In our previous post, we covered 3 stories of how famous fashion brands reached the pinnacle of their success. Today, we conclude the series by detailing two other stories, namely those of Tommy Hilfiger and Coco Chanel.
4) Tommy Hilfiger
Tommy Hill, the founder of Tommy Hilfiger, always showed signs of the talented, enterprising and brash individual that he grew up to become. He began his foray into business as a teenager, he bought jeans in New York City that he remade and sold for a markup.
At the age of 18, he he opened a store called The People’s Place in Elmira that sold nice items like bell-bottoms, incense and records. He soon had a chain of stores and six-figure income.
In 1976, at the age of 25, he fell in love with Susie Carona, an employee at one of his stores. Just one all looked rosy, however, the economic downturn hit his business particularly hard and he soon found himself filing for bankruptcy.
Tommy Hill then married Susie Carona, and were hired as a husband-and-wife design team by the apparel brand Jordache, only to be fired a year later. However, Hill had made his reputation as a hard-working and talented young designer, and was offered jobs at fashion labels including Calvin Klein
However, the entrepreneur’s itch refused to die down. What Hill wanted was his own label, which he even decided to rename as Tommy Hilfiger after consulting his friends and advisors.
The break came in 1984, when Hilfiger was approached by Indian entrepreneur Mohan Murjani, who needed a designer to head a men’s sportswear line. Murjani allowed Hilfiger to design the label under his own name and then announced Hilfiger’s arrival onto the scene with a typically arrogant blitz marketing campaign that included a billboard in New York City’s Times Square proclaiming Hilfiger as the next big thing in fashion.
The bold tactics made him a lot of enemies, but they worked. Hilfiger’s preppy clothes with his trademark logo soon began selling like hot cakes and soon were embraced by the hip-hop world. The zenith was reached when Snoop Dog wore a giant Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt during a Saturday Night Live performance in 1994, bringing sales to an all time high.
However, like before, things started to go astray just as they were at their peak. Sales started plummeting as the brand began suffering from its ubiquity, and Tommy also split from his wife of over twenty years.
However, the company turned profitable again, and in 2009, was sold to Phillips-Van Heusen for $3 Billion dollars.
5) Coco Chanel
Chanel’s glamorous life began inauspiciously, when she was put in an orphanage by her father. Raised by nuns who taught her how to sew- she began her brief career as a singer. Chanel performed in clubs in cities such as Vichy and Moulins where she was first acquired the nickname “Coco”.
Roughly 20 years old, Chanel met two men who turned out to be pivotal in her fashion career. Etienne Balsan, and Arthur “Boy” Capel.
Both men helped her get to Paris and open her first shop on Rue Cambon, in 1910. Starting out with hats, she later added more stores and increased the offering to include clothes that she made herself. One of these was a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey.
The dress was beautifully designed, and many people asked her where she got it. She offered to make one for them, and never looked back. She once is said to have told Paul Morand- “My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville,”
In the 1920s, her thriving business received a boost as she launched her first perfume, Chanel No. 5. She followed this up with the now legendary Chanel suit with collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt.
It’s difficult to overstate her impact on woman’s fashion. Her designs completely upturned conventional fashion by emphasizing comfort over the constraints of fashionable clothing for women then.
However, her success was rudely interrupted by the historic economic recession of 1930. The outbreak of World War II was the final straw. She closed her shops and fled.
At the age of 70, Chanel made a return to the fashion world, which is currently skippered by designer Karl Lagerfeld and held privately by the Wertheimer. It is believed to generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually.