Rebrand

Tremendous Eye Roll: More on Tommy Hilfiger and Celebrity Collaborations

Save Tommy Hilfiger from himself.

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Tommy Hilfiger has announced a design collaboration with Gigi Hadid, a line called Tommy x Gigi, to debut in the fall of 2016.

Cue the largest eye roll physically possible.

Not that this is a terrible idea — it’s not. It’s just bad strategy for Hilfiger in the long run and a case of history repeating itself.

As I discussed in a previous article, Tommy Hilfiger needs to be playing the long game with his brand if he wants it to be an non-laughable, established lifestyle brand again — which, by all the evidence I’ve  seen, is still his goal (luggage, linens, and tablewear are all still for sale on his website, hilariously titled just ‘tommy.com’). His brand collapsed in a cloud of shadenfreude in the early 2000s because of two reasons — it was ultra-trendy, driven totally by logos and random-but-popular celebrity endorsers, and it was publicly owned, which meant it kept churning out insane quantities these truly embarrassing looks long after they were cool too keep shareholders happy. Tommy Hilfiger is now a privately owned company, but Hilfiger needs to guard himself against getting endorsements solely from the hot young stars of the moment, as well as relying too heavily on trendiness.

Which is the problem with Gigi. She is the hottest young thing in both fashion and Instagram culture at the moment, showing up in both ad campaigns and (more and more frequently) gossip columns. She embodies trendiness and mainstream youth culture, the very things Hilfiger should be handling with caution, instead of grabbing with both hands. He’s going to make the same strategic mistake again, and the man can’t help himself.

Hifiger could have made so many other choices of collaborators, ones that would appeal to an older audience with 1) more purchasing power and 2) previous experience with the brand in its pre-hot mess days. These might include Alexa Chung, Leandra Medine, or Solange. He could have still gone for a youthful collaborator, but someone less ubiquitous and bland than Gigi is — someone like Brooklyn Beckham or Tavi Gevinson. He’s a big art collector and could have done something with Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, or Yayoi Kusama (all of whom he collects) to do something more cerebral. But no. The most obvious, popular choice is always Hilfiger’s go-to.

What I would have liked to have seen him do most was to collaborate with another designer for a capsule collection. Gucci just announced a collaboration with Commes des Garçons on a small range of silk scarves — an absolutely brilliant move in line with the Michelesance. Hilfiger should do something similar to this, and specifically partner with a label that can boost his cool factor, like Hood By Air, Public School, or Rodarte.

There are just so many more interesting, smart, and nuanced collaborative options out there for Hilfiger than the model of the moment, and his obstinacy and short sightedness in the matter is off-putting. He doesn’t’ deserve to succeed in this venture, and who knows if he will? Will Gigi be as hot and relevant in a year, when the collection debuts, as she is now? It’s a question Hilfiger should be seriously asking himself. This line may need to move up its timeline.

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Eating My Hat: DressBarn’s Chic Rebranding

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Prior the last two months or so, I would have probably gambled my life on DressBarn remaining the most tragic mall staple of all time, incapable of pulling itself out of the mire of frump or breaking the curse of a name that connotes manure and/or unbecoming girth.

But I would have perished, because it has done both, and spectacularly well, in what may be the best executed re-brand in recent memory.

The new strategy was two pronged: to present the brand as real “fashion,” and to acknowledge, with humor, its less-than-chic name and frame it as an asset, not a liability. In their fall ad campaign shot by Patrick Demarchelier (!), Hilary Rhoda wears cocktail dresses designed by the likes of Carmen Marc Valvo and interacts with different farm animals. The accompanying slogans are cheeky acknowledgements that the name is atrocious, like “Don’t Let the Name Fool You” and “Still Hung Up on the Name?,” with some refreshing self-awareness.

The ads are visually arresting, especially the shot in which Rhoda gracefully cozies up to an enormous bull. And the clothes aren’t bad either – her dresses look chic, flattering, and wearable. Rhoda was the perfect model to front this campaign. She’s young and stylish, but has an air of maturity that‘s more in line with the target consumer, and perhaps more importantly, isn’t overexposed (looking at you, Estée Lauder and Topshop). Asking Carmen Marc Valvo to design a capsule collection was another smart move. The target demographic will recognize the name and read it as a stylish but not intimidating choice. Someone like Christian Siriano would be a good choice for next season.

The stroke of rebranding genius is due to a change in marketing management helmed by Lori Wagner, who has previously worked for J. Crew, Nike, Talbots, and more. Apparently, she and her team had considered changing the company’s name, but I think their decision to keep and re-situate it in the minds of consumers was the better choice. People love a heritage story, especially coupled with an underdog element. Other mall staples should take note, especially the floundering Gap, and the identity-less New York & Co. and The Limited.

Will cutting-edge fashion lovers start shopping at DressBarn? No. But a lot of women will. And the ad got me, formerly a vociferous detractor, to visit the company website, which is a big step in itself. I look forward to seeing what Wagner does next, even if I won’t be among the consumers.