The tie between musicians and fashion is obvious. As pop culture tastemakers, rockers define what is cool, not only by what they sing, but by what they wear while doing it. The fact that so many 1990s rock and Hip Hop artists sported Tommy Hilfiger, a brand featuring relatively classic, mainstream style is no small feat, and in large part due to Tommy’s younger brother, Andy Hilfiger.
Tommy Hilfiger had just opened his first store, The People’s Place in Elmira, New York, and bought a Beattle Bass guitar that he gave Andy. He taught his kid brother the Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” and Andy was hooked.
The bass unleashed a hidden talent, as Andy found it easy to play what he heard. As a teenager he worked in the store selling jeans, while practicing in its basement with his band, Vaudeville. Tommy outfitted the group and served as its manager, securing gigs in upstate New York, before the group started playing in the city.
Hilfiger was a successful musician, performing with greats like ZZ Top, Steven Tyler, Kid Rock, Cheap Trick and more.
“My biggest thrill was playing bass for Kid Rock at Madison Square Garden during the VH1 Fashion Awards,” said Hilfiger. “But I kind of knew I could make a real living in apparel, so I stopped doing a lot of gigs. And I brought music with me to Hilfiger,” he said.
As director of special projects, Hilfiger had a lot of creative freedom, and a brother who was onboard with his idea to merge music and the brand. It began with a partnership with Pete Townsend and the Who, and took off when Snoop Dogg wore a red, navy and ivory Hilfiger rugby shirt on Saturday Night Live; sales exploded.
It was Andy’s finger on the pulse of the music scene that made all types of musicians want to wear and represent the Hilfiger brand. Soon Tommy Hilfiger’s classic Americana fashion was gracing the backs of Hip Hop giants like Lil’Kim, Sean Puffy Combs and Aaliyah, and music legends Mick Jaggar and Sting. The relationships Hilfiger helped create with the top performers of the day propelled the company from a hundred-million-dollar business to one valued at one billion when Andy left Hilfiger in 2001.
“My biggest thrill was playing bass for Kid Rock at Madison Square Garden during the VH1 Fashion Awards,” said Hilfiger.
Although he exited the brand, Hilfiger didn’t leave the industry. Working with so many artists through the years, he and Tommy realized that many stars wanted their names on their own lines, so they co-founded Star Branding to help A-listers expand their personal brands. Hilfiger was instrumental in creating J. Lo’s line, including Glow, the top-selling celebrity perfume of all time, and Nicki Minaj and Adam Levine’s fashion brands.
After working behind the scenes on so many brands, Hilfiger took the spotlight with the launch of Andrew Charles in 2011. The line features vibrant colors and patterns with a rock-and-roll edge. Hilfiger’s own style, and the influence of the tastemakers he admires, are clear in his designs.
“My style icons are Mick Jagger, David Bowie and James Dean,” he said. “My favorite piece of clothing I own is a Belstaff leather jacket. It’s a life-lasting piece that I can wear from New York to Miami to L.A.”
When it comes to the bare essentials that sophisticated men need for style, it’s no surprise that Hilfiger quickly says: a great leather jacket, along with a zip-up cardigan because it can be dressed up or down, and a pair of fantastic fitting jeans.
Hilfiger’s affinity for combining family and business continues at Andrew Charles. His wife, Kim, is his partner, and with their son Andrew currently studying design at Parson’s, the next generation of Hilfigers may soon join the fray.
Hilfiger may need the extra help. A chance meeting at a battle of the bands for lawyers in New York led to a partnership with artist Greg Polisseni to launch Artistix.
“It’s a blend of art and fashion. The colors of his paintings inspires the line,” said Hilfiger, who serves as Artistix creative director.
While his favorite song might be “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” it’s clear that life continues to be infitnely satisfying for Andy.