How Tommy Hilfiger Has Kept the Momentum Going for Nearly 40 Years: A History and Timeline


Tommy Hilfiger has been able to maintain his relevance in a fashion business that’s constantly changing. By embracing the celebrity connection and designing classics with a twist, Hilfiger has managed to keep the company’s momentum going strong for nearly 40 years.

Launched in 1985 with Mohan Murjani’s backing, Hilfiger began with menswear, modernizing button-down shirts, chinos and other classics with updated fits and details. The launch was supported by a bold ad campaign — a billboard in Times Square — comparing him to three well-known American menswear designers — Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis and Ralph Lauren. That bold start led to the creation of a brand that grew to about $9.1 billion in global retail sales in 2022, and has constantly surrounded itself with pop culture and what the brand calls “Fame: Fashion, Art, Music, Entertainment.”

“Our main focus is keeping the brand relevant, keeping it eternally youthful, keeping the momentum and spirit very positive but at the same time putting the consumer first always. That has never changed in the 35 years,” Hilfiger said in a WWD interview in 2020.

Hilfiger has always had a knack for reading the fashion-pop culture zeitgeist, with a key focus in recent years on democratizing fashion. 

From the start, the American designer featured Britney Spears, Usher, Aaliyah and the sons and daughters of well-known people such as Mick Jagger’s children, Rod Stewart’s children and Quincy Jones’ daughter, Kidada. “We were always keeping the brand fresh by looking at new ways to always reinvent and create momentum,” said Hilfiger in that 2020 interview.

He started his career customizing bell-bottoms and selling candles, incense and clothing at his own store People’s Place in downtown Elmira, N.Y., his home town. He was initially introduced to Murjani, chairman of the Murjani Group, when Hilfiger had just landed a new job at Calvin Klein. “The day after I accepted the Calvin Klein job, I met Murjani in his office after having been introduced to his family in Hong Kong. He asked what I’m doing these days, and I told him I was going to work for Calvin Klein as the designer of his jeanswear/sport division. And he said, ‘Why do that? Why don’t we start the Tommy Hilfiger brand together?’”

Murjani knew about Hilfiger because he had just won an award from Abraham & Straus, designing his brand, called Click Point. After Murjani suggested they do a line together, Hilfiger said they should call it Tommy Hill since Hilfiger would be too difficult to pronounce. “Mohan said, ‘People can pronounce Yves Saint Laurent, why can’t they pronounce Tommy Hilfiger?’”

Murjani told Hilfiger he could design what he would want to wear. “I wanted it to be preppy but cool, but different than any clothes out there. I wanted it to be oversized and full of really cool detail. In 1985, we launched Tommy Hilfiger classics with a twist. And the brand took off,” recalled Hilfiger in 2020.

The Times Square campaign was a breakthrough moment for the brand, which didn’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising. The campaign listed the first letters of the names of the other well-known designers in a “hangman” type game, with the rest of the letters left blank. Hilfiger was the last name on the list and the headline was: “The 4 Great American Designers for Men Are.”

“When George Lois came up with the hangman campaign, we thought the only way we’re going to become known is through some disruption. Even though I was hesitant to run the hangman campaign, it was disruptive enough to create a lot of attention for the brand,” recalled Hilfiger in that interview.

Marvin Traub, the late chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s, was the first to embrace the brand and opened shops at the retailer. Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York also carried the brand, followed by Macy’s Inc., Nordstrom Inc., and Dillard’s Inc. Hilfiger signed a licensing agreement with The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. in 1993, and added womenswear, which was first shown during London Fashion Week, in September 1996.

In 1986, Hilfiger opened its first stores on Columbus Avenue in New York and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, followed by stores in Georgetown, San Francisco, London and Stamford, Conn. The following year the business expanded farther beyond the U.S. to Central and South America and the Caribbean.

The entry into women’s apparel wasn’t nearly as smooth and successful as the menswear.

“It was a struggle at first and then when Silas Chou and Lawrence Stroll came as partners [in 1989, Novel Enterprises, owned by Silas Chou and Lawrence Stroll, acquired the majority ownership of Tommy Hilfiger Inc., terminating the license agreement with Murjani]…..and Chou became chairman… with Joel Horowitz and me, we decided to put women’s on the back burner, build up men’s, which was our main focus, and Silas said when men’s becomes really strong, then we can do women’s. We did do that.

“After that, we said we have to do jeans, so we did Tommy Jeans and then we did children’s and then we started with the licensing of underwear, fragrances, watches and other product categories,” recalled Hilfiger in the 2020 interview.

In 1993, Hilfiger sponsored Pete Townsend’s tour, and added men’s and boy’s neckwear, belts and small leather goods and boys 8 to 20, followed by men’s suits and sport coats, men’s dress shirts and men’s underwear in 1994.

Things were rocking.

Hilfiger’s brother, Andy, was instrumental in getting the brand known among musicians and celebrities. He gifted Hilfiger’s clothes to musicians and cool people and then started gifting the hip-hop crowd, who had discovered the brand. Hilfiger started doing big logos and sport-inspired designs with a lot of red, white and blue and featuring sporty, athletic details but with giant logos. “We found that these kids were wearing these clothes on the street, and we really created what’s known today as streetwear,” recalled Hilfiger in the 2020 interview.

The designer attributed a lot of the brand’s popularity to Snoop Dogg, who wore Hilfiger’s clothes. “It gave us real credibility in the hip-hop community when Snoop Dogg wore our rugby shirt on ‘Saturday Night Live,’” said Hilfiger.

The company went public in 1992, making its debut at $15 a share; it soared to $26 in two months. Distribution expanded to Japan.

In 1995, Hilfiger was awarded the Menswear Designer of the Year Award by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

In 1997, Hilfiger opened a major flagship on North Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, a big image builder that was expected to cater to the entertainment industry. Hilfiger also published his first book, “All American: A Style Book.”

In 1998, Hilfiger became the first non-automotive brand to sponsor Ferrari’s Formula One team. The company’s distribution expanded to Brazil, Colombia, Greece, Hong Kong, Portugal, Spain, Taiwan and Turkey. The company also launched Tommy Hilfiger Home Collection, Hilfiger Denim in Europe, and Hilfiger Athletics Fragrance for men, men’s leather, men’s accessories, outerwear, women’s footwear, socks, and sunglasses, and infants and toddlers.

Tommy.com launched in 1999, and Hilfiger sponsored The Rolling Stones’ “No Security” tour, Jewel’s “Spirit” tour, Lenny Kravitz’s tour and VH1 Save the Music’s concert at the White House, while Tommy Jeans sponsored Spears’ “Baby One MoreTime.” Hilfiger also cohosted the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala and published his second book, “Rock Style,” focused on rock ‘n’ roll inspiration. That year, a five-story, 16,000 square-foot flagship opened on New Bond Street in London, housing men’s, women’s and children’s lines, licensed products and special collection items. In 2020, The Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation became the first corporate sponsor of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial to be built on the Washington Mall. Also in 2000, Hilfiger closed two unprofitable flagships, the unit on New Bond Street in London and North Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

In 2001, Hilfiger bought the license for Tommy Hilfiger Europe from TH International NV for $200 million cash. Tommy Hilfiger Corporate opened its first flagship in New York City, Tommy Hilfiger SoHo.

But by the late ’90s the Hilfiger brand had hit a wall and the next few years were extremely challenging.

“What happened in the ’90s was that the whole brand was over-distributed. It wasn’t just about the hip-hop streetwear. It was about everything Tommy Hilfiger was over-distributed. You saw it on every single street corner, you saw it on every single person. We had stores all over. We were selling every department store, and we had to do a cleanup. We had to take a step backward to go forward. We were always adjusting the business to cater to the needs and the demands,” said Hilfiger in a WWD interview.

Part of the problem was that as a publicly traded company, it needed to please Wall Street and show growth. In April 2000, the $1.6-billion-a-year company said that profits for 2001 would fall by between 30 percent and 40 percent, and that revenues would drop 5 percent. The news sank the stock.

In the meantime, the European business was growing steadily and was positioned at a higher level. Fred Gehring, then-CEO of Hilfiger Europe, and his team positioned the European business with more sophisticated product. It was higher-priced, higher-quality and they opened stores shoulder-to-shoulder with leading luxury brands.

In 2003, Hilfiger stepped down as chairman of the company, assuming the title of honorary chairman and principal designer. Then-CEO Joel Horowitz took over as chairman, and co-chairmen Chou and Stroll left the company. In August 2003, Horowitz stepped down as president and CEO and was succeeded by David Dyer as president and CEO. Horowitz remained executive chairman through March 31, 2005.

In 2004, for the H campaign, David Bowie and Iman were shot together. That same year, product launches included True Star women’s fragrance with Beyoncé, women’s underwear, ski and eyewear. In 2005, Enrique Iglesias was featured in the True Star for Men fragrance campaign. The company celebrated its 20th anniversary during New York Fashion Week with a show that included celebrities, Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Sean Combs and a performance by the Black Eyed Peas.

The next step was taking Hilfiger private with Apax in May 2006 for $1.6 billion. The company decided to take a step back to move forward, and cleaned up the distribution and took a page out of Gehring’s book and started growing again.

In 2007, Hilfiger acquired Tommy Hilfiger Europe, Tommy Hilfiger Japan Corp. and the Tommy Hilfiger global sourcing operations. Gehring became CEO of the entire brand, based in Amsterdam.

For the North American business, they signed an exclusive deal with Macy’s, which ran from 2007 to 2009. They also started distributing a lot of the European product in the U.S. through its own stores and department stores. In 2009, Hilfiger opened the Tommy Hilfiger Fifth Avenue global flagship, its largest retail store worldwide, and the brand launched hilfigerdenim.com. In 2010, Hilfiger opened a new flagship on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, and roughly the same year, it revealed it was opening a new flagship in Tokyo, scheduled to open in March 2012.

The brand’s fortunes started to turn around in the U.S., and the company was sold to PVH Corp. in 2010 in a cash-and-stock deal valued at $3 billion. In 2009, in fact, Hilfiger generated $4.7 billion in global revenues, which grew 8 percent in all regions, channels and collections.

In 2012, Hilfiger received the CFDA’s Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the fashion industry’s highest honors. In 2013, a Hilfiger flagship opened in Los Angeles’ West Hollywood. That same year, Daniel Grieder became CEO of Tommy Hilfiger Corp. Gehring became chairman of Tommy Hilfiger and vice chairman of PVH. In 2014, PVH Corp. shut down the Tommy lines, which was described in the PVH annual report as “an unprofitable and brand inconsistent youth-oriented business.”

PVH has continued to oversee a focused approach to growing the brand’s worldwide relevance, presence and long-term growth.

Throughout the brand’s history, the celebrity connection has always been strong. In addition to sponsoring concerts and naming musicians as faces, the brand has in the past tied up with tennis champion Rafael Nadal, who had worked as a Hilfiger brand ambassador for several years and was re-signed as a higher profile spokesman. He promoted Hilfiger underwear, tailored and the Bold fragrance. Other collaborations were with America’s Cup, Formula One, Looney Tunes, Zooey Deschanel, Coca-Cola, Keith Haring, Sheryl Crow, The Chainsmokers, DJ Khaled and most recently, Sofia Richie Grainge, among others.

“Using celebrities in our advertising, we were able to attract their communities and their fans. So it grew our fan base,” said Hilfiger in a 2022 interview.  

In 2016, Hilfiger named Gigi Hadid brand ambassador for the global women’s business. She became the face of the campaign when it entered its highly successful “see now, buy now” chapter, and she codesigned a capsule collection for the company. Following the codesigned line with Hadid, Hilfiger went on to do codesigned collections with Lewis Hamilton and Zendaya.

The “Tommy Now” fashion shows featured elaborate themes and sets such as the “Tommy Pier” at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan, a ’70s-inspired show codesigned by Zendaya in Paris, and a “Tommy Factory” at Brooklyn’s Skyline Drive-in to launch a collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation. “Tommy Now” shows were staged in New York City, Los Angeles, London, Milan, Shanghai and Paris. Looks were available immediately across dozens of countries online at tommy.com, in Tommy Hilfiger stores, and at select wholesale partners and on social media.

The “Tommy Now” shows drove strong momentum behind the brand’s womenswear, in terms of engagement with new audiences, increases in social media and press visibility and impressive sales growth. The halo effect across the brand positively impacted all divisions globally. In 2017, Hilfiger relaunched Tommy Jeans, and Hifiger partnered with Vetements on a capsule collection.

The brand has continued to innovate with initiatives such as 3D designs, a digital showroom, artificial intelligence, gaming, a virtual Tommy Play store on Roblox, sustainability, adaptive clothing and diversity initiatives. Hilfiger has launched numerous initiatives around “waste nothing and welcome all.” It introduced The People’s Place Program in 2020, which aims to advance the representation of Black, Indigenous and people of color within the fashion and creative industries.

Daniel Grieder stepped down as CEO of Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe after 23 years with the group in June 2020, and was succeeded by Martijn Hagman. Avery Baker, president and chief brand officer, resigned in July 2023. She had been in the role since November 2020, and was with the company for 24 years. Gary Sheinbaum, who had been CEO, Tommy Hilfiger Americas, departed Hilfiger in 2020.

In 2020, the company introduced the “Moving Forward Together” campaign, as well as the “Make it Possible” campaign.

In 2022, Hilfiger was awarded WWD’s John B. Fairchild Honor, recognizing a career of influence and distinction in the fashion industry. The honor is named after WWD’s legendary, revolutionary and feared publisher, the late John B. Fairchild. That same year, Hilfiger presented his spring 2022 collection at Decentraland’s Metaverse, a blockchain platform that allows for NFT integration. The brand also returned to NYFW for its first show since before the pandemic with a fall Richard Quinn collaboration. The live show was supplemented by a virtual experience on Roblox.

In November 2022, PVH Corp. said it would unwind its licensing arrangements with G-III Apparel Group for Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein women’s wholesale apparel in the U.S. by 2027. PVH plans to start manufacturing those two lines themselves.

“We’re going back to the DNA of Calvin and Tommy that made each of these brands collide with culture in a positive way and become iconic globally. We’re making that DNA current through product and marketing and the brand experience today. Our long-term vision is to build Calvin and Tommy into the most successful lifestyle brands in the world and then make PVH one of the highest performing brands groups in our sector,” said Stefan Larsson, CEO of PVH, in March, 2023.

In 2023, Sophia Hwang-Judiesch joined as president, Tommy Hilfiger North America.

In February 2024, Hilfiger returned to a regular wholesale model and showed its fall 2024 collection at the Oyster Bar in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, staging a big finale with Jon Batiste. The new collection was repositioned in a more luxury context.

“The idea is we are elevating. We are doing everything from tailoring to casual and in between, but definitely more sophisticated. The shapes are more modern. The fabrics are sourced in Italy. The DNA is still attached to the brand but it’s done in a very new way,” said Hilfiger before the show. Hilfiger came in first place in brand ranking during New York Fashion Week for getting the most Media Impact Value, according to Launchmetrics.



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