Monday, May 9, 2011

Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger’s signature red and white block logo with the navy border has become so ubiquitous as a knockoff design for cheap tourist t-shirts and souvenir regalia that it’s become hard to remember that this insignia was once popular in its own right. At different times throughout the 1990s, Hilfiger’s logo exemplified a wide variety of fashion movements ranging from cool (hip hop style crewneck sweatshirts) style to shameful (preppy preadolescent polos).

The 90s were a time of great brand consciousness; many mainstream young fashion followers were content to plaster themselves silly with logo-emblazoned garments. Despite all of the alternative movements of the 90s, much of the decade’s fashion was still largely characterized by an adherence to brand names and an unexplainable willingness to shell out fifty bucks for a sweatshirt whose only redeeming quality was a stamped on logo and accompanying designer name.

Hilfiger’s fashion became such a coveted status symbol that when rapper Snoop Dogg wore a signature Hilfiger red, white, and navy rugby shirt for an appearance on a 1994 episode of Saturday Night Live, New York City stores quickly sold out of the style. Hilfiger’s sportswear became a highly versatile trend, transitioning seamlessly from suburban teenager to hip hop icon. Hilfiger capitalized on his popularity among popular rappers and hip hop artists, including Coolio and Puff Daddy in his runway shows and enlisting the late singer Aaliyah in a print campaign.

His clothing designs were simple, featuring iconic designs, patriotic color schemes, and lots and lots of logos. A simple shirt or pair of jeans bearing little visual interest outside of Hilfiger’s signature logo sold for a relatively high price, giving the brand the illusion of exclusivity. Many children of the 90s undoubtedly argued with their parents that yes, it was totally worth it to pay forty dollars for a plain t-shirt with “Tommy Girl” splashed across the chest. With multiple successful clothing and fragrance lines, it seemed Tommy Hilfiger was destined for uncapped style popularity.

Unfortunately for Hilfiger, at the height of his 90s success the newly evolved internet rumor mill started churning out falsehoods about Hilfiger’s purported prejudiced beliefs. A widely circulated email incorrectly reported Hilfiger’s allegedly racist views and claimed he had appeared on Oprah to disparage Black, Jewish, Asian, Hispanic and other non-white wearers of his clothing. You may have received or heard about an email like this:

Oprah's interview and Tommy Hilfiger Good for Oprah!!!! I'm sure many of you watched the recent taping of The Oprah Winfrey show where her guest was Tommy Hilfiger. On the show, she asked him if the statements about race he was accused of saying were true.

Statements like"... if I'd known African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews and Asians would buy my clothes, I would not have made them so nice. I wish these people would NOT buy my clothes, as they are made for upper class white people."

His answer to Oprah was a simple, "YES". Where after she immediately asked him to leave her show.

My suggestion? Don't buy your next shirt or Perfume from Tommy Hilfiger. Let's give him what he asked for. Let's not buy his clothes.

Let's put him in a financial state where he himself will not be able to afford the ridiculous prices he puts on his clothes.


Many former Hilfiger fans were outraged over this claim, despite the fact that no one could remember or locate the footage of his supposed career-killing appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show. You would think with everyone up in arms over this story, someone somewhere would say, “Hey, this sounds kind of suspicious and made up. Maybe we should verify this as credible?” You would be wrong.

Hilfiger’s rep denied the statement, and Oprah declared the rumor false on her show. Over a decade after the original rumor took hold, Hilfiger appeared on the Oprah show to set the record straight and debunk the myth. Though now it is clear that there is no truth to the massively circulated email, its presence wrongfully damaged Hilfiger’s personal reputation.

Unluckily for Tommy Hilfiger, this was not his last brush with public scandal. All of Hilfiger’s clothing is marked “Made in the USA,” but his manufacturers utilized sweatshop labor in the Northern Mariana Islands. As a US territory, it technically verifies the “Made in the USA” claim without having to adhere to all of those pesky sweatshop labor laws like minimum wage. While they settled the class action suit, it didn’t do much for Hilfiger’s already wavering public esteem.

Despite all of the scandals--both verified and false--Hilfiger’s designs prevailed as some of the most popular fashions of the decade. While his popularity has faded significantly since his 90s glory days, Hilfiger remains a staple in department stores and has continued to expand his lines to include homewares and other items. His recent designs have veered more into the classic preppy than the hip hop style that brought him such fame in the 90s--it's certainly tough to imagine the still-famous but aging Snoop Dogg or P. Diddy appearing in a Hilfiger ad in this decade.

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