Clarence Ruth, the designer of Cotte D’Armes, a denim-focused label with military, streetwear and biker influences, received the top award for Tommy Hilfiger’s New Legacy Challenge. Ruth was awarded the grand prize at The Roxy Hotel in New York City Thursday night, which includes a grant for $20,000 and the opportunity to co-design a capsule collection alongside the Tommy Hilfiger design team.
Established last September in partnership with Harlem’s Fashion Row (HFR), an organization that supports underrepresented Black and Latinx designers, the New Legacy Challenge is part of Tommy Hilfiger’s People’s Place Program, a three-pillar initiative launched in June 2020 that focuses on advancing the representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) within the fashion and creative industries.
According to stylist Randy Cousin, who serves as the senior vice president of the program, the goal is to turn the challenge into a “valuable blueprint” for the industry. “We are rearticulating the nature of product collaborations in fashion through the People’s Place Program,” he said.
Last month, the competition was narrowed down to three finalists including Ruth, Megan Smith, the founder of sustainable women’s brand Megan Renee and Johnathan Hayden, founder of the eponymous luxury women’s brand. Each designer was shortlisted for their interpretations of Tommy Hilfiger’s trademark “contemporary prep” aesthetic, which they virtually presented to a panel of judges.
From there, finalists were tasked with reimagining Tommy Hilfiger staples including a hoodie, a varsity jacket and a polo shirt under the guidance of their mentors, Tommy Hilfiger senior design directors Urs Graber and Masha Gard, and Ben Snowdon, VP of design, men’s wear. A jury consisting of Tommy Hilfiger, Grammy-winning performer Anthony Ramos and Tommy Hilfiger and HFR executives selected the winner.
“I am honored to be named the winner of the New Legacy Challenge,” Ruth said. “This opportunity has brought me such creative freedom while learning and growing from [Graber], my Tommy Hilfiger mentor. I’m excited to move forward and take everything I’ve experienced and integrate it into my design process, as well as offer my support to Black designers coming after me.”
The designers’ experience with the New Legacy Challenge was captured in a docu-series that premiered at the final event. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Luchina Fisher, the documentary will be released on Tommy Hilfiger channels globally next month.
The competition follows an industrywide pattern of elevating young designers. Earlier this year saw a new class of entrepreneurs for the Informa Markets Fashion for Change (IMFC) incubator program, which launched in 2020. The owner of Magic, Coterie, Project and Sourcing at Magic, established the program to foster allyship, inclusion and equality within the fashion community through programs that support minority-owned, women-owned, and LGBTQIA+-owned fashion brands. This year’s focused on Black-owned businesses.
Los Angeles retail stalwart Fred Segal launched a similar initiative in 2020 called Season Zero, an annual design competition for early-stage designers and artisans offering a platform for unestablished members of the fashion and creative industries.
By focusing on young BIPOC designers, companies can help move the needle on diversity in the industry. “Collaborative programs like the New Legacy Challenge are centered around access, to make way for more resources, mentorship and opportunities that will amplify the voices of BIPOC talent,” Cousin said.