Born March 24, 1951, and raised in Elmira, New York (a small town near Cornell University), Thomas Jacob Hilfiger grew up in an Irish Catholic family.
The second of nine children, Hilfiger knew from a young age that he wanted to pursue a career in fashion.
Rather than furthering his education, an 18-year-old Hilfiger decided to work in retail -- apparently he had an innate business sense, even early on.
Always aiming to work with a product "for the people," (as seen in his present ads), he opened a store appropriately named "The People's Place", in upstate New York.
Hilfiger would trek down to New York City to get his hands on jeans and bell-bottom pants that weren't available in his hometown, and sold them in his store. Well, the people didn't respond as well as the budding entrepreneur would have hoped, and The People's Place went bankrupt when Hilfiger was 25. It seems that he learned the hard way.
After turning to the design aspect of clothing by designing for the rest of his stores in upstate New York (a total of 10), Hilfiger picked up the pieces and headed to New York City with his wife, Susie. Although he was offered design assistant positions with bigwig designers Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis -- and was broke -- he turned them both down with greater plans in mind.
Hilfiger met Mohan Murjani (he owned the license of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans), who offered to back his business. Murjani went bankrupt, but Hilfiger bought back his company with the help of two partners. A year after Tommy Hilfiger, Inc. was founded, the company went public and built the company into the empire it is today.
Hilfiger was President of the company from 1982 until 1989, but has designed clothes under the Tommy label since 1984. Presently Director of the Company (since 1992), Honorary Chairman of the Board (since 1994) and Principal Designer, Hilfiger took what started as men's jeans and sportswear, to a half-billion-dollar empire encompassing menswear (including tailored suits), women's wear, children's wear, footwear, eyeglasses, fragrances, and home furnishings.
Although Hilfiger claims to have always targeted his clothing "for the people," he was embroiled in controversy after a story made its way through the media rumor mill, accusing Hilfiger of racist remarks. The racist comments have been denied by media personalities and Hilfiger himself, and his line continues to be worn by everyone from yuppies to rappers.
Early on in his career, Hilfiger ran an ad campaign which proclaimed that he, along with Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren, and Calvin Klein, are the "4 Great American Designers For Men"; although the statement may have been premature, it isn't far form the truth -- Hilfiger was awarded the "From the Catwalk to the Sidewalk Award" at the first VH1 Fashion and Music Awards (in 1995), and was named the 1995 Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Hilfiger, who names music as one of his inspirations, ran an ad campaign that presented Tommy as the sponsor of the 1999 Rolling Stones "No Security" tour -- the ad campaign bombed, although his alliance with Britney Spears worked better, as it remained more in line with his target market.
Hilfiger's casual approach to fashion (remark that his label is called "Tommy", not the more pretentious "Thomas") has helped place his label in a league of its own, in what he describes as "traditional, with a twist". Whatever it is, his ads, which are inspired by Americana and good old rock 'n' roll, as well as his clean-cut, simple and recognizable designs, have led to an empire that is considered one of the highest-ranked publicly traded clothing companies.
Hilfiger lives with his wife and 4 children in Greenwich, Connecticut, and spends vacations in his summer home on the island of Mustique, next to Mick Jagger (who incidentally appeared in Hilfiger's rock 'n' roll ad campaigns).