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Tommy Hilfiger - Biography

The iconic American menswear designer whose company diversified into womenswear and accessories in the 90s was born in 1951

Tommy Hilfiger stood on stage smiling with a mic in hand
Hannah Watkin
Content Writer
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Early life and career

The second of nine children, Thomas Jacob Hilfiger was born in the small upstate New York town of Elmira on 24 March 1951, to a jeweller father and a nurse mother. His retail career kicked off in 1969 when with just $150 in his pocket, he set up a shop called People's Place in Cape Cod, which soon blossomed into a chain of ten stores.

At first stocked with clothing he and a friend had bought to sell, Tommy soon became unsatisfied with these articles' and began to sketch his own designs. Writing in his autobiography in 2010, he said: "designing made me happier than anything I'd ever done. I knew from that early work that designing would be my life."

Brand success

In 1979, People's Place sadly collapsed, prompting the young entrepreneur to move to New York with his first wife Suzie to pursue a career in fashion design. After training and working with several different labels and securing backing for his own ideas, in 1985 he founded the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, and the legend was born. 

Not one to undersell himself, Tommy introduced the collection via a huge billboard ad in Times Square. In ranking him in the same league as established designers, Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein, Tommy's advertisement caused controversy in the fashion world which in turn brought great publicity for his first collection. He'd decided the moment was ripe to reintroduce the "preppy old American look", and the collection proved popular with young people in sports, movies and music. 

Sales figures received a substantial rise in 1994 when rapper Snoop Dogg wore an oversized Hilfiger jumper on Saturday Night Live. It was an appropriate association as his designs have long represented the merging of fashion and music and has often been inspired by stars of rap and rock. 

Brand development

Following his hugely successful start in the 80s and early 90s, Tommy expanded into womenswear, childrenswear, fragrances and home collections, and the label has been associated with a host of stars, including David Bowie, Beyonce and Enrique Iglesias. Reflecting his passion for music Tommy also established the Hilfiger Sessions, where up-and-coming musicians can jam with big stars. 

Personal life

Since splitting with his first wife Susie in 2000, after 20 years of marriage, Tommy began dating former model Dee Ocleppo. The pair married in December 2008 and welcomed a son in 2009. Tommy also has four children who he shares with his first wife Susie. His daughter Ally featured in reality TV show Rich Girls, and his son Richard has released hip-hop tracks under the name Ricky Hil.

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