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Questlove Explains Tommy Hilfiger's Comments About 1990s Hip Hop

(AllHipHop Feature) This past Tuesday (April 22nd), Questlove began a six-part essay series with Vulture explaining how “Hip Hop” had been misappropriated and failed Black America. Less than a week before Questlove’s stirring essay, Tommy Hilfiger informed Bloomberg Businessweek of the impact Hip Hop had on his brand in the 1990s:

Look, it fueled a lot of growth, but it took us away from our roots. We came back to our roots 10 years ago; that’s when our business started to really stabilize and grow again. When people ask me advice, I say stick to who you are. Stick to your guns. There is an image and attitude to most brands and that’s really important. I like to stick to my heritage and not chase trends and at that point we were chasing trends. Chasing trends was easy but it was dangerous. It’s more important to me now to be consistent.

In this feature, Questlove’s essay is used to explain the motives and truths of Tommy Hilfiger’s current feelings on his brand’s history with Hip Hop.

“Look, it fueled a lot of growth, but it took us away from our roots.”

“It” and “trend”. Those are the only words Tommy Hilfiger used when speaking of the musical movement of the 90s that helped his clothing brand achieve a valuation of $1.9  billion by the end of that very decade. Hilfiger’s involvement with Hip Hop in the 90’s began with a chance encounter with Grand Puba at John F. Kennedy Airport in the early 90s. Fascinated by the manner in which Puba wore the clothing, he began working with styling Hip Hop artists.

So, why would he refrain from even mentioning one of the most influential aspects in its rise, by name?  Hilfiger’s inability to identify Hip Hop by name derives from the oversaturation of the term “Hip Hop” diluting the uniqueness of its identity. This is an idea Questlove proposed in his essay:

The two biggest stars, Beyoncé and Rihanna, are considered pop (or is that pop-soul), but what does that mean anymore? In their case, it means that they’re offering a variation on hip-hop that’s reinforced by their associations with the genre’s biggest stars: Beyoncé with Jay Z, of course, and Rihanna with everyone from Drake to A$AP Rocky to Eminem.

Hilfiger’s introduction to Hip Hop is analogous of his overall attitude towards the genre: an accidental goldmine discovery instead of a partnership predicated on genuine cultural intrigue. He even told The Guardian in a 2011 interview that he initially viewed “the rap community like street kids wanting their own brand”:

I looked at the rap community like street kids wanting their own brand. But now I look at that period with the rappers in the 90s as a trend of the moment. What it taught me was never to follow a trend, because trends move on.

“We came back to our roots 10 years ago; that’s when our business started to really stabilize and grow again.”

Work-it-Snoop-Dogg-In-Tommy-

By May 2006, the landscape of “Hip Hop clothing” was dramatically changing. Phat Farm was sold to Kellenwood, FUBU had moved their operations to Europe and Tommy Hilfger had sold his company to Apax Partners. In 2010, weeks after Phillips-Van Heusen (owner of Calvin Klein) had purchased Hilfiger’s company, Hilfiger explained to the The New York Times that oversaturation and oversupply  caused its decline  as “It got to the point where the urban kids didn’t want to wear it and the preppy kids didn’t want to wear it”.

When you factor in Questlove’s view on Hip Hop’s growing popularity, it is safe to assume that while its ascension commercially helped Tommy Hilfiger become an global brand, its ubiquity also contributed to its irrelevance:

Once hip-hop culture is ubiquitous, it is also invisible. Once it’s everywhere, it is nowhere. What once offered resistance to mainstream culture (it was part of the larger tapestry, spooky-action style, but it pulled at the fabric) is now an integral part of the sullen dominant. 

Russell Simmons echoed similar thoughts during a 1996 interview with the The New York Times and helps elucidate the connection between Questlove’s quote and Tommy Hilfiger’s love lost with Hip Hop:

When you use the word ‘hip-hop’ in fashion, you’re looking at it as a trendy thing. ‘When you use the word ‘hip-hop’ in music, it’s now a mainstream concept. At the end of the day, what you want to be is American sportswear.

“When people ask me advice, I say stick to who you are. Stick to your guns. There is an image and attitude to most brands and that’s really important.”

 

For the past decade, Tommy Hilfiger has been making a concerted effort to let it be known that Hip Hop was no more than a very successful clothing line campaign from the thousands his company has produced over the past 30 years.

“Hip-hop fashion” makes a little sense, but even that is confusing: Does it refer to fashions popularized by hip-hop musicians, like my Lego heart pin, or to fashions that participate in the same vague cool that defines hip-hop music

Carl Williams, owner and creator of Karl Kani told The New York Times in September 1996 “just saying you’re hip-hop clothing, you’re cutting yourself off from a whole other area of the business.” In December 1998, Usher Raymond sued Tommy Hilfiger for using his image in an advertisement without compensation:

Usher

“I like to stick to my heritage and not chase trends and at that point we were chasing trends. Chasing trends was easy but it was dangerous. It’s more important to me now to be consistent.”

 

Tommy Hilfiger was born in Elmira, New York on Mach 24, 1951, 28 years before Sugarhill Gang “Rapper’s Delight” became the first rap song to enter the US Top 40. By the time Def Jam released its first rap album, LL Cool J’s Radio on November 18th 1985, Hilfiger had started a company, filed for bankruptcy, sold the company and started Tommy Hilfiger Corporation.

His “heritage” and “roots” are as far from Hip Hop as East New York, Brooklyn is from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Tommy Hilfiger’s relationship with Hip Hop was purely a business arrangement predicated on Hip Hop’s continual growth as a counterculture. Once that growth led to Hip Hop becoming mainstream, as Questlove explains, it became stagnant by virtue of its own progression:

There are patterns, of course, boom and bust and ways in which certain resources are exhausted. There are foundational truths that are stitched into the human DNA. But the art forms used to express those truths change without recurring. They go away and don’t come back. 

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  • Guest

    Cricket cricket & shit like this is the real important stuff happening in Hip Hop. Too bad ppl are too busy looking up shower rods. smh

    • ItGoesDownINtheDM

      lol

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  • Immortal

    I didn’t see in there where he mentioned in the 90’s he didn’t like “urban youth” wearing his clothes. He embraced the money that came from the “urban youth” but wanted nothing formally to do with them. Same with Crystal. They want your money, but at the end of the day, you’re still a poor ass n*gga to them.

    • ItGoesDownINtheDM

      “They want your money, but at the end of the day, you’re still a poor ass n*gga to them.” —– i would say thats the mentality of most business men … what do you think the drug dealers think about the people who buy from them yet what do you think most of them think of the people they hustle around … ijs … the mind of business man is GET THE MONEY … F*ck everything else … in every aspect …. most of the stores in urban areas are run by foreigners … most of the clubs and bars that the majority of black folks attend are own by white folks …. ijs …. in that aspect its about the money … maybe we should start smartening up and get money off them too … in away i see hip hop draining the suburban culture of thier $$$$$$ most of the money generated from hip hop comes from the suburban areas …… most of the concerts are filled with white faces ….. and suburbaners and i say suburban cause its not nessarilly “white people” lol ……

  • Soulgasm

    Hilfiger can learn a thing or two from Ralph Lauren. Just sayin…

    • ItGoesDownINtheDM

      what keep your prices high as hell and just wait for folks to be able to afford it lol then come out with a mid level brand for folks who can spend $30-$60 on a shirt aka polo sport … vs spedning $80 and up on a shirt lol POLO RL Black label etc …..

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  • F.U.

    Real shit!

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  • Embassy

    As hip-hop goes from an underground street movement to a counterculture youth movement to now a global pop industry, the image of someone representing hip-hop goes from intriguing, to rebellious, to bland and normal. Fashion is just the easiest way to represent something. You are what you wear.

    If you wear stuff that says “LOOK EVERYONE IM HIP TO THE RAP STUFF!”, that used to mean you were exploring a new movement, and then it meant that you embrace an up and coming alternative to popular culture, and now it just means you are trying too hard to fit in to pop culture.

    Fashion is all about what is trendy, and there are trends in society that come and go, and within those trends there are sub-trends. Hip-Hop as pop culture was a 90’s trend, and when it became so popular (so pop) that it was everywhere, now it’s not trendy for outsiders to claim ‘hip-hop’.

    Within hip-hop, there are trends that come and go – from breakin and b-boying, to battle rapping, to club R&B with a rap verse, to techno beats by Timbaland, to techno beats by David Guetta, to Autotune, to very minimalist beats where it’s all about the bars instead of catchy hooks, to repeating the word ‘twerk’ over and over.

    There’s always something that hip-hop latches onto that becomes ‘pop’. Twerking is now ‘pop culture’. When Flo Rida & T-Pain said ‘twerk’ back in 2008 with “Low”, no one cared about the word ‘twerk’. When Flo Rida says “twerk” in 2014, it’s now something that 9 year old white girls do with their moms watching and saying ‘that’s so cute’.

    So back to fashion: When your brand is EVERYWHERE (i.e. you can get it at Wal-Mart), it can’t be ‘cool’. It is no longer counterculture. It is pop. So the image is gone. There are brands right now that thanks to hip-hop, don’t mean as much as they used to. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Louboutin, Versace, Givenchy, Wayfarers… anything that gets a name drop in more than 10 hip-hop tracks a week. These are the next Hilfiger, FUBU, Sean John, Oakleys, Phat Farm, Timberland, Polo Sport.

    It’s going to be up to these high-end brands to stay high priced, and out of Wal-Mart, if they want to keep that prestige that draws in the successful, and those that want to look successful.

    • Craig

      hell with that high end mess, as I’ve gotten older I realize its just a racket

      • ItGoesDownINtheDM

        yes and no … because alot of high end stuff back then used to bleed because of the color schemes or worst SHRINK !!!!!!!!!! but usually they @least should be of better quality … thicker fabrics more durable as far as washing etc…. especially in the jean market …

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  • ” But the art forms used to express those truths change without recurring. They go away and don’t come back. ”

    Kinda summed up Hillfinger’s line of clothing!
    It’s only right he turned his back on Hip Hop, Hip Hop turned it’s back on the Tommy fad….it just hasn’t returned to it’s roots yet!

    • ItGoesDownINtheDM

      tommy had some nice cloths but i was never really a fan anyway … imo Nautica was that ish back then … from the jackets to the sweat suits … tommy and nauti had similar jackets so they both were killing it on that end … but imo nautica had the sweats on smash and they had better shirts than tommy … but tommy had nice colors and a dope logo … Polo tho was killing them all but during that time i couldnt afford polo lol … the difference between a polo sweater and a nautica or tommy sweater was like $100 back then !!!!!! lol … this was the age of big ass logos all over ya ish lol tommy invented that lol i think …… but for my personal taste it was nautica all day …. tommy just did most of us a favor by dissing black folks cause i think most were rocking it simply because it was popular …. wu tang was promoting them heavy back in them days … then you got that infamous crew from ny that still rep that tommy ish hard till this day … cant remember thier name tho …..

      • Exactly!

        the crazy ‘chet about the Wu & the NY crew repping Tommy ( or any rapper repping any brand without a vested intrest ( Game / Rolex, etc. )

        Is that they should be repping their own.

        A small sweatshirt company in a sweat shop, is better than rocking Tommy’s ‘chet & bragging about it.

        The ‘chet I rocked, was the deep hooded champion jawnts, with the heavy wrist elastic & heavy material & angled pocket in front for hands & ???.

        Them ‘chets > Tommy & Polo

      • ItGoesDownINtheDM

        yup and wu proved that its def better to rep ya own brand with wu wear … since then pretty much every artist has followed that bluprint …. and i got it sort of wrong in regards to the infamous ny crew i was talking about …. it was actually the LO LIFES and they wore RL not tommy my bag LOL

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  • I bet Aaliyah couldn’t have dreamed that her pants in the gif are less restrictive than what cats is wearing nowadays….

    • ItGoesDownINtheDM

      #factz!!!!!! lol … funny ish when a female dresses down like a man … she is either gay or a tom boy …. but these dudes today still wanna be men … nah your either gay or a Molly Girl thats a guy who likes feminem ish …. LOL …. i remember a time when wearing 1 earing in each ear was suspect lol …. ijs

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  • xlg84

    The truth of the matter is that black people stop wearing Tommy Hilfiger because the he stated or at least there is a rumor that he stated that his clothes are not for black people. That’s why we stop wearing his shit. The mofuckers can say what they want but they know that when we (black people) are rocking a brand, their product value goes up tremendously. I am getting sick and tired of Caucasian fashion icons banking off our style but at the same time deflect any association with us as a people. Gucci, Versace, etc. I say we just stop wearing their shit completely and create our own and back it.

    • ted flynt

      I bet your ass wear Nike or Jordans. Don’t cha???

    • ItGoesDownINtheDM

      theres def some truth to this … cause polo is def still popping … however another brand that is much more similar to tommy back than that also is irrelevant today is Nautica …. so that fact … may … or may not … hold weight unless there is a concrete seperate reason for why nautica fell off ….??

  • Lord Saltsworth McGinty III

    A great read.

    • If Tommy talking that ‘chet now ( *Trend ) it makes me feel like he did say the ‘chet, or at least supported it.

    • Keith N.

      Thank you for reading

  • plsDontreply

    Stop calling this shit hip-hop. Its just a seed of Black Culture that has been hi-jaked by outsiders a.k.a others… Rename this damn site you posers

    • Keith N.

      Thank you for reading

  • wei sheng

    never sported nike or this dudes clothing, never will!!!!

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