With its resounding American spirit and instantly recognisable red, white and blue insignia, Tommy Hilfiger has found an enduring muse in New York City for almost 40 years. Our editor in chief Martina Bonnier sits down with the eponymous designer in the Big Apple to get the lowdown on the brand's 'elevated preppy' AW24 collection at NYFW
Next year, Tommy Hilfiger will celebrate its 40th year. “It’s gone so fast. It really goes by so fast,” the 72-year-old designer says pensively. We’re meeting at the brand’s Madison Avenue showroom, a day before the autumn/winter ‘24 runway show. Car horns blast from the street below, resonating all the way up to the ninth floor where we’re sitting. It’s quintessentially ‘A New York Moment’ – which just so happens to be the name of the AW24 range set to be presented at Grand Central Station's Oyster Bar.
Despite the four decades that have passed since the beginnings of Tommy Hilfiger as a brand, the eponymous designer recalls his first impressions of New York – as a child who had grown up five hours’ drive upstate of the city – like it was yesterday. “It was such an experience coming [to New York] as a young boy. I thought, ‘Oh my god, someday maybe I’ll get to live here’. When I did move, there was never a dull moment,” he recalls with enthusiasm. “There were parties, discos – Studio 54, baseball games, museums, just everything, all the time.”
Preppy was boring at the time, but I started twisting, making it different – with detail, with shape. Making it more fashionable.
And just like that, the Tommy Hilfiger muse was born: New York. “After a certain amount of time, you think you have seen it all,” he says of the city. “But then, if you go away and come back [from Palm Beach, Florida] like I’m doing, you think ‘Wow, there’s so much here'. So much entertainment, so many great experiences. Even the smell and sound of traffic.’”
From Paris, to London and Milan, it’s common for cities – especially buzzing metropolises and fashion capitals – to influence some of the world’s greatest fashion houses. But for Tommy Hilfiger, with its resounding American spirit and red, white and blue insignia, the hometown connection runs deep in its DNA. “I remember the day I started the business and my first design for Tommy Hilfiger. I wanted to make American preppy cool,” the designer says. “Preppy was boring at the time, but I started twisting, making it different – with detail, with shape. Making it more fashionable.”
But, as I point out to the designer, preppy can have its boundaries. How has he managed to maintain the appeal and relevance? “You break the boundaries,” Hilfiger responds simply. “The Oxford shirts and the polos and the chinos, and all that, but done in new ways.” For autumn/winter ‘24, Hilfiger continues the brand’s boundary-breaking – yet continually preppy – approach. But this time, in an ‘elevated preppy’ direction. What exactly is ‘elevated preppy’, I ask? “It’s more sophisticated fabrics, more sophisticated shapes. The tailoring is more precious, the shapes are new. There are new ways to style the outfits,” he explains.
With this new direction, its Hilfiger’s hope to appeal to more female consumers. “The changes that we’ve made are really focused on building the women’s business as a pinnacle of the brand. Our men’s market has always been bigger than women’s, but it should be the opposite. So we’re making these changes and putting time and effort into perfect the women’s so it can be a powerful base for us.”
Leading the womenswear charge for Tommy Hilfiger is, as Hilfiger tells me, a designer who moved across from Swedish brand Toteme. “Scandinavian people, especially coming out of Sweden, have had a tremendous stamp on fashion,” he says. “Whether it’s Acne, H&M or Toteme… there are some great brands and really powerful fashion coming out of the region.”
Vogue Scandinavia's editor-in-chief Martina Bonnier with Tommy Hilfiger at the Madison Avenue showroom ahead of the AW24 runway show .
The brand hasn't only set its sights on more of the womenswear market. It's after the coveted Gen Z crowd as well – but Hilfiger is confident they've already managed to capture that audience. “I think we’re probably more connected than most brands, because we’ve been ahead of the curve with embracing the right celebrities who have massive following,” he says. The designer himself is well and truly tapped into the generation, admitting that he's “always looking at Instagram and TikTok.” “I'm a visual person,” Hilfiger goes on. “I like to see anything that's part of pop culture, whether it's photographer of the Grammy awards of the Oscars... I'm fanatical about looking at sports as well.” Fittingly, the designer will be tuning into the Super Bowl on Sunday from home – but keeping an eye on social media for the big fashion moments. “Anyone who is looking at all fashionable will pop up.”
We always start with the collection, of course, and then think of how it's going to look on each of the models. And then we evolve it. Where are we going to show it? What kind of music? What is the casting? It's really like putting on a Broadway play.
We wander over to the pieces from the AW24 'A New York Moment' collection which are displayed throughout the light-filled showroom. “We have a few looks over here that are still very collegiate, that have our American Classic Cool spirit," Hilfiger says, pulling out some garments. “There are lots of the 'elevated preppy' details, like these blouses, there are still a bit nautical in some sense. The pants are much much wider, much more high-waisted," he says. “A lot of great staples. But staples with a twist.”
While the collection on its hangers exudes a compelling and elegant New York energy, it will be the runway show that – as always – will truly bring the collection to life. And after all these years, Hilfiger has the runway formula mastered. “We always start with the collection, of course, and then think of how it's going to look on each of the models. And then we evolve it. Where are we going to show it? What kind of music? What is the casting? What's the theme or idea behind it? It's really like putting on a Broadway play.”
And the legendary designer should know. “I was telling some people just earlier that over the 40 years, I've probably done over 150 shows. And there has never been a time that you feel bored, or like 'Oh, it's another show. It's exciting. Every time.”
For the 'A New York Moment' presentation, Tommy Hilfiger brings together an intimate crowd, as the brand's approach to 'See Now, Buy Now' shifts focus towards its cultural partnerships and seasonal campaigns.
“We’ve done it Paris, we’ve done it in London, we’ve done it in Milan, we’ve done it in Shanghai, we’ve done it in LA. And maybe we’ll get back on the road at some point in time. but it just felt right to celebrate New York. To come back and say: 'OK. Ee’re a New York- based brand. Here we are.'”
Photo: Courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger