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Tommy Hilfiger - The Man And The Watches

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I am not really sure why I have never encountered a pre-owned Tommy Hilfiger watch in my local searches for pre-owned watches, and I do not believe there are any local Hilfiger watch stockists this side of Brighton. This is in contrast to the number of half-finished bottles of Hilfiger fragrances that one comes across, some of them no doubt imitations. Indeed, the writing of this topic would probably have not come about at all had it not been for another watch producer that I have recently written about on the Forum - Dirk Hillgruber - who designs and produces Otium watches. It came about that when drafting my topic on Hillgrber's watches, I kept mispelling his name as Hilfiger, so I thought I might as well get it over with and write about Tommy Hilfiger and his company's watches.

Tommy Jacob Hilfiger was born on 24 March 1951. He was born in Elmira, New York, the second of nine children and the son of a jeweller and a nurse. He is of German-Swiss and Irish descent and was brought up a Catholic. Somehow, in all this, he makes the claim that he is a direct descendant of the poet Robert Burns. He attended the Elmira Free Academy for high school and then the GST BOCES Bush Campus, again in Elmira, for machine shop trades. In fact, contrary to his parents' wishes that he further his education at College, Tommy decided instead to further a small business venture that he had already started in partnership with two of his friends, while still at high school. The three of them invested $300 in used blue jeans and sold them out of a basement store in Elmira. Thus it was that Tommy Hilfiger began to shape the rise of his fame and fortune as one of America's great design entrepreneurs and fashion retailers.

The little business in Elmira did well, with Hilfiger going to New York to obtain supplies, which were then customised by Hilfiger and sold - soon out of a shop of his own, which he called "The People's Place". With Elmira now in decline, and shops in the town closing, Hilfiger astutely realised that he would have to move with the times and open stores elsewhere. Eventually he had a chain of seven upstate New York stores selling jeans, clothing and other lifestyle products. This mini-business empire flourished for a few years (and enabled Hilfiger to buy a Porsche) but it began to fail after a while, due to poor management, and Hilfiger was forced into bankruptcy in 1977, at the age of 25. At this point, Hilfiger did attend college to learn about business, and of course, he did have the experience of his People's Place venture.

For some reason, Hilfiger chose at first to enter the design world of Manhattan, as a freelance designer, but with no real credentials or design experience, he found it impossible to succeed in this way. After a year or so of failure, he found himself designing jeans for Jordache before at last being offered design assistant positions with Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis. The extraordinary thing here is that instead of taking the safe route and joining one of these companies, the technically broke Tommy Hilfiger (and his wife Susie) moved to New York and turned down the job offers in order to launch his own brand at the remaining People's Place stores he still had. Fortunately for him, finance came from the fortuitous meeting up with the Murjani Group (which subsequently Hilfiger went on to buy up himself).

Thus, in 1984, the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation was founded (NYSE:TOM), introducing Hilfiger's signature collection in 1985, including the first advertising campaign. Incredibly, Tommy Hilfiger's company was successful right from the start and, after a lot of financial argi-bargi which I won't go into here, Hilfiger went public, as Tommy Hilfiger Co. Inc., in 1992, with the help of finance from Silas Chou, a Hong Kong sweater magnate. Through the various changes at the top and other financial matters, Tommy Hilfiger was fantastically successful as a retail fashion company, producing a casual suburban look made up of well-made clothes. The number of stores rose dramatically, and later, Tommy Hilfiger searched out other ways of increasing his market presence globally. In 1995, he was awarded Menswear Designer of the Year of the yeas by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. By 2004, when the company had just passed its peak, there were 5,400 employees and revenues in excess of $1.8 billion.

It has to be said that the extraordinary rise of Tommy Hilfiger has been somewhat maligned in the fashion world - most notably by the notion that he was a "nobody" in design terms who had just brashly pushed his way into the pantheon of the "greats", with nothing much more than a business idea. I suppose, given the simplicity of changes he made to existing popular design at this point, there is some truth in this - perhaps someone else with his nerve and acumen could have done the same. However, it is not true to say that Hilfiger had no design ideas or experience and his influence does appear, particularly on the pre-millenium products.

I could spend a lot of time and energy writing the more up-to-date history of the Hilfiger concern but this topic is essentially about the watches and not about Hilfiger's company. However, there are just a few things that need to be said before moving on to the watches, and these are as follows:

As explained, the Hilfiger Company continued its rise and rise, but there was inevitably going to be a fall, and in 2000, Tommy Hilfiger Co. Inc., hit the buffers rather hard. This was due mainly to competition from more fashionable firms with modern and rather different styles that were moving in and were highly competitive on price. It has been said that Tommy himself rather lost his way, and that faltering or hesitation to move with the times, stylewise, was enough to disturb the company's fortunes. Whatever is the case, in 2006, the great man himself, faced with declining sales, sold his company to Apex Partners, a private investment company, for $1.6 billion or $16.80 a share. Then, in 2010, Phillips-Van Heusen, owner of Calvin Klein, bought the Tommy Hilfiger Corporation for $3 - a rather inglorious time in the firm's history, as "Tommy Hilfiger" is now is now a subsidiary of Phillips-Van Heusen, based in both Honk Kong and New York. As for the brand name "Tommy Hilfiger" it is licensed through Tommy Hilgiger Licensing LLC whuich is based in New Jersey, with the licensing company owning the rights to the logo.

Tommy Hilfiger has been engaged in charity work, through the company brand, he has been honoured, but he has also been maligned and criticised.

In the case of maligning Tommy Hilfiger, it was claimed that he was a staunch racist by virtue of comments he is supposed to have made to Oprah Winfrey in 1996 - she, it is said, threw him out of going on her show. Interesting that this defamation occurred just when Hilfiger was at the height of his success, and it turned out to be a complete lie, with both Oprah herself and the Anti Defamation League confirming that the story was completely untrue. In another criticism, which, to be fair though not blind to, has been levelled at many other clothing retailers, Tommy Hilfiger was accused of manufacturing clothes in the US territory of Saipan, where the title "Made in USA" can be used on objects yet where Federal labour laws don't apply. I cannot comment either way on this accusation so I shall leave it there. This whole question of Western companies using sweatshop labour is a worrying and serious one.

Tommy Hilfiger has four children by his first wife Susie "Ally" Richard (who is a rapper who performs under the name Ricky Hil), and one child, a bnoy born in 2009, from his second wife Dee Ocleppo, who he married in December 2008.

Tommy Hilfiger Edgewood Automatic, introduced in 2008 with multidial calendar and Italian leather strap (pic from ftv.co.in): Note - a ladies range was now in evidence at this time.


And now to the watches. It may seem a waste of reading time by my including profiles of the various entrepreneurs who provide rather than manufacture watches, but in fact, I do not feel this myself. Some of these businessmen and designers are interesting people in their own right and their character when they are dominating their company chain will filter down into the products the firm produces and sells, even if those products are not actually manufactured in-house. I do wonder though, with Tommy Hilfiger, just how much is left of his design influence in the current range of Hilfiger watches, but whatever they are like, people clearly purchase and wear them, so we cannot completely ignore the likes of designer-businessmen such as Tommy Hilfiger when it comes to looking at modern wrist watches.

The introduction to the Hilfiger range of watches found on the "jonashop.com" describes them in combination with the "high quality, preppy, classic American designs" that the Hilfiger brand sells to over 90 countries and 1000 retail locations. The site goes on - " Tommy Hilfiger has aligned his business with the relaxed youthful undercurrent of American style. His designs are largely modernised versions of wardrobe staples, such as button-down shirts and chino pants." And as for the watches themselves, they "show strong, preppy influences, with clean dials, striped bands, and classic colours, in both quartz and automatic styles.

So the main thing to note, apart from a consistency of Hilfiger style, is that Tommy Hilfiger produced and produces both mechanical (automatic) and quartz watches, although I haven't seen any automatics yet in his current watch collection.

The first reference to the watches I found from a Forum was a question asking if the Tommy Hilfiger Men's 1710338 Casual Sport Multi-Eye and White Dial Watch would be a suitable gift for a nine-year-old student. Surely the gu meant "child" and buying someone that young a watch that has a case diameter of 44 mm is daft. The watch was apparently a nice design, with a multi-dial calendar, but NOT for a nine-year-old. Fortunately, a more sensible suggestion was given of a Casio, and indeed, the name of Hilfiger, while big in the fashion world, cut little ice on Watchuseek. I should just say that Hilfiger watches did have one supporter out of the few who posted on this thread.

I then came across a useful piece on ukanswers.yahoo.com where the question of whether Thomas Hilfiger watches are any good was put directly. The "Best Answer" came from "silverpet", who answered about a year ago and her answer hasn't been surpassed. She makes the usual point that Tommy Hilfiger is, of course, a fashion brand and that TH just design the watches, which are then made in the Far East. Apparently, Tommy Hilfiger (or the abbreviated "TH") watches use either Japanese designed quartz or some Chinese assembled automatic movements so while the finishing and quality may look great from the outside, the inside may not be worth what you pay for. Basically they're brand name mark-up'ed (sic) watches. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against TH or their watches but I just don't think the watches are worth the retail I've seen. If you can find one with huge discounts then sure, by all means buy it, but don't pay full or close to retail."

Interestingly, silverpet then talks for a while about Seiko and comes to the conclusion that Seiko watches are generally better than Tommy Hilfiger, with TH watches averaging about the lower Seiko range in terms of quality.

In fact, comments on this post by silverpet concern the huge number of fake designer brands doing then rounds, and then one supporter of Tommy Hilfiger watches.

silverpet mentions specifically the fact that Tommy Hilfiger watches may look great and well finished on the outside, but are not so good inside. However, I came across a document that seems to rather blow even this praise for Tommy Hilfiger watches out of contention, although we should always take such complaint posts with a degree of caution.

The document is entitled, Tommy Hilfiger-Watch - Inferior quality Watch, and hails from India from a consumer complaints forum from that country, posted in late 2011 and into this year. I do not wish to have to quote from the various posts on this document, but the basic theme is that Tommy Hilfiger watches are neither great inside or out. In fact, the document is a litany of complaints which begin with concerns about scratches on the stainless steel elements of the watch case and strap. This complaint is followed by others who have experienced similar scratches, and then we have the bulk of complaints which relate not only to the outside but also to the reliability of the watch itself. One post is worth quoting in full because it gives an independent assessment of a TH watch, it is from purav in 2011.

"I have friends who have worked in this industry i.e. watchmaking... all the above problems will continue because absolutely cheap machinisms (sic) are deployed in those watches. they specifically told me the inner mechanism is as cheap as rs 135 for them!! The are high on brand value or style but cheap on the quality which is disgraceful in the end... even my watch has developed scratches within a week and does not function properly..."

I cannot say exactly when Tommy Hilfiger introduced watches to their line-up, but it is clear that they were producing them by 2005, and certainly since the company became a subsidiary in 2010, there appear to have been problems with the quality and reliability of their watches. And note that TH watches are not cheap. The Indian complaints are full of references to the relatively high price of the Hilfiger watches, which are clearly a fashion brand. My feeling is that there is no reason why a fashion-led company can't keep a tighter control on quality and maintain a more competitive price. So all-in-all, Thomas Hilfiger may be a great fashion producer in the world of clothes, but watches from this company should be treated with caution. This is not to malign Tommy Hilfiger's watches, but to look at them in the light of what one can find out about them, and so far, I am not too happy even though a blisteringly good write-up of the watches can be found for 2011 in Fashions World - fadz-blog.blogspot.co.uk - almost written in "hype-speak".

I should finally say that I have now looked at the current watches on the official Tommy Hilfiger site, and I would suggest that firstly, they all seem to be quartz, and secondly, they do seem to be rather expensive. Overpriced? You must make up your own mind, but In my opinion they are certainly not cheap, even though some of them are very smart.

Tommy Hilfiger grey/silver multi-dial quartz calendar watch, priced at £105 (pic from Jabong.com):


I am sorry that I could only show two pictures on this topic, but the Forum wouldn't extend to any more, and anyway, just get up Tommy Hilfiger Watches Images on the internet and you find a plethora of illustrations.

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Methinks that members who have replied so far are line with my own opinion. Thanks for taking the trouble, those who have read and also those who have replied to this post.

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