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Interview with Tommy Hilfiger

MARK VAN HUISSELING meets…

TOMMY HILFIGER

«The book about your past life that you published [with Peter Knobler, a former journalist], is a very open, honest book. Why?» – «I think, when doing something like that, one should do it properly. I have nothing to hide. And if some people don’t like it, they may not buy my clothes anymore. But I don’t think I wrote anything terribly abusive.» (He writes for example that he had a violent father that had often beaten him as a child. Or that at least two of his children had drug problems and that the small son he has with his second wife is autistic.) «The title of the book ‹American Dreamer›, is nice but, with respect, wrong. I perceive you as a doer, a realist … dreamers don’t build companies that they sell for billions.» – «But I had dreams and and my dreams turned into something. I was a dreamer, I am a dreamer; I still dream about what could come next for me.» – «Do you have nightmares?» – «I had some: my bankruptcy, my failure … »

Thomas Jacob Hilfiger, better known as Tommy Hilfiger, 65, from Elmira, New York, is an american fashion designer. What is not described on Wikipedia: Hilfiger is entrepreneur first, the designing of fashion comes in second place. Together with business and financial partners he build his brand that primarily offers clothing in the so called college- or preppy-style (from preparatory school). 2006 Hilfiger sold his shares for 1.6 billion to a holding company; about 5 years later it resold the company to the american fashion group Philips-Van Heusen for about 3 billion. He doesn’t have any noteworthy share in the company anymore and is ambassador of the brand, meaning that he gives interviews, opens shops in important cities, et cetera; the operational chief is the Swiss national Daniel Grieder. Hilfiger is married the second time, has five children of his own plus two stepchildren; his biography «American Dreamer» was published in 2016, I recommend this book.

«You write that one of your managers was partly responsible for the company succeeding again. He was right, others, including yourself, were not for some time. You rarely read that, success mostly isn’t shared …» – «Yes, but it was like that. I have always been supported by people to get ahead. There were and there are unusually strong people in the company.» – «How does one lead employees that are better than oneself?» – «I am very confident with where I am in life – my name is on the logo, I am the creator and visionary behind the brand.» – «But how do you prevent these people from wanting your job?» – «It’s like in sports: You are a group that wants to win. Everybody is willing to do everything for it except cheating. I was the motivator and influencer of the team; I enabled the success, praised and rewarded my people.»

Tommy Hilfiger Gründer (Thomas Jacob Hilfiger)

Tommy Hilfiger (Thomas Jacob Hilfiger)«How important is luck?» – «You need luck to get big. But fortune can be followed by misfortune – we were excessively successful in America in the beginning of the [19]90s but towards the end of the decade we suffered a setback and several partners sold their shares, pulled out … But with good people one can influence luck a little.» – «When you have been in business for four decades, fortunate and less fortunate phases should be distributed evenly, shouldn’t they?» – «I hope so. And then there’s this: A successful career is associated with hard work. You never get to rest, always have to keep going. How do you perfect this or that? What do we do next?» – «Your income in 2016 will reach 33 million dollars; that means during the time we talk you earn 15 000 dollars. But the extrapolated media value of the articles I publish is approximately 100 000 francs or dollars – You are underpaid.» – «Haha, I will tell the CEO, my friend Daniel Grieder.»

Tommy Hilfiger’s favourite restaurant:

Harry’s Bar, Calle Vallaresso 1323, Venice, Italy, phone +39 (0)41 528 5777

 

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Interview with Karl Lagerfeld

MARK VAN HUISSELING meets…

KARL LAGERFELD; a short conversation with a great informant (under difficult circumstances).

If it was the year 2004 and I would have interviewed the fashion designer and photographer for this column back then, I would have had a field day – would have described, how he came with delay to the vernissage of his «Fire Etchings»-photographs in the gallery Gmurzynska in St. Moritz. And how little time there was remaining for the many journalists. Perhaps I would have admitted that german colleagues got a longer interview-slot than I (for instance Sven Michaelsen and Philipp Jessen for Gala, a people-magazine, furthermore with the oldest trick – «We put him on the cover»). And possibly, that their columnist had to share his time with colleagues (and yet from Switzerland), because the last flight movement from the Airport Engadin Samedan/St. Moritz had to take place at 6:30 pm, also for private jets with Lagerfeld as a passenger. But this is 2013 and I display (mostly) what Lagerfeld answered  and said in little time (11 minutes and 8 seconds including greeting and saying good bye). He likes to be asked questions; interviews are his social life I think.

Politics and style

«When I interviewed you last time you said you would get inspiration from the financial crisis and financial fraudsters. What news currently affects you?» – «Everything, everything; zeitgeist, zeitgeist, zeitgeist. This shall not be put into words too much, otherwise this again becomes marketing, and I don’t do marketing. It’s a capture of the zeitgeist, without analyzing it but somehow instinctively making proper use of it for the work.» – «Are you worried about the new high tax for people earning very good money in France, where you live?» (75 percent taxes for income above one million euros.) «If looking for something to get the people out of the country, then they found something. But that doesn’t bother me.» – «Why not?» – «I live in a world apart from reality. I only care about my work, what I do in Paris, in Milan and Rome, what I do in New York and so on and so forth.» – «What do you think about Gérard Depardieu’s performance?» (He became an honorary citizen of Russia, received a passport from Wladimir Putin, wants to move to Russia.) «I mean he’s a funny guy, he’s a brilliant actor but I have the feeling that he did this for his driving licence; he has driving licence problems in France and in Russia you get it for free.» – «Are you interested in politics?» – «I’m quite up to date but because I have not yet voted in my life I also don’t have an opinion.» – «Why don’t you vote?» – «Because I can look behind the scenes too much to then still vote for the people.» – «How do you like the SPD candidate for chancellor Peer Steinbrück in terms of style?» – «In politics everybody can have his style. Ms Merkel’s style is right for her job. The germans better keep Ms Merkel.»

Karl Lagerfeld mit Brille und weissem Kragen

«Everything, everything; zeitgeist, zeitgeist, zeitgeist»: Lagerfeld, fashion designer and photographer, 84.

What Karl Lagerfeld cannot do

«Is Switzerland on your map?» – «I am no resident here and can therefore not say much about it. It’s a wonderful country, I haven’t been to Saint-Moritz for ages, you have a great view there with the snow and so, but I am not a man of leisure time or holidays . . .» – «‹No camper›, you once said.» – «Exactly. I only go out for the work, otherwise I stay at home with my books.» – «Is there something you can’t do?» –  «Playing the piano, this is the big regret of my life. I love music and I have many friends who truly can play.» – «Have you tried it?» – «For one year. Then my mother banged the piano lid on my fingers and said: ‹Go painting, that makes less noise.›» – «What is the most important thing you learned from your mother?» – «This, among other things.» – «You have a cat since recently, was it allowed to come along too today?» (This question came from a friend who works for Bolero; but there is something about it as I find.) «No, not today. But when I go to America or stay away for longer she’s coming along.» – «Even though she has her own governess, hasn’t she?» – «Yes, that is true.» – «You live luxuriously, could you imagine a normal life?» – «If i were to be pretentious I would say that I have a normal life. I work very much, it’s just the circumstances that lead to it being a little more beautiful.»

Karl Lagerfeld’s favourite restaurant

«Do you have a favourite restaurant?» – «Yes, ‹La Maison du Caviar› in Paris. But I don’t go to restaurants very often because I have my own diet; I have a cook.»

‹La Maison du Caviar›, 21 rue Quentin-Bauchart, Paris, France, phone +33 1 47 23 53 43


Sidenote

(According to a generally accessible encyclopedia on the internet.)

For a long time Lagerfeld claimed 1938 to be his year of birth, then later on 1935. In 2008, the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag published excerpts from the church baptismal registry of Hamburg as well as statements by the teacher and a classmate of Karl Lagerfeld, who named 1933 his year of birth. Nevertheless, still mysterious, on the 10th of september 2008 Karl was congratulated on his 70th birthday (analogous to 2003, when it was his «65th» birthday). Some journalists went by the fashion designer, others didn’t.

On the 7th of July 2013, «Welt am Sonntag» published Karl Lagerfeld’s true birthday; the 10th of September 1933. This publication is based on the book by leisure historians Maike and Ronald Holst from the Hamburg district of Blankenese. During research on their book «Women of Blankenese» they discovered a card with a birth announcement. On it «Otto Lagerfeld and Ms. Elisabeth, born Bahlmann» announced the birth of their son. On the card there’s a small additional card with a blue ribbon of silk with the inscription «Karl Otto», and below «Sunday, 10th of September 1933».