Get ready to love bell bottoms, psychedelic-print turtlenecks, and platform clogs all over again.

By Eric Wilson
Updated Feb 15, 2019 @ 9:00 am
Credit: Courtesy

Last October Zendaya and Tommy Hilfiger were holed up in a penthouse suite at the London Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, previewing their first collection for editors far in advance of its upcoming début on a Paris runway on March 2. Traffic was a mess that morning, and I’ll admit I had built up quite a sweat running the last few blocks above Times Square to get there in time. That’s how much I was looking forward to this, which is strange, as I’ve seen a lot of celebrity-designed collections over the years, and most of them are now long forgotten.

So why get so excited about this one?

Well, to start, Zendaya exemplifies everything that is great about her generation. She’s engaged, outspoken, and optimistic; plus, she embraces statement-making fashion so daringly and unapologetically. But there’s also Hilfiger, the undisputed maestro of star-powered collaborations these days. Even Zendaya got a little starstruck when he approached her about the project. “I got a personal call from Tommy himself, which was crazy,” she tells me later, “and he promised me that I would be able to be as creative as I wanted and truly execute my vision, whatever that vision may be, down to the font on the packaging, as he said.”

“I think she didn’t believe it at first,” says Hilfiger. Given the recent challenges faced by many big American houses (Calvin Klein’s breakup with Raf Simons being the latest example), Hilfiger is the only one who seems to have successfully navigated today’s nutty business climate while also maintaining his cool factor. That is in part due to his unique approach to the whole “see now, buy now” movement happening in fashion, in which designers make their products available to consumers at the same time that they are shown to the press. By teaming up with stylish celebrities, beginning with Gigi Hadid in 2016, and staging elaborate shows around the world, called TommyNow, Hilfiger gave shoppers a reason to tune in online and buy, approaching clothing design much like content creation. “We don’t want to do something that everyone else is doing and have it just be sort of middle of the road,” Hilfiger says. “My philosophy is that mediocrity doesn’t work. It’s a waste of money and a waste of people’s time.”

Hilfiger has a long history of working with artists in his campaigns and runway shows (Britney Spears, Aaliyah, Beyoncé, and Iman and David Bowie); giving artists design authority, however, is a more recent development, something Hilfiger attributes to the necessity of appearing authentic in the digital age. Items from Tommy x Gigi often sold out whenever they were worn by Gigi or Bella Hadid (as did items from subsequent collections worn by Hailey Baldwin, Winnie Harlow, and Lewis Hamilton), but perhaps a bigger halo effect on Hilfiger’s image can be seen on social media, where his followers have increased by 8.1 million (or 51 percent) since the launch of these big shows.

Credit: Brian Henn

“It brought the age range of our average consumer down substantially,” Hilfiger says. “We didn’t realize we’d attract Generation Z and millennials to this extent.”

Credit: Courtesy

Zendaya’s massive (and loyal) Instagram audience of nearly 54 million is one reason to suspect that the Tommy x Zendaya collection, when it débuts, will be a success. Another reason is that it’s also extremely good. During the preview I was struck by the versatility of the designs, particularly between the casual, ’70s-inspired Ts and jeans and the dressier items, like the tailored suiting in borrowed-from-the-boys checks and a varnished burgundy leather jacket and skirt.

Credit: Courtesy

“Honestly, and selfishly, I made clothes for the ‘grown woman me,’ the staple pieces I feel I need in my wardrobe now that I’m maturing into my own style,” Zendaya says.

Credit: Brian Henn

Working with stylist Law Roach, whom she had met when he owned a vintage store in Chicago, she put together inspirations like Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Teresa Graves, Bianca Jagger, and a touch of Charlie’s Angels too. The late ’70s and early ’80s have always appealed to her aesthetic, fueling ideas for paisley prints and stylized zodiac symbols. When she and Roach presented the ideas to Hilfiger and his team, they were astounded to find they were on the same page. Literally.

Credit: Courtesy

“It was kind of crazy,” Zendaya says. “As I was looking through Tommy’s coffee table books about his life, I found pictures from his first store, People’s Place, and we had designed almost the same outfit he wore in a photo from that time. That just confirmed we were on the right track.

For more stories like this, pick up the March issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Feb. 15.