• Tuesday 17 November 2015
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Flashback: Tommy Hilfiger remembers his first shops

The designer reminisces about opening his first retail chain, 'People's Place', in the early seventies.

BY Sophie de Rosee | 26 November 2011

Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger Photo: Tommy Hilfiger

This photograph was taken in 1974 under the awning of the second People's Place that I opened. It was on North Main and West Gray Street in Elmira, about five hours outside New York City, where I was brought up. I am modelling a sheepskin coat that I had just received from a company called Europe Craft that made very cool coats in the 1970s. I was 23. My father was a jeweller and my mother a nurse, but I had always loved clothes.

Get into the Christmas party mood with Tommy Hilfiger

As a student at Elmira Academy I played some sport and I wanted to play music, but I wasn't very good. What I really wanted was to look like the rock stars, with long hair and of-the-moment clothes. So in 1968, when I was 17, I saved $150 from working in a petrol station and with my friend Larry Stemerman bought 20 pairs of bell-bottomed jeans from the back streets of New York City. We drove them back to Elmira and sold them to our friends out of the boot of our car. A year later we opened the first People's Place, a basement shop selling all sorts of hippie gear such as incense and candles as well as cool rock'n'roll-inspired clothes like the bell-bottoms. Larry and I worked in the shop every day and paid our friends who worked there in clothes. There wasn't even a proper sign; it was handwritten. We started out on a shoestring but it became very successful and we subsequently opened a number of People's Place shops around college campuses in upstate New York.

Shop! Mary Portas at Tommy Hilfiger

Our clients were all young people who loved music and fashion and wanted to look the part. We dressed musicians and rock stars, including Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC. When bands toured the area they would come to People's Place for the leather jackets and gear that we sourced in New York, California, London, Turkey and Greece. We stocked all the trends.

In the 1970s I moved to New York City where the party scene was crazy for fashion and music. It was out of control. There was one party after another and everyone from Diana Ross to Andy Warhol would come into Studio 54 every night. When I visited London, Larry and I would go to Tramp in Knightsbridge and Johnny Gold, the owner, would give us a great table. We'd see everyone from Rod Stewart or Freddie Mercury to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles walking in and out. For a while I was a real party animal.

Tommy Hilfiger's little black book

At its peak People's Place had 10 stores but we didn't watch the balance sheets so in 1975 we went bankrupt. But I learnt my lesson, got back on my feet and started my own label in 1985. Looking at this photograph I feel proud. It was one of the best times in my life. Interview by Sophie de Rosée

Tommy Hilfiger's new store at 63 Brompton Road, London SW6, is now open ( tommy.com )

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