Tommy Hilfiger redeems himself (possibly)

I have always regarded Tommy Hilfiger as someone who helped himself to American culture without much reciprocating.

In fact, Tommy seemed thrice a shoplifter.  His look was a straight steal from the Preppie handbook, real and figurative.  More than that, it was a lift from Ralph Lauren. Finally, he dared himself to the Harvard H.

Tommy was, in short, completely derivative.  That’s the nicest thing you could say about him.

Recently, Hilfiger has been running an ad that does some interesting things for the Preppie look. It’s the "Feast Interruptus" spot now running.  Have a look and let me know what you think this piece does, or doesn’t do, for the Preppie look.  Perhaps Tommy has decided to make a contribution after all.

Hats off to the creative team (as nearly as I can identify them): Francis Lawrence (director), Karl Templer (fashioner), Trey Laird (creative director and CEO of the agency in charge, Laird + Partners).  


Roberts, Jonathan, Carol Wallace, Mason Wiley, Lisa Birnbach 1980. The Official Preppy Handbook. Workman Publishing.  

The ad in question: Feast Interruptus click here.

8 thoughts on “Tommy Hilfiger redeems himself (possibly)

  1. Ray

    I sort of see what you are saying, as the execution here is well done, from what sounds like Vampire Weekend (Columbia grads who sing about the Cape) to the plethora of tweed. The problem is the medium. Does J Crew or LL Bean do national tv spots? Even if they did, (and they might) those ad would seem off brand too. A 60, or even 30 second spot is not preppy, which results in the attempt feeling merely aspirational preppy. But for a mass brand like Hilfinger, maybe the simulacra is enough. After all, the entire nation cannot go to prep schools or east coast liberal arts colleges.

  2. Mark Boles

    I can identify with what Ray is saying. Lisa Birnbach’s Preppy Handbook was my bible when I was growing up. I’ve long lost my copy of it, dog-eared and excerpts highlighted (seriously). As a young black man at the time who came from a good family it was a means for me to demystify the subtleties of all things “preppy” and navigate my universe of private schools/college, learning the differences between the old guard and new money. Ray is right. True preppy doesn’t advertise. I once met the founder of Body Glove. You might recall the neon colored surf wear. He told me you know, “I didn’t make all my money off the say few hundred thousand hard core surfers. I made it off the five million wannabes”. That’s unfortunately I think the legacy that Tommy Hilfiger struggles with. Arguably however, you make a whole lot more money being Tommy Hilfiger then you do being Vineyard Vines or White Marlie.

  3. Tim Kastelle

    Despite the new ad, I still think that William Gibson got Hilfiger exactly right in Pattern Recognition:

    “(The brand is a) simulacra of simulacra of simulacra. A dilute tincture of Ralph Lauren, who had himself diluted the glory days of Brooks Brothers, who themselves had stepped on the product of Jermyn Street and Savile Row … There must be some Tommy Hilfiger event horizon, beyond which it is impossible to be more derivative, more removed from the source, more devoid of soul.”

  4. Alex Mitchell

    I think this is a great tongue-in-cheek (intentional or otherwise) commentary on the Hilfiger brand, and the preppy look upon which it is built. The ad itself is loaded with stereotypes, posing, plaids, tweeds, scarves, and crystal stemware at a picnic. But how about the young girl driving away with the table? Rebellious preppy or allegory for the anti-preppy perspective (maybe even the anti-Hilfiger)?

    I’m sure some portion of the people who watch that ad will be like me: thinking the posing is amusing while still really liking the tweed jackets with patches on the elbows. Others will be cheering for that girl driving the car. I don’t know if it “gives back” to American culture, but maybe it makes a move towards a lowercase “h”?

  5. Jamie Gordon

    While i appreciate the Royal Tennenbaums-esque irony and homage to the stale side of timelesness, I am still siding with the Gibsonians: simulacra plus one more layer. You can’t copy “edgy” and still be edgy when your whole history exudes poser-ism.

    That being said, I am now inspired to go out and purchase a “new” vintage blazer with elbow patches – to add to my collection of “dress up a t-shirt and jeans” attire for client meetings.

  6. arvind

    interesting. when i first caught a glimpse of this, i thought it was a blackberry ad. definitely did not glimpse a preppy specificity in it. most of this stuff seems to come from the same creative dirt-patch anyway…

  7. Rick Liebling

    I think it’s pretty safe to say that were you to draw a venn diagram, with one circle representing Grant McCracken readers, and the other circle representing Tommy Hilfiger’s target audience, there would not be a lot of overlap.

    Royal Tennenbaums and Vampire Weekend, while clearly evident (either by inference or actual usage), are not cultural touchpoints for your average Macy’s (or more likely Marshall’s) consumer.

    I’m guessing the average Tommy consumer has no idea who that song is by (and the cultural undertones attached), but just says, “cute holiday tune.” Similarly, the average Tommy buyer probably doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about which Ralph Lauren spring collection Hilfiger ripped off.

    Yes, Gibson is right about Hilfiger. That’s the point of Hilfiger. It’s like the brilliant scene in Devil Wears Prada where Miranda tells Andy that fashion does matter and explains how haute couture finally makes it down to the remainder bins at T.J. Maxx. Hilfiger is part of the machine and he understands his place. People like us complaining about him miss the point.

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