First there was Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass and Stanley Blacker. Then Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis and Ralph Lauren. Today it's Tommy. Tommy Hilfiger. Style marches on.
--Tommy Hilfiger campaign
If Tommy Hilfiger never becomes a household name, no one can say he didn't try.
In the past six months, this 34-year-old New York men's sportswear designer has been the subject of one of he most intense fashion media blitzes since Gloria Vanderbilt sprang designer jeans on the public in 1978. It's no coincidence that both Vanderbilt and Hilfiger are backed by Murjani International.
When Hilfiger joined Murjani two years ago, the designer had worked for Jordache and other sportswear clothing firms, including Tattoo in Los Angeles, but was virtually unknown outside the industry. Murjani decided to rid Hilfiger of this anonymity, starting last fall with posters plastered around New York City, and this spring with national ads on TV and in major magazines.
The campaign was a name dropper, placing Hilfiger in the company of America's sportswear superstars--Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis and Ralph Lauren--and others of the fashion establishment. It was a ploy that led one L.A. designer to call the new boy on the block "an egomaniac," and a senior executive at Calvin Klein to respond to questions about the ad with a blunt: "No comment."
Hilfiger recalls he was "a little taken aback" when Murjani suggested naming other designers in his ads. Hilfiger calls his sportswear niche "classics with a twist," or "new American prep."
"We had to talk him into it," says Mohan Murjani, chairman of Murjani International. "He's a humble, laid-back kind of person. But since our objective was to take him to the top very quickly, this seemed like the best campaign."
Marketing executive George Lois was charged with that task. "My job is to sell a new idea tomorrow morning," says the chairman and creative director of Lois Pitts Gerson Pon/GGK.
However, Kitty Hawks, Perry Ellis corporate creative director, says, "If he's going to compare himself to the three top sportswear designers in America, he better produce."
"It's great for a kid to get a break," veteran designer John Weitz says of Hilfiger, cautioning that it will take a decade to prove his staying power.
But in the first two years, Murjani can't complain. He says he expects 1986 volume sales on Hilfiger clothes will be $30 million, triple last year's figures.
"I'm very traditionally minded and I dress very preppy," Hilfiger says. "I'm not happy wearing the old-fashioned preppy styles, so it inspired me to develop my own collection."
He will launch a women's sportswear line later this year. And he's also headed for the boutique business.
"People say: 'You've created a name, a designer.' I say I didn't create anything. Tommy's a talent," Murjani says. "All marketing can do is accelerate the rate of acceptance of a product."