Tommy Hilfiger on China; working with Lewis Hamilton; and his newest collab with Kith

Fashion Network.com caught up with Tommy Hilfiger pre show in Shanghai Tuesday morning for his take on conquering the Chinese market; working with Lewis Hamilton; keeping his brand permanently fresh; and launching yet another collection – Icons of Tomorrow. He even granted a first look at yet another partnership, with sneaker legend Kith, which will debut in Brooklyn on Wednesday night. Tommy believes that Kith is the new Supreme.
 
The 67-year-old designer jetted into China to stage a massive show on Shanghai’s famed waterfront with Formula One driver Hamilton, who succeeded model Gigi Hadid.  Attired in ecru chinos and blazer from Hilfiger; a starched high-collar shirt and a pair of white sneakers by his designing wife – Dee Ocleppo.
 
So, we sat down in his suite in the Peninsula Hotel for an in-depth discussion of all things Hilfiger and how Hilfiger has powered his house ahead of Calvin Klein – a sister brand in the PVH fashion corporation - in terms of global sales, and reach. And what his dream job in Europe would have been? The answer: designing Yves Saint Laurent.  



Tommy Hilfiger and Lewis Hamilton

 
Why have you come to China for this event?
 
I consider Shanghai to be one of today’s fashion capitals, and it has an enormous fan base for Tommy Hilfiger. Asia is our fastest-growing territory and China is almost half of that. Asia-Pacific growing faster than any other region, and is now a third of our business.
 
Why launch Lewis Hamilton in China now?
 
Lewis Hamilton is a world-famous individual with a huge following here. And since we took the see-now-buy-now concept on the road, we are always looking ahead to 'where next'? What’s a likely spot?
 
Lewis brought a lot of ideas. He showed up in our studios in Amsterdam and New York and our London office, with a bag of ideas; images, clothes from his own closet, very specific ideas about what he wanted to achieve. So our whole design and manufacturing team put that together. He was involved in choosing every color and every fabric. We went back and forth, back and forth, to get exactly what he wanted.  His input was there every step of the way. Gigi was very active, but not as much as Lewis. He tried everything on himself. He styled the lookbook and each look for the fashion show. He is passionate about fashion. He even did all the music for the show. Chose the artists and their specific song and the order we played them!
 
In addition to Lewis' ideas, we are showing our full women’s collection and also debuting our Icons of Tomorrow collection. This is a new development, so these are iconic pieces from our heritage made relevant for today. Modernized and shown on icons. With no design input from them; it’s more the inspiration coming from them as Millennials and movers and shakers in today’s world.
 
Three years ago, see-now-buy-now was meant to be the Next Big Thing, but very few people have made it work. How come you managed to make it a success?
 
 Because we have a youthful customer, a millennial, who wants instant gratification, and excitement, direct experiences. If you look at other designers selling very expensive items focused on a 50-year-old, that 50-year-old doesn’t need it that day. But if a millennial sees something very cool, either a collab' with Gigi or Lewis they want to buy and to wear it that day. That’s why we operate that way.
 
Fashion is currently obsessed with athleisure. Is it just a recent fad? And what is your vision of the phenomena?
 
Look, I wear athleisure all the time. Every time I get on a plane I wear my track pants. I am contemplating wearing them tonight. And I asked Lewis to make the decision for me! It’s about comfort and sports-casual. And if you recall in the '90s we really created it before anyone else!
Look here at these ads we did in the early '90s with Kate Hudson; Rod Stewart’s and Quincy Jones’ daughters; Kareem Abdul Jabir’s son; it’s children of celebrities. This is today’s version – and not a tremendous difference. It is streetwear and athleisure so I think we should take a lot of credit for creating the phenomena.
 
Hilfiger pointedly shows off a brand new in-house publication – a magazine-sized look for yet another venture, his partnership with Kith.
 
This is coming out in Brooklyn on Wednesday; a limited edition only sold in Kith. He has shops in places like New York, Miami and LA, and in Bergdorf Goodman. He is the new Supreme. He is the guy. All the Supreme customers are moving to Kith. Because Supreme has become incredibly commercial - 13 and 14-year-olds are now shopping Supreme. Whereas the millennials are shopping in Kith.
 
He (Kith founder Ronnie Fieg) went into our archive and he pulled out ideas from the past and redid them his way. We gave him carte blanche for a whole collection. He started out as the Sneaker King and was called upon by Adidas, Reebok, Nike and New Balance to design sneakers for him. Now, we even have a tri-collaboration with Timberland, Kith and Tommy Hilfiger. The first looks go online on Kith’s website on Wednesday night. People in London and Paris are dying for him to open there!


Winne Harlow and Hailey Baldwin for Tommy Icons - Tommy Hilfiger

 
How does it feel to outperform Calvin Klein? That house began before you and was a huge name and currently has a designer creating a great deal of buzz and attention.
 
I only wish that Calvin Klein would do well. Because the better Calvin Klein does the better PVH does and the better for everyone. At Hilfiger, we have growth and excitement (Last quarter Tommy's revenues were up 15% compared to last year, reaching $1.025 billion. Calvin Klein revenues increased 18% to $925 million). Not looking backwards but forwards and enjoying every minute. And pinching myself that the brand is on such a trajectory after all these years. Even the see-now-buy-now. Believe me, it was such a chore, to redo the entire manufacturing process. It was a logistical nightmare. But we did it as everyone was so passionate about it! It was an injection of energy into the entire business.
 
There is drama in fashion but also in Formula One. Your earliest investor was Lawrence Stroll, whose son Lance is now a Formula One driver. Recently Lewis Hamilton was quite critical of Lance after he was chosen ahead of the more experienced Esteban Ocon to drive for the Force India team, which is financed by Lance Stroll's father. Hamilton even said that “you can’t let somebody who has got more money leapfrog a better driver. It shouldn’t happen.” What’s your reaction to that? 
 
Look, I really don’t get involved in all the political stuff. Lewis is obviously the best driver in the world. And Lance is only 19. He earned his way into Formula One. He came in 10th last week, which is not bad for a 19-year-old. I wish him well.
 
And has Lewis paid his dues in fashion?
 
Ehhh… not yet. But he will. He is passionate about it and this is just the beginning. We are already designing the next collection. With Gigi it was four seasons, and it may be something like that with Lewis.
 
What do you want your Chinese audience to feel when they leave this show?
 
I want them to feel they really need to buy the entire collection! I want them to love and wear the clothes and look forward to the next collection.
 
Do you regret never having designed for another brand? If a great European house ever called, whom would you wanted it to be?
 
Saint Laurent! I would have made it really rock and roll! No question.

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