In case you missed it, American-designer Tommy Hilfiger recently made news after being presented the Outstanding Achievement Award from the British Fashion Council at The 2021 Fashion Awards presented by TikTok on November 29. Held since 1989, this year’s celebration was the first in-person event since 2019.
But it wasn’t Hilfiger’s award that made headlines among many Black fashion lovers. It was his comments afterward.
On December 7, HypeBeast covered an interview with Hilfiger where he “reflected on his legacy” and described himself as “the first streetwear designer.” You read that right: he called himself THE FIRST.
Black Twitter and Instagram responded to his comments immediately. Fashion and entertainment creator and personality, April Walker called out Hilfiger’s “AUDACITY” and re-enforced the need for Black media outlets.
HypeBeast has since updated the story with a new quote from Hilfiger after giving him “the opportunity to clarify and provide context for his remarks relating to streetwear and its origins.” Part of Hilfiger’s quote reads:
“Long before it was the established norm, I knew I wanted our brand to connect and collaborate with the people who were creating and curating pop culture in that moment. In the ‘90s I saw the streetwear trend emerging in an incredible way with pioneers like Stüssy and Dapper Dan paving the way. Inspired by their style, and through our early relationships with hip hop artists like Grand Puba, Snoop Dogg, and Aaliyah, our connection to and involvement in streetwear became an integral part of our brand history and DNA that still continues today, especially in our Tommy Jeans label where we stay closely connected to music and modern streetwear culture.”
He then goes on naming the late Virgil Abloh and Kerby Jean-Raymond as creative geniuses.
Am I the only one who feels like Hilfiger is trying to clean up his initial statements by telling us about how many “Black friends” he has? Is this Déjà vu?
This isn’t the first time Hilfiger has had to “clean up” his alleged statements related to his clothing line, the contributions of Black people, or the Black community itself. Most 80s babies should remember before ‘cancel culture’ had an official name – and Black Twitter to amplify it – Hilfiger was cancelled by many after he allegedly said that his clothes weren’t made for Black people (or really any people of color).
Some call this an “urban legend” from the fall of 1996, when an email circulated saying that Hilfiger made racist comments while on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” stating that if he’d known that Black people would be wearing his clothing, then he would never have made them. Hilfiger’s company refuted the rumor immediately and he went on several shows, including the Wendy Williams show to speak on this.
Whether the urban legend is true or not, Hilfiger’s recent comments are egregious enough. Hilfiger is dead wrong in his assertion that he is or was the first streetwear designer. A simple Google search determines that.
In addition to the icons Hilfiger mentioned in his “take two” statement, many credit Willi Smith as the inventor of streetwear. Smith was one of the most successful early Black designers in the fashion industry with WilliWear Limited. His label launched in 1976. Tommy Hilfiger – the brand – wasn’t established until 1985.
What should also be noted in this conversation are the many designers of color that never had a voice, the money to sew their names in the back of clothing, or the overall resources to reach a national platform. Barriers to access existed in the 80s and they still exist now. Hilfiger’s comments negate this persistent issue.
We can’t take away the iconic looks Hilfiger has created and the many Black celebrities, singers, artists, and models that have worn his brand. But we can raise our eyebrow every time Hilfiger lets his inherent bias show.
I mean, if you want just take credit for the contributions of Black designers while exploiting them, just say that. Matter of fact, Mr. Hilfiger, why don’t you say less.