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Tommy Hilfiger on Innovation, Instant Gratification and Courting the Instagram Generation

Designer Tommy Hilfiger is not settling on the traditional fashion cycle or apparel operations to preserve the youthful presence of his namesake brand.

At the “Tommy Hilfiger: The Power of Disruption,” panel during the NRF Big Show 2018 on Tuesday, Hilfiger and Michelle Peluso, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of IBM, discussed how Hilfiger pursued disruption and innovation to keep his brand fresh and relevant to Millennial consumers worldwide. The panel highlighted Hilfiger’s stance on youth culture, his experimentation with the see now, buy now model and technology’s role in the brand’s engagement efforts.

Despite retail’s uncertainty, Hilfiger emphasized the importance of connecting with youth culture—and delivering on consumers’ expectations with the brand’s “classic Americana-meets-pop culture” image.

“Whether you are a retailer, manufacturer, brand, you have to evolve without losing your face. I wanted to keep the brand young, so I surrounded myself with young people,” Hilfiger said. “I wanted to continually evolve and looking at what is next and always listening to the consumer. Rejuvenation and disruption has served us very well.”

To keep his brand’s youthful aesthetic over the years, Hilfiger tapped celebrities for his ad campaigns. Notable past faces have included Beyoncé, Brittany Spears and other stars who played a role in the late ’90s and early ’00s music culture. Today, the brand is still using influencers, like model Gigi Hadid, in its campaigns, however, social media is the primary channel used to connect with consumers.

“The way to connect with the youth is through social media today. We speak to today’s millennial generation with inspiring campaigns,” Hilfiger added. “It’s a combo of tech, influencers, our need to have fun, it’s fueled by my fear of aging up, I wanted to keep the brand young, because keeping the brand young would keep it alive.”

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Delivering on consumer demands is also no easy feat—and Hilfiger decided to turn the traditional fashion cycle on its head and pursue the see now, buy now model to get his products to consumers in a speedy manner.

[Read more about see now, buy now: See Now, Buy Now’s Double-Sided Effect on the Fashion Industry]

Two years ago, Tommy Hilfiger shook up New York Fashion Week with an immersive show experience, where consumers experienced a carnival and purchased looks straight off the runway. Unlike the traditional fashion cycle, the show enabled consumers to interact, view and buy products on the spot, rather than wait months for products to come out. During the show, consumers could buy apparel, accessories and footwear from Hilfiger’s Fall 2016 collection and the exclusive TommyXGigi line. Despite taking the risk, it paid off well for Hilfiger, who provided consumers with relevant and stylish products at their fingertips.

“What we realized was that the consumer wants immediate gratification and want great experiences. The see now, buy now works for us as a brand, it’s true to our DNA,” Hilfiger said. “It’s the new way of retailing—if you are waiting for consumers to come into the store, you are waiting for a long time. I want them to be able to see something on the runway, click and buy it.”

In addition to disruption, innovation has played a crucial part in the Tommy Hilfiger brand story. Following retail’s uncertainty, Hilfiger has pursued tech to stay agile and elevate consumer experiences.

According to Fashion United,  Tommy Hilfiger, IBM and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Infor Design and Tech Lab recently announced a collaborative AI project—”Reimagine Retail,” which involves the use of AI to identify, upcoming fashion trends and take the apparel design process to the next level. With the project, FIT students used IBM Research AI tools and a library of Tommy Hilfiger product and runway images to develop designs with AI.

Last year, Tommy Hilfiger teamed up with tech company Slyce to create a customized visual search app for its Venice Beach fashion show. The resulting Runway Recognition app allowed consumers to immediately buy the looks they liked from the show. Features of the app included activated 2-D and 3-D visual search capabilities, a “list building” functionality so consumers could snap, save and shop the runway items they liked and a direct pathway to the brand’s e-commerce platform for a seamless shopping journey.

“Many years back, we decided we should be technically advanced, because we were on the cusp of change in retail,” Hilfiger said, adding embracing technology early put the company on a different trajectory then its competitors. “AI, Snapshot and all the tremendous technology has been a benefit to the brand.”