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Tommy Hilfiger: A Designer for the Consumer

Shane Steinberg | Thursday, April 8, 2010

Before he revolutionized the classic American look, before he accomplished the seemingly impossible task of competing with Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren and before he dreamed up his first jean jacket or sewed the first button onto one of his staple shirts, Tommy Hilfiger dreamed of being a football player.
The football dream died when he never hit a growth spurt, but Hilfiger has since succeeded at being a businessman — one who has founded a global lifestyle brand, been named the best Men’s Designer by GQ and the Parsons School of Design among others and whose name has become synonymous with authentic American fashion.
Hilfiger grew up the second of nine children in Elmira, N.Y., and realized early on that he wanted to be a businessman. Only, he didn’t know what a businessman was. What he did know was that he had a particular passion, and a vision that he brought to his first endeavor in the fashion industry, his own chain of stores called People’s Place. Using his knowledge of New York and London fashion and capitalizing off of the fact that his customers sought but didn’t have access to new trends, he designed his own line of clothing best described as “preppy American classic, with a twist.”
His success upstate brought him to the big show in New York, where he further learned the trade and strove endlessly to launch a line. It was the fresh eye Hilfiger brought to time-honored classics as well as his entrepreneurial spirit that caught the eye of Mohan Murjani, the man who would come to launch Hilfiger’s first line of men’s clothing. And it has since been that fresh eye and undying devotion to always keeping things new and breaking through with new styles and looks that has enabled Hilfiger to bring classic American sportswear to consumers around the world.
What Hilfiger went on to create was a distinct brand with worldly appeal, that was competitively priced and, perhaps most importantly, made up of products that people wanted. Hilfiger was never one to design for himself, but instead a designer dedicated to the consumer, always keeping in mind what was both wearable and desirable.
Admittedly, he let things slip in the late 90s as the company saw its sales cut in half due to oversupply. At that point he, with his team, went back to the drawing board and exercised the kind of business savvy that Murjani had first admired in him, revamping the U.S. branch of the company and modeling it on the company’s successful European business model.
The company experienced steady growth after that reclamation project and it was that growth that propelled fashion powerhouse Phillips-Van Heusen to recently acquire the Hilfiger brand. Despite the acquisition, Hilfiger remains the life-blood of the company, as his vision and industry know-how remain the keys to the company’s success.