‘Well, preppy is an American word,’ he counters, ‘but the real look comes from England. What we did was twist it, change it and re-deliver it to you.’ Until recently the Tommy take on our preppy heritage was arguably lacking in that stately home-grown eccentricity that is exclusively English, but his most recent advertising campaign may have changed that.
It was part Royal Tenenbaums and a whole lot English country-house party – an extended family of quirky models plus friends, grandparents, tennis rackets, a skateboard and a well-bred dog or two.
‘My answer is that I never feel that I’ve made it,’ he says in the manner of a charismatic politician – at once serious and seriously charming.
‘When someone feels that they have made it then their success is over, whereas I want to keep working, perfecting my collections, making the brand better, the stores better.
With backing to start his eponymous label (he wanted at first to call it Tommy Hill, but others rightly argued that his real name, Hilfiger, would be more memorable), within a few years he joined greats such as Ralph Lauren in becoming synonymous with the all-American casualwear look that has defined mainstream fashion in the States since the 1980s.
We’re perched on pine stools next to vast windows with views across the Hudson River and surrounded by rails of his catwalk-ready collection, which he is presenting to selected press early (I’m in line after legendary fashion commentator Suzy Menkes).
While the mood is relaxed, the mode – with two PRs sitting in on our chat – is controlled.
Still springy at 60, he emerged after his spring/summer 2012 show at New York Fashion Week waving, blowing kisses and skipping along so energetically in time to the Jimi Hendrix soundtrack that I half expected him to drop to his knees and slide down the runway playing air guitar. In this one, as the story goes, he was never going to cut it as the leader of a band (he didn’t even make his brother’s high-school group), so a teenage Tommy decided that he was going to look like one instead.
Music got him hooked on fashion, fashion gave him the business bug, business made him an international star and this, a vast, packed fashion tent, became his stadium.