I took American workwear—carpenter jeans, overalls,
painter pants, farmer jackets—and logoed it, enlarged it,
and paired it with athletic wear.”

Ginny took stripes from athletic jerseys and ran them down the legs. She did pocketing made from nylon and spandex and all sorts of baseball jackets and warm-up suits, mixing them with denim. We put a big red-white-and-blue patch on the back of our basic five-pocket jean. Then we took a carpenter jean, which was baggy, oversized, and relaxed to begin with, and made it way too big, because that was the Tommy Jeans look. Comfort was a factor, but more than that, this was the beginning of American streetwear.

Actress Joy Bryant and Naughty By Nature on the runway, 1996

“Not only did I find it fresh-looking, I was very certain
it would sell.”

Up until this point, everyone tucked in their shirts. But walking around the streets of New York, I noticed that kids were wearing their shirts out and turning their baseball caps backward. They were wearing Rangers hockey sweaters with Lee carpenter pants and Adidas sneakers. If a kid had a 32-inch waist, he’d buy a 36-inch-waist jean and let it hang low. I took American workwear—carpenter jeans, overalls, painter pants, farmer jackets—and logoed it, enlarged it, and paired it with athletic wear: authentic-looking football jerseys, basketball jerseys, baseball jerseys. I added all the gear to go with it: backpacks, messenger bags inspired by the bicycle messengers who were ubiquitous at the time, baseball caps, bucket caps. That was the look we were beginning to see surfacing in the streets, and not only did I find it fresh-looking, I was very certain it would sell.


Excerpted from American Dreamer: My Life in Fashion & Business by Tommy Hilfiger with Peter Knobler. All rights reserved. 2016.

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