The pioneer of preppy, all-American menswear turns 66 today, so we look back on the life and style of a genuine fashion icon.
The prince of prep
Hilfiger founded his eponymous label in 1985 with a clear goal in mind: “I knew exactly what I wanted to do—I wanted to build some kind of lifestyle brand that was preppy and cool,” as he later told The Guardian. He wasn’t bashful to start with, setting up a huge billboard in New York’s Time Square comparing himself to some of the US’ greatest menswear designers, but he achieved success designing clothes that came straight off the curated lawns of Ivy League colleges with a laid-back, youthful spin — we’re talking polo shirts, lightweight linen button-downs, chinos, and knit sweaters, all in Hilfiger’s signature shades of red, white, and blue.
The Tommy Hilfiger Corporation was publicly listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1992 — the first designer company to do so — allowing Hilfiger to rapidly expand his brand, developing a women’s line then opening a London store as the first step towards building a global empire that now rakes in US$6.5 billion each year from 1600 retail stores worldwide. More than two thirds of the company’s revenue comes from outside the US, thanks to international consumers who are drawn to the uniquely American aesthetic.
Despite being more Harvard than hip hop, Hilfiger usurped Polo Ralph Lauren as the rapper’s choice of preppy menswear label in the mid-1990s. The bright graphics and oversized fit became a streetwear favourite, resonating with a streetwear subculture that Hilfiger’s preppy look wasn’t designed to appeal to. From Snoop Dogg’s rugby jersey on Saturday Night Live, Tommy boxers poking out from every rapper’s pair of saggy jeans, or even Grand Puba rapping about the brand, Hilfiger was everywhere in ‘90s hip hop.
No place like home
Seriously, there’s no place like Hilfiger’s home — the Florida estate that went on the market this month for a reported AUD $36 million. If you’re planning to invest, just hope you’re not prone to seizures, because each room is themed with a particular style of psychedelic pop-art on the wall — there’s an office decorated with red and white strips of suede, one bathroom styled with Warhol-esque banana prints and another in zebra stripes, and a patriotic red-white-and-blue gym complete with a snooker table fashioned out of a car. Groovy, baby.