Tommy Hilfiger Addresses Those Racist Rumors From 1996 One More Time

Did you believe the rumors?
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Leah Chernikoff
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Did you believe the rumors?
Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

Have you heard the rumor that Tommy Hilfiger doesn't want minorities wearing his clothes?

It's an old one. It started around 1996 via an email boycott campaign and went something like this: Hilfiger allegedly said something along the lines of that if he had known minorities were going to wear his clothes he wouldn't have made them "so nice" and that he wished they wouldn't wear them; then he went on Oprah and stood by those statements. Of course, none of it is true. He had never even been on Oprah when the rumors started.

Hilfiger did eventually go on Oprah in 2007 to put the rumors to bed. And last week, as the featured guest in the latest installment of Fern Mallis' 92Y Fashion Icons' series, he talked about them yet again, according to WWD:

We had heard that I was supposedly on “Oprah,” and I had told her that if I had known black people were going to buy my clothes, I wouldn’t have been a designer. I had never been on “Oprah,” and I had never said that. And I would never believe that anyway, nor would I ever say that anyway. Then Joel Horowitz, who was still chief executive of the business, came to me and said, “Do you know in my Jewish community, people are saying that you also don’t want Jewish people wearing your clothes?” Then we read the Filipino tabloids, then we heard from Hispanics [that I didn’t want them wearing my clothes] and pretty soon dogs and cats. It was a rumor and a myth. Oprah invited me [to be on the show to deal with it]. Some people may still believe it.

Despite the wide reach and longevity of the rumor, it didn't hurt business. "It hurt for a long period of time, not from a business standpoint, because our business doubled in that time," Hilfiger said. "It went from $1 billion to $2 billion in that time. But it hurt here [placing hand on his heart]. It really made me believe someone was out for me. We really never found the source but hope that at some point in time people will realize it was just a nasty rumor."

He also talks about acquiring the Karl Lagerfeld brand:

I think he wishes he had done with Karl Lagerfeld what we did with Tommy Hilfiger. I think he was not happy we didn’t invest as much in his brand as he thinks we should have. However, now it’s getting traction and taking hold. In China, he is a rock star. In Japan, he is, as he says, a rock star without the guitar.

and whether he'd let brand consultants Peter Som and Simon Spurr take post-show bows:

I’ve thought of it, but then I have 250 other designers I would have to bring out. The runway isn’t big enough to bring out all of the design team. We have 150 in New York and 200 in Europe. It really wouldn’t make it fair to them, because they’re really working 24-7 on the collections.

Do you remember those rumors? Did you believe them?