has been plagued by rumors that he made racist remarks for decades — and he denied them once again Sunday night during a talk at New York's 92nd Street Y.
Hilfiger chatted in front of a live audience with Fashion Week organizer Fern Mallis, whose Fashion Icons interview series includes talks with everyone from Calvin Klein to Tom Ford. But neither of those designers has been accused of saying they don't design clothing for people who aren't white — and Hilfiger has. Rumors that Hilfiger told Oprah he wouldn't have made his clothing "so nice" if he'd known that people of color would wear them have circulated since the mid-'90s. WWD reports that last night, Hilfiger — who didn't make his first appearance on the Oprah show until 2006 — attempted to put those rumors to rest for the last time.
"Some people may still believe it," he said. "Some people may look at it logically and realize it was a myth. But it hurt for a long period of time, not from a business standpoint, because our business doubled in that time. 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."
That rumor apparently didn't matter to Hilfiger's customers, whose continued support has allowed him to do things like buy the Karl Lagerfeld brand.
"I was doing a photo shoot in Paris, and he was the photographer. The next day he invited me to his home for lunch. I told him we were thinking about maybe acquiring new brands. He said, "Why don’t you buy my brand?" I said, "OK." We consummated the deal in less than 30 days . . . I think he wishes he had done with Karl Lagerfeld what we did with Tommy Hilfiger."
But even though he owns the rights to one of the most powerful names in fashion, Hilfiger says he's still just as inspired by the designers of the past as he was when he first started his collection years ago.
"Well, I look at the old guard, because the old guard had a certain way of doing things like a [Yves] Saint Laurent or a bit of [Christian] Dior. The way they did the collections way back was quite remarkable, so I look at them as inspiration. Or Giorgio Armani, or Ralph or Karl. As my hair gets whiter, I'm thinking, "Look, if I'm standing next to Karl, Giorgio or Ralph, I'll be in the crowd. They're much older, by the way, so I have a long way to go."