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Tommy Hilfiger’s New New Take on American Prep

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Left to Right: Helmut Lang, Tommy Hilfiger, Collina Strada.
Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger, Helmut Lang, Collina Strada

A couple of years ago, Miuccia Prada took the familiar language of American prep and turned it on its ear at Miu Miu: Khaki trousers were reduced to skimpy, slutty minis, and blazers came with the traditional knee-length pleated skirt, but shirts were cut down to almost nothing, leaving a bare tummy. Prada and her team continued to savage American classics, with spectacular results. A European designer in New York for the fall 2024 shows told me that, from his perspective, Miu Miu has disrupted the industry. He’s found he must schedule his buyers’ appointments around Miu Miu’s showroom dates.

Tommy Hilfiger
Photo: Courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger

Last night, the Tommy Hilfiger company put on a big show at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal, with waiters serving martinis and other cocktails, and the curved banquettes upholstered in Hilfiger’s trademark shirting stripes. Hilfiger, who last showed a year ago on the Brooklyn waterfront, a $5 million production (according to him) without the provision of a tent (it rained), knows how to flip the script. After many years of doing streetwear, he used the trendier word “elevate” during a conversation about his latest offering and said, “We think we’ve really figured out, exactly, what we need to be, and where we need to be is an American classic for the modern man and woman.” He brought up, you guessed it, Miu Miu — it must be on everyone’s brain — and said, “I don’t know how young girls can afford it, because it is young.” 

Tommy Hilfiger
Photo: Courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger

Whether or not they can afford it is clearly not the point. They somehow manage to come up with the bread, because the newness matters to them. Tommy Hilfiger is part of a major public company — PVH, which also owns Calvin Klein — and it’s not going to risk upsetting its shareholders. Still, the contrast between Hilfiger’s mild American classics and Miu Miu’s fierce cut-ups was striking. Hilfiger had the blazers, the blooming wide khakis, the pea coats, the minis, and the box-pleated skirts, even with the same leather belts worn below the waist. But he played everything straight, without a lick of irony or attitude. Timidity reigned at the Oyster Bar.

Tommy Hilfiger
Photo: Courtesy of Tommy Hilfiger

There’s no doubt a market for these kinds of “elevated” clothes in the depths of Darien, and quite possibly some people will know how to customize them. But the fact is Miu Miu has changed people’s eye and, with it, the language of American prep.

Collina Strada
Photo: Umberto Fratini on behalf of GORUNWAY/Courtesy of Collina Strada

On the first full day of New York Fashion Week, other designers put more muscle into their collections — Hillary Taymour, literally, with a charming bunch of clothes with built-in or trompe l’oeil musculature. “We’re doing strong women,” she said, with a laugh. In addition to a pregnant model and another toting a baby on her hip, Taymour’s cast for Collina Strada included several women who appeared to be weight-lifters, judging by their flexed arms, and the actress Gina Gershon. The bulked-up sweatshirts and feminine tops in molded and pleated print chiffon were decidedly new, and fun, and Taymour paired them with her top-selling velvet pants and new boots made in collaboration with Ugg, except in corn leather. That’s apparently a first — vegan Uggs.

Collina Strada
Photo: Umberto Fratini on behalf of GORUNWAY/Courtesy of Collina Strada

After 15 years in the business, the past eight making clothes, Taymour says she feels really confident. “I started with $10,000 and I’ve never taken a loan,” she said, adding. “I try to challenge myself. I’m not competing with anyone in the industry. I’m competing with myself.”

Peter Do opened his second show for Helmut Lang with Kirsten Owen, a model who personified the stark and minimalist look of the 1990s, in a white shirt and trousers that resembled fine bubble wrap. It was actually made of silk and the semi-transparent material was just one of the saving graces in Do’s collection, which showed more heft than his September debut.

Helmut Lang
Photo: Courtesy of Helmut Lang

The telling difference was the more decisive, pared-down tailoring — for pantsuits and lean coats — and, to me, a more thoughtful use of t-shirts and simplified vests, a key Lang underpinning. A good example of what I mean was a slim black coat worn over a sheer black tee (with some solid modesty patches) and jeans that appeared to have a draped sheer top layer for a more novel texture.

Helmut Lang
Photo: Courtesy of Helmut Lang

In his show notes, Do emphasized “protection vs. projection” — no doubt meaning the interplay between concealment and the desire to stand out. Well, that came across in the face-framing collars, the deep hoods of parkas that vaguely suggested safety gear, and a sleeveless black bubble top described as “bulletproof.” And it did seem so, in a cool fashion.

Helmut Lang
Photo: Courtesy of Helmut Lang

Do also had the artist and actress Anh Duong in the show, wearing a plush fur coat over a matching taupe silk blouse and floppy, shiny pants. I’m not sure how her look squared with the rest of his taut architecture, but at least, overall, Do is approaching the brand with more of his own language. Getting to the Lang sex appeal, which always ran as an undercurrent through his collections, may take more time.

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