In 2013, Tommy Hilfiger hit revenues of Dhs12.5 billion, up seven percent from the year before that. Last year, sales rose 8.9 percent again. Yet just a decade ago the US designer was on the brink of extinction. The 63-year-old had hit a high in the Nineties when the hip-hop community embraced his street wear, but as quickly as Tommy became fashionable, like trends, the brand was quickly dropped as fashion moved on. But after a restructuring of market positioning (gone are the baggy pants and slogan-branded tees of yesteryear), the designer’s dapper menswear, which includes his Savile Row inspired Tailored line of suits, has become a solid and trusted brand at the heart of menswear today. “The European business had grown from zero in 1997 to just under a billion in 2008 without any trace of the enormous logos and cheap price tags that defined Tommy Hilfiger in the US,” wrote Claire O’Connor at Forbes.com late last year. While very few names in fashion get a second chance, Tommy Hilfiger seems to be gaining momentum as he approaches his 30th year in the industry. We sat down with him in London during London Collections: Men for a chat about his fashion empire. But first, his latest project – souping-up a hotel…
Tell us about your involvement with Raleigh…
Yes, I bought the Raleigh Hotel in Miami. It’s a small place with under 100 rooms; I plan to close it and bring it back to its original glory. It’s an old hotel from the late 1920s and it was really the iconic Art Deco hotel in Miami, so I’m going to bring it back to its former beauty.
Is this your first hotel project?
Yes. It’s just a personal hobby and dream of mine to own a property like that.
So it ’s not you expanding your brand then?
It’s not the Tommy Hilfiger brand. I bought the brand Raleigh because I like the name. We’ll probably do one in LA, London, New York and maybe Dubai, but it may not seem fancy or big enough for Dubai. I think Dubai needs something a bit more Ta-da!. Dubai is a bit like Las Vegas, it needs something big. I think it’ll change but probably not yet. All the Indians, Saudis and other people who go to Dubai for shopping and entertainment, they want big, fancy and beautiful. A smallish boutique hotel with a vintage charm would probably not go well with them.
Bomber jacket, Dhs1,040, Tommy Hilfiger
We’re certainly lacking small boutique hotels here, so maybe there’s a niche to be filled there?
Hmm, I think that’s the case and maybe there would be certain people who would like that. I think the perception of Dubai is that it’s glitzy and fancy, so anything vintage or retro doesn’t go. But maybe they’ll like that. Someone should open up an area like that.
What does well for you in dubai in terms of buying trends?
People are buying casual clothes. For a long time people in regions such as the Middle East and South-East Asia were wearing trousers, proper dress shirts and jackets. Now they’re wearing shirts untucked and jean-ish type trousers, so they’re much more casual and hence we’re at the right place at the right time with casual wear.
You recently opened a beautiful store in mall of the emirates. is there anything specific that flies off the shelves?
Our business in India is fantastic and there are a lot of Indians who come to Dubai to shop, so that’s where a lot of the business is coming from. That’s actually our best store in Dubai.
Bag, Dhs2,175, Tommy Hilfiger
We prefer Mall of the Emirates because it ’s smaller and a lot less touristy...
Everyone in Dubai looks touristy to me. Even in Mall of the Emirates, I look around and they just look as if they’re coming in from Singapore or as a tourist group. I keep thinking “Who actually lives in Dubai?” Obviously the people working in the shops live in Dubai but they’re wearing shop uniforms. I think it’s a bit harder to tell the common style in Dubai. It’s such an eclectic mix.
The last time we spoke to you was 10 years ago, it seems a lot’s changed since then…
Well, for starters my hair used to be your colour (nods to our brown mane).
You’ve had a really successful year, what’ s going right for you at the moment?
The business just keeps growing. I have a great group of people around me who are amazing. Our flagship stores are doing really well. Our brand keeps evolving. Today our clothing is very sophisticated and well made so we’re attracting an additional customer base without abandoning the youthful group we serve. So I think we’re in a very good position. Our advertising has come a long way because we went from being very innovative in our advertising at the beginning to nice fashion advertising, which wasn’t a breakthrough. Then we came out with the Tommy Hilfiger family campaign in 2010 and I think that helped create a lot of brand loyalty because of new people coming to the brand.
What’s in store for 2015?
It’s our 30th anniversary, so we’re celebrating and doing all sorts of different things. We’re in London for the Men’s Fashion Week in the summer; we’re opening a new store in Paris, and we’re just continuing to expand the brand. [Rafael] Nadal’s our new global brand ambassador, which was big news for us. For me, Nadal represents more than just a famous good-looking athlete wearing our clothes. We have a real friendship. In addition to that, I think he’s so respected worldwide, whether it’s in Australia, North America, South America, Europe or all over Asia. People love him. Tennis isn’t the largest sport but he transcends that in the way David
Beckham transcended football.
We bet he cuts a decent figure in a suit…
He has a 30-inch waist and has no body fat. He does have bigger thighs so we had to cut trousers specifically for him. When he was in our room in Monaco and I brought him all these jeans, I asked if he wanted to take them with him or if he wanted to try them. He said “I’ll try them”. So he dropped his pants to try on the jeans and my wife was there and she looked at me and said, “Oh my, his waist is fantastic.” I said, “Don’t you dare look at him” [laughs]. He’ll look great in the underwear and great in the tailored clothing, there’s no doubt about it. He’s great, and most of all he’s a nice guy.
Interview by Kate Hazell