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Take A Spin Inside Tommy Hilfiger's Fashion Cuisinart

One Part Prep, One Part Hip-Hop, A Slice or Two of White Bread and a Liberal Splash of Street Smarts--It's the Hilfiger Look and It's Absolutely Everywhere.

August 25, 1996|Mimi Avins | Mimi Avins is The Times' Fashion Editor

Examine the closet of a young American male today and you will find baggy trousers, huge athletic jerseys of nonexistent teams, preppy polos on leave from an imaginary campus, puffy parkas ready for an expedition to suburbia's outback. This strange look is a curious marriage of opposites, blending rebellious sloppiness with patrician cool. While it rudely renounces proper fit, it represents a truce in the war between hip and square, so deftly does it substitute ersatz sportiness for elegance. The style is called prep urban, and Tommy Hilfiger, the man whose name is livin' large on rugby shirts, underwear and baseball caps, is among its most visible and successful suppliers.

On a humid July afternoon in New York, Hilfiger's fingers ruffle a model's mucky, moussed pompadour. Sascha could be the best-looking boy at the frat party no one's daughter should have gone to. He towers over the 5-foot-8, 45-year-old designer.

"His hair's too high," Hilfiger says to any grooming aide within earshot. "It should be more natural. Preppier."

In less than two hours, at 6 p.m., an audience of 1,200 store representatives and fashion reporters will witness the Tommy Hilfiger Spring 1997 collection, presented on a runway bordered by fake whitewashed bricks. Behind the tent where the fashion show will be held, a canvas tunnel houses backstage operations. As in a clockwork game of telephone, the message travels down the steamy corridor, crowded with racks of clothing, ironing boards, piles of shoes, models, girlfriends of models, dressers, makeup artists, video camera crews, hairdressers, publicists, photographers and waiters offering plastic flutes of champagne: "Tommy wants all the guys to look like they just ran their fingers through their hair."

The show will feature more than 100 outfits worn by 33 models, including media darlings Jason Lewis, Alex Lundqvist and Brad Pitt double Mark Vanderloo. Hiring such a large corps of models is an extravagance, but Hilfiger doesn't want to risk the problems a shortage of ready bodies can create during a fast-paced show. Besides, with $478 million in sales last year, Hilfiger is one of the hottest names in the fashion industry and a hot stock on Wall Street. He doesn't have to scrimp.

With an "Entertainment Tonight" camera in his face and a microphone at his chin, Hilfiger says, "My inspiration came from the '70s. I've always been inspired by music and musicians."

An assistant carrying a garment bag nearly trips over a model who has staked out some floor space by folding his lanky limbs into the lotus position, the better to endure the hurry-up-and-wait rhythm common to the Army, the entertainment industry and the fashion business.

"I have your outfit," the courier says, executing a hockey stop next to Hilfiger. "Where do you want me to put it?"

At the end of the show, Hilfiger will take the traditional designer's walk down the runway, acknowledging applause with a big smile and a restrained, royal wave.

"I think I'll just wear this," he says of the still-fresh French blue shirt, white undershirt and slim black pants he's worn since 6 a.m., more concerned with the models' hair than his own appearance.

A BBC camera crew elbows in next to the designer. "The show is full of color and the clothes are more streamlined," he tells them. "There's a Palm Beach group and some James Bond clothes, some Mod, some surfer looks. I put everything into the blender and redesign the classics."

A model sent to the boss for hair approval spills champagne on him. Hilfiger flicks the bubbly puddle off his thigh without so much as a scowl. He didn't get here by being laid back, but all outward evidence indicates his body temperature hovers in the low 90s.

"I love sports, music, but I'm very classic. I've taken a little Mod, a little rock 'n' roll, a little athletic inspiration. We think people have seen the conservative looks, so we're giving them something different today."

Fox Style News wraps up its interview and edges through the crowd to the buffet table.

Jason Lewis, he of the cleft chin and chiseled cheekbones, introduces Hilfiger to the camera as a tape destined for the cable show "Fashion File" turns. "The word on the street is Tommy's a nice guy," Lewis says.

A production assistant pauses next to a rack of sherbet-colored silk sport coats and seersucker pants. "One hour to first outfit," he bellows.

"It's much slimmer, closer to the body," Hilfiger is telling a reporter from "Extra."

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