Tommy Hilfiger has only recently realized how good he is at his craft.
The 65-year-old designer opened his first clothing store back in 1969 and 10 years later founded his eponymous label, building up a reputation for his classic American designs and preppy sportswear.
Despite his massive success Hilfiger has maintained a down-to-earth outlook, admitting he still struggles to see himself as a big shot.
“I had an early bankruptcy with the business before I was 25. And that gave me my MBA (Master of Business Administration degree) - taught me how to focus on the business part of the business,” he told CBS, recalling how his New York City store People’s Place went out of business.
“(I only embraced my talents) very recently. No, it took me a long time. Because I like to look at myself or our business as being the underdog because it makes us work harder, be more motivated, be more aware of the competition around and what’s going on, and it drives us.”
A big boost for Tommy’s brand was when rapper Snoop Dogg wore one of his T-shirts on TV show Saturday Night Live, causing the top to sell out immediately.
All was going well for the designer, until he was hit with a vicious rumor about his ethics. During the mid-'90s it was claimed Tommy had made racist comments about his customers, one alleged statement being: “If I had known that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians would buy my clothes, I would not have made them so nice.”
He spoke out against the reports during an appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show in 2007, and has again shed light on that time of his life.
“It really did (hurt me),” he recalled. “Because at the end of the day, your integrity is all you have. And I didn’t want the public to think that I was that type of person.... Oprah was kind enough to call me up and say, ‘You’ve got to come on the show. Let’s squash the rumor.’”
Fans can find out more about the ups and downs in Tommy’s life by reading his new memoir, American Dreamer: My Life in Fashion & Business.