How Tommy Hilfiger Has Struck Fashion Gold Through Buzzy Collabs

On Dec. 3, Tommy Hilfiger will be honored as the Collaborator of the Year at the FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Dec. 2 print issue about his buzzy — and financially successful — partnerships with Zendaya and Lewis Hamilton.

Authenticity and engagement. That’s what fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger looks for in a brand partner, and he struck gold in 2019 not once but twice. His joint collections with race car driver Lewis Hamilton and actress-singer Zendaya hit big during the year, transcending buzz to become major revenue generators.

The Hamilton-Hilfiger partnership was born of a friendship forged in the Formula 1 world. For their first design meeting a few seasons ago, Hamilton brought a huge duffel bag filled with favorite vintage and current pieces. From the assortment, the duo quickly landed on a concept they dubbed “luxury streetwear.”

Lewis Hamilton, tommy hilfiger, campaign, fall 2019
Lewis Hamilton on set shooting the fall ’19 Lewis x Tommy campaign.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger

“What struck me as being very memorable during the whole experience was Lewis’ thought process and engagement with doing the logo because we wanted to marry his branding with my flag logo. We went through many different renditions, but he loved this old English lettering,” said Hilfiger. “We went back and forth with the graphic artist many, many times, and he was meticulous with the details, which really impressed me.”

Lewis Hamilton, tommy hilfiger,
Lewis Hamilton in a denim jacket from his fall ’19 Tommy Hilfiger collection.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger

For his part, Hamilton described Hilfiger as being instrumental in teaching him how to navigate the fashion landscape. “To get the chance to work alongside him has been surreal and a tremendous learning experience,” said the racing star. “The thing about Tommy is, he has a distinct point of view and aesthetic, but one that can work for the masses. It’s classic, approachable and refined — just like him.”

Hilfiger’s partnership with Zendaya began with a meeting at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles several months before the pair debuted their first collaboration in March at a spring ’19 see-now, buy-now show in Paris. Zendaya and her longtime stylist, Law Roach, rolled out inspiration boards with photographs of 1970s idols such as Bianca Jagger, Farrah Fawcett and Joan Collins that Hilfiger said reminded him of younger days at Studio 54.

“Tommy is an expert in iconic dressing,” said Zendaya. “It’s an incredible opportunity [to work with him]. I love fashion. What better way and who better to learn from … than Tommy Hilfiger?”

Zendaya, tommy hilfiger, fall 2019, runway, paris fashion week,
Zendaya steps out with Tommy Hilfiger at the Tommy x Zendaya spring ’19 finale.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

That Paris show was lauded for its inclusivity, featuring diverse models who reflected a range of sizes and ages. The magic continued in September: Hilfiger returned to the Big Apple after several seasons away, staging the Tommy x Zendaya fall ’19 production at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. It was one of the top three buzziest social media events on the Nw York Fashion Week calendar, generating nearly 600,000 engagements across the fashion brand’s platforms, according to social media analytics firm ListenFirst.

The fall ’19 range was also a financial success, according to Hilfiger, who described it as one of his all-time best-sellers. The collaborative line has since been spotted on young tastemakers, from Bebe Rexha to Storm Reid and Skai Jackson.

“It wasn’t just a fashion show; it was a performance, with music, fashion, pop culture and iconic images. It [became] disruptive, historical and memorable, and that was our goal,” said Hilfiger.

Tommy Hilfiger, Zendaya and Law Roach on the catwalkTommy Hilfiger show, Runway, Spring Summer 2020, New York Fashion Week, USA - 08 Sep 2019
(L-R): Law Roach, Tommy Hilfiger and Zendaya at the finale of the fall ’19 runway show.
CREDIT: Clint Spaulding/Shutterstock

The fashion icon is no stranger to successful partnerships. Since launching his label in 1985, Hilfiger has teamed up with stars of every decade. In September 2016, he created four capsules with supermodel Gigi Hadid, introducing a see-now, buy-now runway experiment.

While a number of brands now use the buy-now sales model, it hasn’t been adopted, perhaps because it’s “very difficult to execute,” said Hilfiger. “You have to design way in advance, manufacture way in advance and you have to deliver exactly on time because showtime is very precise,” he explained. “It can’t be a day late or [even] a few hours late. It has to be completely on time.”

In 2020, Hilfiger will celebrate his 35th brand anniversary, but don’t expect him to stop innovating. “That’s the exciting part of what I do: trying to figure out what’s next,” he said.

“In keeping the brand relevant, we always have to do something next that is different from what has been done in the past.”

The 33rd annual FNAA ceremony will be held at the IAC Building in New York. Sponsors for the event include Klarna, Geox, The Style Room Powered by Zappos, FDRA, Micam Milano and Buchanan’s Scotch Whisky.

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