LONDON, England – Halima Aden said it best backstage at Tommy Hilfiger’s London Fashion Week show: “Today there’s three hijab-wearing models, not just me!” Her statement reminded me of a recent interview in which British supermodel Naomi Campbell said that for years – decades – she was the only person of colour cast in shows which had over 80 models walk – an ‘inclusive’ box to tick of sorts. As I looked around at each model taking their place for the first run ahead of the TommyNOW spring 2020 show, one thing was clear: for Hilfiger, inclusivity is anything but a line on a checklist.
In the room filled with so many beautiful people it should be illegal, there were the expected faces: Winnie Harlow, who’s walked the past four TommyNOW seasons and who was busy trying to swap clothes with Alton Mason (he was wearing her favourite look of the night: a pastel pink tracksuit), Luka Sabbat and Jourdan Dunn (who could not for the life of her find her place and later, forgot her way on the runway, acknowledging it with a shrug). These ‘big names’ were surrounded by models of all ages, ethnicities and sizes, most of whom I’d never seen on the runway before. While semi trying to help Dunn find her spot, I spot a familiar face, but not from the runway. “This is my first time walking in any show,” Parris Goebel says, after we bond over both being from New Zealand and – as all Kiwis do – having mutual friends. The choreographer, who rose to fame after Justin Bieber tapped her for his ‘Sorry’ music video, is still riding the high of seeing her dancers perform in Jennifer Lopez’s recent Superbowl Halftime Show. “It was amazing, we worked so hard on it for so long, so to see such a great response – everyone loved it – was such a great feeling,” Goebel says, before touching on the reason we’re being shoved towards the runway: “I’ve been wearing Tommy since I was a teenager, it’s such a classic brand. This is a huge honour for me.”
As I should’ve guessed, later that night, as the lights dimmed and the music intensified, none other than Campbell lead the charge at London’s Tate Modern art gallery, followed by 94 models who were showcasing a genderless, ‘See Now, Buy Now’ collection – Hilfiger’s most sustainable to date.
The day of the show, London is battling a severe storm prompting many fashion week goers to opt out of scheduled appointments and front row seats in favour of seats – read: couches – in their dry and heated houses. It’s a Sunday afternoon in winter, after all. However, without a word being said, it was clear that no one was missing the closing show of the weekend: TommyNOW.
After controversially up and leaving New York Fashion Week in 2016 for the sunny shores of LA, Hilfiger stopped into London in 2017, before heading to Shanghai, Milan and popping back to New York for an Instagram beloved show at The Apollo Theatre with Zendaya at the helm.
The result? An Instagram frenzy which ensured that rain, hail or shine, people would be fighting over a ticket for his return to London, seven seasons later.
Having the Tate Modern as the debut for TommyNOW’s new collection and TommyXLewisXH.E.R. – the brand’s fourth capsule collection with menswear ambassador and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton and first with the surprise addition of musician H.E.R. – seemed like a conscious choice. But speaking backstage, Hilfiger admits that it was more about the fact that the art gallery in London’s city centre was the biggest venue the brand could find, the designer admitting he was shocked to hear that it was available on the date they needed. It was “a miracle,” he says, his eyes lighting up, despite me clearly being the hundredth person to ask a similar question that day. “It’s Lewis’ hometown, but we also love London,” Hilfiger continued, noting that “business in the UK is very strong.”
Though recent TommyNOW collections have featured collaborations with the likes of Gigi Hadid and most recently, Zendaya, this season Hilfiger held onto the reins, but extended an invite to Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter H.E.R. to collaborate with himself and Hamilton on their capsule collection. Both ranges are being dubbed ‘style for all’ with inclusivity at the heart and it was this shared value that led the duo to H.E.R. – someone Hilfiger and Hamilton unanimously agreed was the perfect addition to their team.
“We think she’s the next big music star,” Hilfiger says. “We’ve been, I think, for a very long time very successful in identifying talent before they explode,” he explains. “Gigi (Hadid), Zendaya, Britney Spears, a young girl called Beyoncé.” He pauses and I respond to his list by joking about the final name, “I’ve never heard of her?” Hilfiger humours me: “I met her when she was 16, before she was Beyoncé. When she was in the group Destiny’s Child she performed for me in New York and, well, the rest is history.”
The fourth collection with Hamilton is the brand’s most eco-friendly collaboration to date: More than 75% of the looks are sourced from sustainable materials and the entire collection is made with 100 percent organic cotton. This focus was no doubt spearheaded by Hamilton, who went vegan in 2017 and uses his platform – one that includes a cool 14.3 million Instagram followers at the time of writing – to speak out about climate change, animal rights and the impact we collectively have on the environment. Just three days before debuting TommyXLewisXH.E.R. in his home country, Hamilton shared a video of Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscars speech, saying the way the Joker actor is using his voice for change is an inspiration and something he “aspires” to do more of.
“One of my biggest fears is speaking in front of the world on a stage like this, not finding the right words to express my thoughts,” he wrote in the post’s caption. “But I’m going to overcome it someway, somehow and the only way I guess is to confront the fear and put the work in.” When we speak, Hilfiger acknowledges Hamilton’s role in ensuring that sustainability is front of mind: “Lewis is vegan, he’s an animal lover, he really wanted to become more sustainable and we’re right with him. We’d been working toward making our brand more sustainable every single year,” he says. “Lewis is very hands on, he’s touching every single piece, he’s looking at all the different details. He’s very involved in the weeds, as I say.”
It pays to note Hilfiger also partnered with global sustainability solutions provider South Pole to offset an estimated 1,600 tons of carbon emissions which resulted from the production of the night. The money spent will go towards providing ceramic water purifiers to communities in Cambodia. Supporting his sustainability vision, Hilfiger transported guests into a paired back setting in The Tanks at the Tate Modern with just dim lighting and smoke – drawing inspiration from weather cycles like thunder – and a soft fragrance of dry wood (something formulated specifically for the show) that differentiated the evening from any other night at the gallery.
As the lights dimmed, a London-based vocal performance collective walked into position beside each Tank, their voices and dance moves almost distracting attendees and their iPhones so much they missed Campbell begin her walk down the runway.
“It is urban, chic street style” Hilfiger described his collection before it was debuted, simultaneously becoming immediately available across an ecosystem of shoppable channels in more than 70 countries.
Featuring everything from neon jumpsuits to preppy plaid blazers and short combos, mixed with Hilfiger’s iconic oversized jumpers and a sea of red, white and blue, Hilfiger’s collection really is, as he says, fashion for all.