Romeo Hunte and Tommy Hilfiger on Brooklyn, Inspiration, and Teamwork
TOMMY HILFIGER: I see a lot of myself in Romeo. He has a lot of drive and he’s very creative, but he also has a business mind that’s always thinking about what he could do next from a marketing standpoint, what he could do next in terms of production, or how to get the most out of his budgets for his fashion shows. Romeo, what year did we meet?
ROMEO HUNTE: Carly-Ann Fergus introduced us eight or nine years ago. I remember that
moment being the first time I interacted with you. You were like, “Who made this?” And I was like, “This is our buffalo-check poncho. Tommy, you have to see my stuff.” That’s how it started.
starting out, you run into all sorts of obstacles. I think your drive and passion for the business has kept you on track. It’s not always easy, and I think I’ve been helpful in being a positive mentor on the side, keeping your eyes on that north star.
HUNTE: You told me to dream big and that’s what I always do. Sometimes it’s like, “Is it the
right time? Is it the right decision for the brand?” But it always turns out great. There are times I think back on where it was down to, like, two weeks before the show, and you would say, “Pull it together.” I was like, “I don’t know if I can do it,” and your advice was to keep pushing through.
your work. Basically, just a few words of direction or advice and you pick up on it immediately, and make it even better than what I had envisioned it to be. That’s what our collaboration was all about. You take something that I think is going to be good, and you make it great. Our collaboration, where you took my existing product and redesigned it your way by taking fabrics and materials from your inspiration and fusing them with a lot of my basics, was very cool.
collection, and I remember calling you and saying, “Hey, I got this idea.” I was inspired by the
notion of giving existing pieces new life. I wanted to integrate archival looks and fabrics that you used over the years into my own brand. You gave me the freedom to go into the Tommy Hilfiger archives and have fun. We looked to incorporate 12 vintage pieces into the Fall 2020 collection, reinventing and upcycling them into something entirely new, merging the narratives of both brands. You definitely taught me how the industry connects and how everyone works together, and that it’s all about building relationships and connecting with people. That’s always stuck with me, especially as a designer who started out with no resources.
HILFIGER: I’m happy to help. Our People’s Place Program opens the door for underrepresented communities, it embraces talent that hasn’t always had equal opportunities. And the opportunities have a lot to do with introducing them to other people in the industry.
Brooklyn Street.” Why these two locations and aesthetics?
HUNTE: I was raised in Brooklyn, so a lot of the street style, especially from the ’90s, is compatible with the ethos of Romeo Hunte and the DNA of the brand. It was really important to me to take those elements and mash them together with a lot of the components that I discovered going through the Tommy Hilfiger archives. I wanted to focus on a lot of the design elements and detail, and mix them with that cool Brooklyn street swag. When it comes to Manhattan, it’s preppy; something that’s tailored and changing the narrative of what streetwear is. When I first started my collection, I shied away from being called an “urban designer,” and Tommy always told me to embrace it and own it.
HILFIGER: My hometown [Elmira, New York] has always inspired me. I worked in a sporting goods shop when I was 13 or 14 years old, just folding football shirts, basketball jerseys, and warm-ups, so I kept thinking, “Someday I’m going to work with these clothes.” I’ve always been inspired by Americana, whether it’s American clothes for the outdoors— hunting, fishing, hiking—or whether it’s preppy Americana. I want to put it all into a blender.
INTERVIEW: You both have eponymous brands. Why did you decide to name your labels after
HUNTE: I feel like my name could be romantic, but it’s still humble. My grandfather was from
Barbados, and he was a bodybuilder but also played many different instruments and even played at Carnegie Hall, so it was all about carrying the torch.
HILFIGER: My first financial backer said, “We should call the brand Tommy Hilfiger,” and I said, “I’m not so sure people can pronounce it.” He said, “Do you really think people know how to pronounce Yves Saint Laurent?” But how many times have I told you, Romeo, that Romeo Hunte is a great name. It’s a name that will go down in history.