Tommy Hilfiger

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This article is about the person. For the company, see Tommy Hilfiger (company)
Tommy Hilfiger
Tommy Hilfiger in 2010
Born Thomas Jacob Hilfiger
(1951-03-24) March 24, 1951 (age 64)
Elmira, New York, United States
Nationality American
Occupation Fashion designer
Spouse(s) Susie Hilfiger
(m. 1980–2000)
Dee Ocleppo
(m. 2008–present)
Labels Tommy Hilfiger

Thomas "Tommy" Hilfiger (born March 24, 1951)[1] is an American fashion designer best known for founding the lifestyle brand Tommy Hilfiger Corporation in 1985.[2] After starting his career by co-founding a chain of clothing and record stores in upstate New York in the 1970s, he began designing preppy sportswear for his own eponymous menswear line in the 1980s.[3] The company later expanded into women's clothing and various luxury items such as perfumes, and went public in 1992.[3] In 1997[3] Hilfiger published his first book, titled All American: A Style Book, and he has written several since, including Tommy Hilfiger through Assouline in 2010.[3] Hilfiger's collections are often influenced by the fashion of music subcultures and marketed in connection with the music industry,[4][5] with celebrities such as American R&B icon Aaliyah in the 1990s.[6] In 2005, contestants in the CBS reality show The Cut competed for a design job with Hilfiger in a similar fashion to The Apprentice.[7] In 2006 Hilfiger sold his company for $1.6 billion to Apax Partners,[8] and it was sold again in 2010 to Phillips-Van Heusen for $3 billion.[9] Hilfiger remains the company’s principal designer, leading the design teams and overseeing the entire creative process.[10] Hilfiger was awarded the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2012.[11]

Early life and education[edit]

Thomas Jacob "Tommy" Hilfiger was born in Elmira, New York in 1951 on March 24. The second of nine children,[12] both of his parents were practicing Catholics.[13][14] His father Richard was a watchmaker of Dutch-German descent[12] and his mother Virginia (née Gerrity)[15] was a nurse of Irish descent.[16] Hilfiger also claims direct descent from the Scottish poet Robert Burns.[17] Describing his upbringing as very happy, Hilfiger has recollected an "All-American" childhood akin to "that Norman Rockwell picture of all the kids piled in a station wagon headed for a family picnic...we went to the local schools; we knew everyone in town." He credits his parents with instilling a good work ethic and compassion for others, writing that because of his parents' example, "very early on, I considered working hard an essential part of a happy life... we never had a lot of money, but they really did well by us. They taught us the important things in life, like treating others the way you would want to be treated."[18] Hilfiger had an early interest in sports, fashion, and the music industry,[19] a trend that ran in his family.[20] One of his brothers, Andy Hilfiger, went on to work as a musician and designer, while Hilfiger's other brother Billy Hilfiger[15] would join King Flux as a guitarist.[21] Hilfiger graduated from the Elmira Free Academy high school in 1970.[12] His parents wanted him to get a college education and pursue a traditional career,[11] and for a time he attended GST BOCES Bush Campus in Elmira.[22]

Business and fashion career[edit]

People's Place and early lines (1970s-1983)[edit]

Hilfiger spent the summer of 1969 working in a clothing store on Cape Cod,[23] and afterwards he decided to use his life savings of $150[23][24] to open a clothing store with two friends.[23] Opened in 1971[3] as People’s Place,[23] the first store was located in downtown Elmira in what is now the site of First Arena, and had a hair salon, a record shop, and rock concerts in the basement.[23] To stock the store, Hilfiger and his friends would drive to New York City to buy clothing such as bell-bottoms, peasant blouses, and leather jackets.[23] Slightly unsatisfied with the clothing he bought from other suppliers, Hilfiger began sketching his own designs, and would later write that "designing made me happier than anything I’d ever done. I knew from that early work that designing would be my life."[23]

Despite its initial success,[23] after seven years of selling "hippie supplies like bell-bottoms, incense and records"[16] out of ten stores,[19] the People's Place went bankrupt in 1977, when Hilfiger was 25.[16] He’s often referred to this point in his life as his real-world MBA.[25] At this point Hilfiger enrolled in classes on commerce and the business side of the fashion industry.[11] After then moving to New York City[23] and working for several different labels, he set up a company called Tommy Hill in 1979,[23] forming a design team at the age of 28.[23] One of his first clients was Jordache Jeans,[11][23] and as Hilfiger's company expanded beyond denim[11] he spent time in India, learning more about his trade: "I would sit in the factory with my pile of sketches and watch them being made, tweaking as I went. There’s no better design school in the world."[23] In 1981 he founded the company 20th Century Survival, and the following year he founded Click Point, which designed women's clothing.[3]

Founding Tommy Hilfiger Inc. (1984-1990s)[edit]

After Tommy Hill went through several iterations, in 1984 Hilfiger’s first wife Susie Carona became pregnant with their first child.[23] Searching for more stability,[16][23] Hilfiger was relieved to be offered design assistant positions with Calvin Klein[23] and Perry Ellis. However, he turned down both positions to pursue his goal of designing and headings a men's sportswear line.[11][23] He was approached by businessman Mohan Murjani,[16] and initially oversaw the design of the Coca-Cola clothing line for Murjani, and later Murjani backed the necessary investment for Hilfiger to establish his own brand.[3]

"[Waiting to form my own eponymous line] came from a desire to create something that wasn’t out there already. I was really in tune with the market—I knew what existed, and I wanted this to be different. Maybe it’s the small-town boy in me, but I’ve always loved the prep school look, traditional Ivy League, and the clothes that sailors and jocks wear. I wanted to take these familiar old things and give them a more laid-back attitude, to make them modern and cool....[with Tommy Hilfiger Corporation in 1985], finally, I felt like I was doing work that felt natural, that felt good. The brand we were building felt so honest, so true to who I am, that it didn’t feel like a struggle at all."

— Tommy Hilfiger in 2010[23]

In 1985 he founded the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation with support from The Murjani Group. The new clothing line made its debut with a high-profile marketing campaign, for example setting up a large billboard in Times Square[16] designed by George Lois.[26] Hilfiger left Murjani International in 1989, with Silas Chou instead providing financial backing to the Hilfiger brand,[3] and former executives of Ralph Lauren brought on board as executives of the newly formed company Tommy Hilfiger, Inc.[3] The Tommy Hilfiger Corporation went public in 1992, introducing Hilfiger's signature menswear collection.[3] Hilfiger was named Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1995.[16][27] After licensing Pepe Jeans USA in 1995, in 1996, Tommy Hilfiger Inc. began distributing women's clothing.[3] By the end of the next year Hilfiger had opened his first store in Beverly Hills, which was followed by a store in London in 1998.[3] Hilfiger was serving as the company's co-chairman by 1997,[3] and that year he published his first book, titled All American: A Style Book.[3]

Increased brand exposure (1990s-2004)[edit]

"One year, my brother Andy brought the sons and daughters of rock and Hollywood legends on a tour bus (including Mark Ronson, Kidada Jones, and Kate Hudson) and threw fashion shows all over the country... we did [runway shows at] Madison Square Garden with Bush playing live, Pharell at Bryant Park, and Lenny Kravitz in Paris. We had Treach on the runway in London, with Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell dancing around him. I’ve dressed the Rolling Stones for [their 1998 "No Security"] tour, and working with Mick Jagger and the band was such a great experience."
— Tommy Hilfiger in 2010[4][5]

A professed lifelong fan of rock and roll, Hilfiger's collections are often influenced by the fashion of music subcultures. The clothes are also marketed in connection with the music industry,[4][5] and as early as 1993 Hilfiger was an official sponsor for Pete Townshend's Psychoderelict tour. Hilfiger has also sponsored several musical events, including Sheryl Crow’s If It Makes You Happy tour in 1997,[28] Britney Spears 1999 ...Baby One More Time Tour as main sponsor,[29][30] and Lenny Kravitz’s 1999 Freedom tour.[31] By the mid-1990s, Hilfiger's style of clothing was popular with both the American "preppy" scene and as hip hop fashion.[16] American R&B icon Aaliyah became the much-publicized spokesperson for Tommy Hilfiger Corporation in 1997.[6]

Hilfiger had a cameo in the fashion spoof Zoolander in 2001,[32] and from 2002 to 2006 Tommy Hilfiger INc. owned the naming rights to the Tommy Hilfiger at Jones Beach Theatre venue.[33] Largely due to declining sales in the early 2000s, Hilfiger began reworking the brand, striving to retain the designer brand exclusivity of the Hilfiger label by signing a deal to distribute the best-selling Hilfiger lines at Macy's only.[16] The Tommy Hilfiger Corporation continued to work closely with musicians into the 2000s, focusing on fragrances as well as clothes. Sweetface Fashion, which owns the J.Lo by Jennifer Lopez line,[34][35][36] was bought out by Tommy Hilfiger in 2003.[37][38] True Star, a fragrance endorsed by Hilfiger and released in 2004, featured Beyoncé Knowles as its poster girl.[39] The Tommy Hilfiger Corporation company had revenues of $1.8 approximately billion and 5,400 employees by 2004.[11]

Recent projects and events (2005-present)[edit]

Exterior of a Tommy Hilfiger store in Tokyo, Japan in 2008.

In 2005, a CBS reality show called The Cut tracked the progress of sixteen contestants as they competed for a design job with Tommy Hilfiger and their own fashion line under Hilfiger's label. The show progressed in a similar fashion to Donald Trump's The Apprentice. After a final competition that involved setting up the display window for Macy's Herald Square location in New York, Hilfiger chose Chris Cortez as the "next great American designer."[7] In 2006, Tommy Hilfiger sold his company for $1.6 billion, or $16.80 a share, to Apax Partners, a private investment company.[8] In 2008 Hilfiger, Rives, and Bar Refaeli co-hosted the Bravo special program Tommy Hilfiger Presents Ironic Iconic America.[40] Based on the book Ironic Iconic America written by Hilfiger and designer George Lois,[41] the program examined how pop culture has influenced American tastes and styles.[42] In 2009 Hilfiger was a guest judge on an episode of Project Runway,[32] and he presented the Best African Artist award to Akon at the 2010 World Music Awards.[32]

Phillips-Van Heusen, owner of Calvin Klein, bought the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation for $3 billion in March 2010.[9][43] The Tommy Hilfiger online and in-store ad campaign called "Meet The Hilfigers" began in August 2010 and ran through August 2011.[44] In 2011, Hilfiger and a partner signed a contract to buy the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower building for $170 million, planning to transform it into Hilfiger's first hotel, with luxury condos. Hilfiger backed off the project in September 2011.[45] A guest judge on the finale of Project Runway: All Stars along with Ken Downing in 2012,[32] shortly afterwards he served as a fashion consultant to contestants on season 11 of American Idol.[20][46] Hilfiger was instrumental in the creation of the Marc Anthony Collection in 2012,[47] as Marc Anthony had never been interested in the fashion business until Hilfiger called him and convinced him a line was worthwhile.[48] In 2012, Hilfiger was awarded the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.[11] Global sales in retail for the brand in 2013 were US $6.4 billion,[10] and $6.7 billion in 2014.[49] Hilfiger remains the company’s principal designer, leading the design teams and overseeing the entire creative process.[10]


World War II veterans, Petty Officer 1st class Lorenzo A. DuFau, a former signalman, and Petty Officer 2nd class James W. Graham of USS Mason, with Tommy Hilfiger during the screening of Proud at the Apollo Theater in 2005.

In 1995 Hilfiger launched The Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation. With an emphasis on health, educational and cultural programs, the organization supports charities that focus on at-risk American youth.[50] In 1998[51] Hilfiger was one of several sponsors along with Moet and Chandon, Christies Auction House, and The Advocate of the charity LIFEbeat - The Music Industry Fights AIDS.[52] He is also personally involved in charities and causes such as Autism Speaks and the MLK, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation,[26] and he has served on the board of directors for The Fresh Air Fund, a New York-based group that helps underprivileged children attend summer camp.[26] The Fresh Air Fund's Camp Pioneer program was renamed Camp Tommy in 1999, in honor of Hilfiger's patronage.[citation needed]

Since 2008, Hilfiger has designed limited-edition handbags in support Breast Health International (BHI), an international organization focused on finding a cure for breast cancer. A portion of the handbag sales proceeds are donated to BHI’s Fund For Living program, with celebrity ambassadors appointed for each seasonal campaign. In 2013, Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell modeled the BHI bag in a photo shoot with photographer Patrick Demarchelier.[53][54]

Millennium Promise, a non-profit organization focused on eradicating extreme poverty, hunger and preventable disease in impoverished regions, classifies Hilfgier as a Millennium Promise MDG Global Leader,[55] and in 2009 Hilfiger made a five-year $2 million commitment to Millennium Promise.[56] The donation went towards relief efforts in a Ugandan city, with the aim of improving residents’ access to necessities like clean water, education, and farming techniques.[57] In 2012, all philanthropic activities of The Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation were renamed Tommy Cares, a wider-reaching global initiative that further integrates the brand’s non-profit partnerships, charitable contributions, and employee involvement.[58] On a global scale, Tommy Cares continues to support organizations such as Save the Children, the World Wildlife Fund, War Child,[59] and Millennium Promise.[59] Hilfiger and his wife are on the board of Autism Speaks as of 2012,[60] and through the organization, Hilfiger became a sponsor of the Golden Door Film Festival in September 2014.[61]


Main: Corporate responsibility at the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation


For a similar list on the eponymous company, see Tommy Hilfiger corporate recognition.

The following is a selected list of awards and recognitions for Tommy Hilfiger:

Supermodel Jessica Stam wears Tommy Hilfiger on the runway in 2008.

Style and impact[edit]

A young Tommy Hilfiger customer in Azerbaijan wears the brand in 2013. His shirt displays a variation of the distinctive three-tone logo.
The Tommy Hilfiger brand is an example of a designer label.

While Hilfiger's earliest designs drew on 1960s counterculture and fashion, since the 1980s his designs typically draw from classic American New England styles. His initial lines for the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation were primarily designed to appeal to young men looking for designer clothing,[3] and Tommy Hilfiger became one of the most prominent brands in 1990s sportswear, with Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Nautica, DKNY,[65] and Donna Karan also popular.[66] Each of these companies created distinctive wardrobes based upon stylish but wearable, comfortable and interchangeable multi-purpose clothes, all with a focus on luxury.[66]

Hip hop fashion at large began incorporating the Hilfiger brand in the 1990s,[65] and when Snoop Doggy Dogg wore a Hilfiger sweatshirt during an appearance on Saturday Night Live, it sold out of New York City stores the next day.[65] Moreover, Hilfiger courted the new hip hop market, and rappers like Puffy and Coolio walked during his runways shows.[65] Specific items like Tommy Hilfiger carpenter jeans became particularly popular, with the trademark logo displayed on the hammer loop.[65][better source needed] Hilfiger continues to maintain multiple fashion lines, some focused on wearable "casual" clothes while others take on various haute couture commissions. Aside from the preppy styles of his youth, Hilfiger has also always been influenced by the style of a wide variety of American icons, including Grace Kelly,[67] James Dean, Deborah Harry, Iggy Pop, Farrah Fawcett, Steve McQueen, Jackie and John F. Kennedy, Andy Warhol, and Mick Jagger.[68][69] Many of his designs draw prominently from the styles of hard rock and the pop music industry.[4][5]

Personal life[edit]

In 1976 Hilfiger met Susan Carona, an employee at the People’s Place in Ithaca, and they married in 1980.[3] Together they have four children,[60] and in 2003 Hilfiger's daughter Ally had a leading role in the MTV reality series Rich Girls. After divorcing in 2000, on December 12, 2008, Hilfiger married his second wife Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger,[70] and the couple had a son in 2009.[60] Hilfiger's memoirs, American Dreamer, are being co-written with Peter Knobler with a release date set for March 15, 2016.[71]

Publishing history[edit]

Largely complete list of works authored by Tommy Hilfiger
Yr Book Title Author(s) Publisher ISBN
1997 All-American Hilfiger Universe ISBN 978-0789300508
2000 Rock Style: A Book of Rock, Hip-Hop, R&B, Punk,
Funk and the Fashions That Give Looks to Those Sounds
Hilfiger, Anthony Decurtis Universe ISBN 978-0789303837
2003 New England Style Hilfiger, Anna Kasabian Rizzoli ISBN 978-0847825837
2004 New England: Icons, Influences and
Inspirations from the American Northeast
Hilfiger Rizzoli ISBN 978-0847826612
2007 Grace Kelly: A Life In Pictures Hilfiger (foreword), Pierre-Henri Verlhac Pavilion ISBN 978-1862057760
2009 Fashion Etcetera: Tommy Hilfiger Special Edition Hilfiger (foreword), Sam Haskins Private release ISBN 9789111187121
2010 Tommy Hilfiger Hilfiger, Assouline Assouline ISBN 978-2759403134
2011 Iconic America: A Roller Coaster Ride Through the
Eye-Popping Panorama of American Pop Culture
Hilfiger, George Lois Rizzoli ISBN 978-0789324054


Selected roles and cameos by Tommy Hilfiger[32]
Yr Title Format Publisher Role
2001 Zoolander Full-length film VH1 Films Cameo as himself[32]
2005 The Cut Reality TV series CBS Main judge as himself[7]
2008 Tommy Hilfiger Presents Ironic Iconic America Documentary film Rizzoli Co-host[40]
2009 Project Runway Reality TV series Lifetime Guest judge on episode 5[32]
2012 Project Runway: All Stars Reality TV series Lifetime Guest judge on episode 12[32]
2012 American Idol Reality TV series Fox Fashion consultant[20]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]