Tommy Hilfiger celebrates 30 years in business this year. Read our exclusive extract from his interview in the new issue of IMAGE Magazine. Out now.
What was your motivation for getting into the industry, and has that changed thirty years on?
“I was inspired by music when I was a teen. I was not really a very good guitar player or singer, but I wanted to look like a musician, so I started wearing all the clothes, and my friends wanted to wear the same clothes, so I opened a small shop called People’s Place and when it opened, it was buzzing. Everyone – all the young people – came to buy their clothes, and at one point, I started designing the clothes. Then I found my designs being sold so I decided I wanted to build my own brand. I decided I had the aspiration and the dream to do it, even though I didn’t really know how to do it. I didn’t know anything about manufacturing, cutting, sewing, or any of that, but I thought, I’ll teach myself, so I taught myself and opened Tommy Hilfiger in 1985. When I opened in 1985, I had designed a collection for myself. It was what I wanted to wear.”
Has it changed since then – do you still design for you?
It’s evolved, and I would wear 90 per cent of it. I would have worn it back then and I’d wear it today. It’s evolved, but it’s still cool, American classic or American classic cool, and it still has a quality, a fit and an attitude that is me.
What would you say has been the secret to your success, and what would your rivals say?
I don’t think my rivals would really understand because they’d be looking at the clothes and the marketing from outside, but inside, deep, deep down, I was never going to give up. Ever. There were obstacles along the way, roadblocks, and every time I came across a roadblock, I’d find a better way. At the same time I’d say that’s a challenge. If there’s a problem, let’s not wallow in it: let’s find a solution. Let’s not turn back, make lemons out of lemonade.
What’s the best and worst thing about being Tommy Hilfiger?
The best thing about being Tommy Hilfiger is that it’s the real me. The worst thing is that it’s a lot of responsibility.
You have a very impressive art collection. What do you really cherish, and are there any pieces you wish you had gotten?
There are a lot of those, but I love pop art. When I was a young man coming into New York, I had the opportunity to meet with Andy Warhol and become friends with him. I have always been inspired by his work. I love the fact that he brought fame together with fashion, art and music. And really became pop culture. That has influenced me tremendously. I would say my Andy Warhol works are my favourites.
What does success mean to you?
It means a lot of things. It’s not just financial success. It’s how happy you are in yourself and your family, but at the same time, success is gauged by the business, and the business keeps going strong, so I would say that the needle is pointed north!
Have you made any major mistakes as a business, and how have you learned from them?
When I was 23 years old, I went bankrupt. When I started my shop, I was 18, and I didn’t know anything about business. A few years down the road, I’d over-expanded, I’d bought too much inventory, I’d borrowed too much money, and I was in trouble. That was my master’s degree. That was my Harvard education. I taught myself from that moment on to really focus on the business as well as the creative.
To read the full interview with the Tommy Hilfiger, pick up a copy of IMAGE Magazine, on sale now.