Tommy Hilfiger raises the bar for diverse model casting

Rain drenched or not, Hilfiger’s 82 models brought infectious animation to a collection shown in partnership with the Andy Warhol Foundation, with shock-haired Tommy playing the role of Andy in the forthcoming ad campaign. Sitting in an audience that included Kate Moss, Kris Jenner and Travis Barker (until he got up to perform at the finale), you didn’t have to realize that many of the models were famous themselves – Winnie Harlow, Hari Nef, Julia Fox . You don’t have to recognize the elegant gray-haired gentleman on the catwalk as Bob Colacello, the editor of Interview Magazine and one of Warhol’s former right-wing men waving to a friend in the audience while shuffling into cozy wheat-colored sweatshirts, an oversized lettered jacket and cleated boots.

A model walked the runway, eliciting giggles from the audience. Closing the show, Alton Mason, an actor who plays Little Richard in the 2022 film “Elvis,” winked and tipped his hat with a bow. You almost never see humor on a catwalk. Given how memorable it is, one wonders why models are generally expected to hide their personalities under cardboard gestures.

In fact, Lee trained the professional models to take it easy. “There’s a bit of deprogramming,” she said, “I’m like, ‘It’s OK to smile!’ They’re like, ‘Really? With teeth?'”

Hilfiger’s final show in New York — a September 2019 runway cast including Zendaya, outside the Apollo Theater in Harlem — turned into a street parade of diversity and animation. This week’s fall 2022 show has doubled. “This one really pushed it,” Lee said.

Hilfiger explained that there is a business strategy behind the decisions. “In casting this year’s show and previous shows, we welcomed the opportunity to have diverse models that transcend age, gender, race, sexual orientation and size; and towards those who are underrepresented. We believe that when we focus on authentically connecting with consumers, we move beyond tokenism and this is another way to welcome everyone to our brand.”

A day after his show, Hilfiger explained his approach in an email. His casting was a result of who he hopes his label will appeal to. “Inclusivity is a core value of mine and is in everything we do as a brand. I love bringing people from all walks of life together. From the beginning, we’ve tried to focus on inclusion and diversity because we believe representation gets us further and builds trust with our consumers — and the way we staff our shows is a direct result of that,” wrote he.

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