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Designer Brings 'Preppy With a Twist' Style to West Coast

October 10, 1986|DIANE REISCHEL | Times Staff Writer

The question no longer is Tommy WHO? But when will your next boutique open?

The 35-year-old Tommy Hilfiger, whose fashion credo is "preppy with a twist," gave up anonymity virtually overnight when his name and face were splashed on billboard and TV ads nationwide last spring.

Hilfiger's backer, Mohan Murjani, sponsored that cheeky campaign. And that was just the start.

The expansion-prone Murjani plans to open 15 Hilfiger boutiques in the coming year, and hundreds, eventually. The first West Coast store opened late last month--1,150 square feet on prime Rodeo Drive--with the amiable Hilfiger dispatched for the occasion from New York, where he opened his first two shops.

The new blond-marble and white-ash boutique exudes quiet good taste--as do the clothes. Hilfiger says his menswear ranges from "very collegiate" to "less collegiate." Nothing cutting-edge. But that's not his goal.

"I want to sell a lot of clothes to a lot of people. Very innovative designers sell a few clothes to a few people and have a lot of trouble paying the rent," says Hilfiger, whose non-threatening garb for an interview consisted of khaki pants, Oxford-cloth shirt and penny loafers.

Clothes shouldn't be "so trendy that they frighten people," he says.

The Hilfiger line, to which he has just added a women's collection, centers on natural fabrics and simple, oversize shapes. His greatest amusement comes from the curious details he applies: big patch pockets, decorative linings, unusual plackets and buttons. His logo--a Bavarian crest reflecting his family heritage--appears discreetly on everything.

More blatant labels are the rule with Hilfiger's other fashion venture--the Coca-Cola Clothes he also designs for Murjani, sold in high-tech, cafeteria-style Fizzazz boutiques in New York City as well as department stores nationwide.

Hilfiger met Mohan Murjani, chairman of Murjani International, more than two years ago--at a time when Murjani was looking for a new designer to back, and, as Hilfiger sees it, the public was ready for "a cleaned-up look."

Hilfiger, who grew up in Upstate New York and says he never went to college, had designed for several fashion companies for more than a decade, with varying degrees of success.

"A lot of people say: 'He's an overnight success.' But I've been working at this since I was 18 years old."

Hilfiger says he divides time equally between the Hilfiger and Coca-Cola lines but admits he wears the more youthful Coke clothes mainly at the gym. The Hilfiger label is closer to his traditionalist heart.

"I have been trendy at times," he says in disclaimer. "I used to wear a Claude Montana leather jacket."

And that's as shocking as Tommy Hilfiger gets.

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