Born the second of nine children in Elmira, New York, Hilfiger’s career in fashion began as a high school student in 1969 when he opened a small chain of stores called People’s Place with just $150. His goal was to bring fashion from New York and London to upstate New York. Self taught, he soon began designing for the boutiques he had always admired. In 1979 he moved to New York City to pursue a career as a full-time fashion designer. In New York, Hilfiger caught the eye of Mohan Murjani, a businessman who was looking to launch a line of men’s clothing and believed that Hilfiger’s entrepreneurial background gave him the unique ability to approach men’s fashion in a new way. With Murjani’s support, Hilfiger introduced his first signature collection in 1985 by modernizing button-down shirts, chinos, and other time-honored classics with updated fits and details. The relaxed, youthful attitude of his first designs has remained a distinctive hallmark throughout all of Hilfiger’s subsequent collections.
For 25 years, Tommy Hilfiger has brought classic, cool, American apparel to consumers around the world. His designs give time-honored classics a fresh look, and his discerning taste has provided the foundation for the growth of a global brand.
Under Hilfiger’s guidance, vision and leadership as Principal Designer, the Tommy Hilfiger Group has become one of very few globally recognized designer brands offering a wide range of American-inspired apparel and accessories.
Through his creative efforts as a designer, and in working on a series of bold marketing campaigns, Hilfiger has both influenced and developed lasting relationships with a wide-range of cultural influencers and trendsetters. In 1985, Hilfiger hired legendary ad man George Lois to develop a billboard to place in the center of New York’s Times Square. The now famous “hangman ad” ignited the designer’s career and launched a dynamic and productive relationship between Hilfiger and Lois. In 2007, Hilfiger and Lois collaborated on the book Iconic America: A Roller-Coaster Ride through the Eye-Popping Panorama of American Pop Culture, which presents a mosaic of over 400 iconic and iconoclastic images from the melting pot of the American experience. In the 1990’s, Hilfiger became a pioneer in the industry by featuring emerging musical talent such as Britney Spears and Lenny Kravitz in his advertising campaigns.
As Hilfiger’s designs merged with popular culture, he began to extend his company’s distinct brand message across a variety of mediums and platforms. Celebrating the long association between Hilfiger Denim and the music world, in 2009 the Company launched the brand’s online evolution – www.hilfigerdenim.com. The website allows visitors to peruse the latest cutting-edge Hilfiger Denim collection, while enjoying the music behind the designs.
Hilfiger’s diverse achievements in business, retail and fashion have earned him a variety of distinguished awards. In 1998, Parsons School of Design in New York City honored him with their Designer of the Year award, as did GQ magazine for their annual “Men of the Year” issue. In 1995 he was named Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). That same year, he received VH1’s “From the Catwalk to the Sidewalk” award at their annual Fashion and Music Awards. He has also won several FiFi Awards, the fragrance industry’s most illustrious honor. In November of 2002, he was selected as GQ magazine’s International Designer of the Year award recipient in Germany. That same month, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) organization presented Hilfiger with the Future of America Award, D.A.R.E.’s highest honor, for his philanthropic efforts for America’s youth.
In 2006, GQ Spain honored Hilfiger as Designer of the Year, while the Hispanic Federation awarded him the Individual Achievement Award at their annual gala the following year. In 2008, Hilfiger received the coveted Bambi Award for the fashion category during the 60th annual prestigious Bambi Awards ceremony, while Women’s Wear Daily listed him as the #1 Designer and #16 Brand in their annual ‘100’ list. In 2009, he went on to receive the respected UNESCO Support Award for his philanthropic efforts throughout the years, as well as the Marie Claire Lifetime Achievement Award. Hilfiger was also awarded the Alpha Award of Honor from the U.S. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity for his dedication to serving the community. In 2010, Tommy Hilfiger was honored with the Legends Award by Pratt Institute and in 2011, Philadelphia University awarded him the Spirit of Design Award and the Fresh Air Fund honored him for his contributions to Camp Tommy.
In 1995, Hilfiger launched The Tommy Hilfiger Group to enrich the physical and intellectual well being of youth with a major emphasis on education and cultural programs that impact a diverse population. Hilfiger is actively involved in a number of charities and causes, including the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr., National Memorial Project Foundation and the Anti-Defamation League. He has also served on the board of directors for The Fresh Air Fund, a New York based group that has been sending underprivileged children to summer camp since 1877, and the Race to Erase MS (Multiple Sclerosis) since 1994.
Over the past five years Hilfiger has also supported Breast Health International, a globally renowned organization committed to finding a cure for breast cancer, by designing five limited edition bags to benefit the charity. Through previous initiatives, Hilfiger has partnered with actresses Cristiana Capotondi and Claudia Gerini, France’s first lady Carla Bruni, Helena Christensen and Milla Jovovich, and most recently Renee Zellweger. As ambassadors of the program, these women have helped raise funds and promote the limited edition bags. Half of the proceeds from the limited edition bag were donated to Breast Health International’s “Fund for Living” program.
In 2009, The Tommy Hilfiger Group donated over $2 million to Millennium Promise, a non-profit organization founded in 2005 to help end extreme poverty. The partnership celebrates the Group’s globalization of its philanthropic mission to help build a healthy and civil society by supporting education, physical well-being and cultural programs. It also marks the first major global effort supported by The Tommy Hilfiger Group. In 2010, Millennium Promise named Tommy Hilfiger the first Millennium Promise MDG Global Leader.