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Inside Tommy Hilfiger's high-tech retail 'rock circus'

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Ahead of Tommy Hilfger’s debut show at London Fashion Week, Drapers took a trip to the brand’s flagship Regent Street store for an exclusive meeting with the man behind the brand, Tommy Hilfiger, its chief brand officer, Avery Baker, and global CEO Daniel Grieder.

  • The fusion of music and fashion at Tommy Hilfiger’s “rock circus” London Fashion Week finale
  • Exploiting the 40 million Instagram followers and social media sway of Gigi Hadid
  • The supply chain challenges of “see now, buy now”
  • Cutting-edge tech: the TommyNow Snap app, and smart features of the Regent Street flagship
  • The UK younger generation picking up on the brand, making it “the right time to conquer the market” 

Global super-brand Tommy Hilfiger staged a grand finale to London Fashion Week last Tuesday, when it took over Camden’s Roundhouse with its extravagant, exuberant “rock circus” fashion show. The event was part catwalk, part rock concert, all social media catnip. Every aspect oozed brand Tommy, and every piece on show was available to buy online and in stores instantly.

“It’s not just a normal fashion show,” Hilfiger tells Drapers the day before the show, sitting in the cafe of the brand’s Regent Street flagship. “It’s really about that experience and that instant gratification with ‘see now, buy now’.”

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Gigi Hadid at TommyNow’s “rock circus” for Autumn 17

The London show was the third in Tommy Hilfiger’s series of “see now, buy now” spectaculars. Following shows in New York and Los Angeles the experiential format – TommyNow – moved out of the US for the first time.

“I really believe the fusion of fashion and music began in London many years ago,” says Hilfiger of his decision to stage the show in London. “During my first visit in 1970, I was so inspired by the whole music and fashion scene and it has stayed with me forever.”

Both the shift in schedule and the elaborate fashion week productions were cleverly calculated to draw in Tommy Hilfiger’s target customer.

“We have a youthful consumer who craves immediate gratification and wants memorable experiences,” explains Hilfiger. “It’s the way they want to shop. They want to see something on the runway, and click and buy.”

“We have created a multi-media, entertainment-based marketing programme. It’s driven by social media and celebrity, from Hollywood to music, the art world and the sports world.”

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Bella Hadid at the TommyNow autumn 17 show

In addition to online and mobile shopping, including an ecommerce app – TommyNow Snap – that allowed viewers to take a photo of a model on the runway and immediately buy their outfit, social media was key in drawing in and converting young consumers.

“The whole show is shoppable across the social channels,” explains Avery Baker, chief brand officer. “So there’s the opportunity not just to be inspired and engage, but it also makes the shopping experience as easy as possible.”

As well as providing a shopping feast for Instagram eyes (#tommynow returns almost 20,000 posts on Instagram), the show connected to consumers via a legion of well-placed influencer attendees.

“The power of them collectively, through their own social channels, is exponential,” says Baker.

One aspect of this is the Gigi x Tommy collaboration with supermodel Gigi Hadid, which forms part of the collection. Hilfiger says sales are performing “extremely well”. With almost 40 million Instagram followers, all eyes on Hadid are also on Tommy Hilfiger.

Hilfiger admits the shift to “see now, buy now” was complex: “We’ve changed our whole supply chain, our design calendar, our manufacturing. It was quite an obstacle at first, changing the entire workings of the supply chain. The calendar had to be turned on its head. We’ve now ironed out all of the kinks and we’re in the perfect spot, from an inventory and product standpoint.”

Global CEO Daniel Grieder agrees, adding that the format is not universally successful: “There have been other brands that started ‘see now, buy now’, and they have already stopped. It is an incredibly complex process that we actually managed very well.”

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Georgia May Jagger at TommyNow autumn 17 show

Luxury designer Tom Ford is one brand to have experimented with this format, only to return to the traditional model after three seasons.

For Hilfiger, however, who made the switch for autumn 16, it has proved lucrative. Last year the brand announced $6.6bn (£4.9bn) in global retail sales. For the second quarter of 2017, revenues are up 4% to $892m (£660m).

“This is a great thing for our brand, but it may not be the right thing for another brand,” explains Hilfiger. “It works extremely well with our consumer.”

Grieder adds that “see now, buy now” allows Tommy Hilfiger to outpace the competition: “The days are over when you see that fashion show and then see the clothes six months later. With the new concept, we are faster than even the verticals and we believe it is exactly the right thing for the consumer and the right thing both for now and the future.”

The shows are one obvious way the brand has reinvigorated itself in recent years, and Grieder describes the current success as the culmination of several business developments.

“All of the initiatives we’ve put in place over the last two or three years have developed,” he says. “We’re seeing it all come together so nicely. It’s a fantastic moment for the brand and the business.”

The store of the future

Grieder says “three pillars” of innovation are integral to Tommy Hilfiger’s growth: digital showrooms, digital design and the “store of the future”.

The showrooms are revolutionising wholesale buying, he argues, using interactive touchscreens on walls and tables to allow customes to complete orders, creating a more sustainable, simpler experience. Meanwhile, he describes digital design as “potentially revolutionary” – one menswear collection is already testing the process. Eventually, designs will go straight to showrooms and stores, without the need to create samples – saving time and improving sustainability.

The Regent Street store, which opened officially in August, features huge interactive screens, a customisation bar, changing rooms with RFID (radio-frequency identification) that recognise which items have been brought in and suggest styling options, and also have smart mirrors, and a cafe. It is the embodiment of the youthful, digital-savvy consumer.

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Tommy Hilfiger Regent Street store’s changing room smart mirrors

“I really believe that the store has to be an omnichannel experience,” explains Hilfiger. “When you have the right retail environment that incorporates digital, then it will work. I don’t think it’s about handing customers an iPad – the experience has to be more dramatic than that.”

Baker says the most successful tech in the store focuses on taking away “pain points” in the shopping experience. She also stresses that the store is a platform for experimentation. “We’ve implemented a lot of different experiences because we want to learn and not everything will work,” she says.

As Hilfiger indicates, omnichannel is much more than simply screens in store.

“We’re also really trying to make sure that we do is manage to link all the data that we’re capturing behind the scenes,” adds Baker. “Not only is it the ‘endless aisle’ experience, but it’s also being able to really learn what people are interested in and what they’re buying, and use that to have much more relevant engagement, and dialogue – serving options that are really specific to their interest level.”

“We have to stay ahead of the competition, and stay on the edge of what is happening from a digital and technology standpoint,” says Hilfiger. “We’re really engaged in the next steps in technology, and we’re working very closely with companies that are based in Silicon Valley or have that kind of mind-set.”

A new reality

The trio see augmented reality (AR) as the next technology set to revolutionise retail, and the brand is already beginning to experiment.

“If you look at the big media companies, AR is where all the big investments are,” says Baker. “Once that becomes more embedded in the way everyone is communicating, it seems like the next logical territory for us to explore.” The first foray into AR came with the TommyNow Snap app, where one function allows customers to view personalised catwalk shows. Customer response has been strong.

“We almost crashed the internet last show because there was so much demand,” jokes Hilfiger.

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Grieder highlights that the viral success of the Pokemon Go app last year brought the technology into mainstream use, and AR has the potential to further link stores and online.

We keep evolving, and we keep reinventing and disrupting

Tommy Hilfiger

As the investment in the Regent Street store and the “rock circus” debut indicate, London is an important and growing market for Tommy Hilfiger. “It really is leading the trends, especially in Europe ” explains Baker. “It’s so exciting to see how much momentum is around the brand here, especially with a younger audience.”

 “The UK business is growing,” adds Hilfiger. “We’re seeing great results in the UK, beyond our expectations. The UK has surprised all of us.”

Grieder stresses that the brand “really works” for the UK consumer, and after teething problems when the brand initially entered the market, is optimistic: “We had some challenges in the beginning, 20 years ago when we launched, but in the past three to five years we have increased the business from a quality, distribution and store standpoint. The younger generation is really picking up on the brand and I think now is the right moment for us to conquer the market.”

Despite the swiftly evolving demands of the consumer, Hilfiger and his top team are focused on keeping the brand at the top of its game, with innovation at its core. “We keep evolving, and we keep reinventing and disrupting,” says Hilfiger with a grin. “We’re not static – we’re moving ahead and pushing the envelope at all times.”

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