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 “cool big city styles” from New York to his friends in their small town in upstate New York. Hilfiger soon began designing for the boutiques he had always admired, and in 1979 he moved to New York City to pursue a career as a full-time fashion designer. There, he 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 30 years, Tommy Hilfiger has brought “classic American cool” 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 shaped 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 for 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, they collaborated on the book Iconic America: A Roller-Coaster Ride through the Eye-Popping Panorama of American Pop Culture, which resents a mosaic of over 400 iconic and iconoclastic images from the melting pot of America. In the 1990s, Hilfiger became a pioneer in the industry by featuring emerging musical talent in his advertising campaigns, and his tradition of fusing music and fashion continues today.
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 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, and in 2007 the Hispanic Federation awarded him the Individual Achievement Award at their annual gala. The following year, Hilfiger received the prestigious Bambi Award for the fashion category during the 60th annual 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, Hilfiger was honored with the Legends Award by Pratt Institute and in 2011 Philadelphia University awarded him the Spirit of Design Award. A year later, Anna Wintour presented him with the CFDA’s prestigious Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 CFDA Fashion Awards.
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.