Image courtesy of Richard Phibbs [gutter]
Tommy Hilfiger launched his eponymous label in 1985, and it’s since grown to become one of the most recognizable designer lifestyle brands today, with USD $8.5bn in global retail sales in 2018.
Ahead of Hilfiger’s appearance at the third annual Audi Innovation Series—a Canadian speaker series focusing on creativity, innovation and design—in Toronto this past spring, we spoke to the legend behind the label to find out the secrets to his success, and what innovation looks like in the fashion business today.
What’s the best lesson that you’ve learned about building a brand?
You have to really understand and know the customer. A lot of designers design what they like, but they’re not thinking about what the customer might want to wear, might want to buy. I think it’s really important that any designer gets to know the customer, and really understands the needs and the desires of the consumer.
You’ve been in business for over 30 years. How has the role of a fashion designer changed in that time?
I think that in years past, it was all about the product, and a beautiful photograph of the brand—maybe it’s a model on the beach, maybe it’s a model in a car, something like that. And then you would buy pages in magazines for the photos, and that would be the marketing of the brand. But brand marketing has changed dramatically as a result of social media, celebrity, and the desires of the consumer. They desire something that is much more dynamic, fast moving, and modern.
How would you define innovation now?
I think whatever is next. Innovation can be in fabric, it can be in marketing, it can be in sustainability, it can be how your brand is positioned in the world. We look at innovation as being part of the driver of the brand. And if you want to chalk it up to being more digital, and more modern from a social media standpoint, I think that’s where we’re seeing a lot of innovation.
You’ve done some very successful collaborations with Gigi Hadid and Zendaya. What was the best part about working with them?
We’re actually taking their inspiration, and they are of the age group and in the right scene to know what their friends and their fans want. We’ve allowed them to bring inspiration to us, and design ideas to us— obviously, we’re the experts in executing it—but it wasn’t a situation where we would just use one of them as the face of the brand, or as an ambassador. I think that’s antiquated as well; the consumer wants transparency and authenticity. Gigi and Zendaya is, and has been, very involved in the actual design of every single piece.
What’s next for you, and the brand?
I always think of what’s next for the brand. What’s next from a marketing standpoint, what’s next from a fashion standpoint. I certainly don’t see myself retiring. But, I have nurtured an incredible young, creative team around me, and I oversee the vision of the brand, the image, and who we are and where we’re going. I really believe that in this business if you don’t stay a step ahead of the game, you could easily fall behind, and catching up is very difficult to do.