All in the Family


"How can you not hate these people?" my 20-year-old son asked after surveying "Meet the Hilfigers," the family stars of "The ultimate tailgate," Tommy Hilfiger's latest campaign.
The photo he saw consists of 15 blonde-ish model types wearing an assortment of rugby shirts, pleated skirts, signet rings, pinstriped suits, orange pants, duck boots, cable-knit sweaters and camel-hair everything, all arrayed around a Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The shot has a slightly off-kilter look -- Mumsy might have had one too many Bloody's and cousin Max seemingly couldn't stop playing with his hair -- so perhaps it's meant to portray an old-money family on a messier, more recession-aware day. This group might have even trooped out to -- horrors! -- New Jersey.

It's all pretty amusing. I don't hate them. I even get an interesting, quasi-Royal Tenenbaums vibe, but without that family's genius and extreme mental illness. (You can learn all about the family on

The multimedia, multi-generational fall campaign, directed by Trey Laird and beautifully photographed by Craig McDean, is not particularly original. In recent memory there was a
similarly prepped-out fictional family featured in an ad campaign for Kate Spade. (I think they also rocked a Wagoneer, that essential totem of old-time Waspiness.)

As Americans, we tend to get excited, much like dogs, when we see a packed-up vehicle (the National Lampoon Vacation movies were based on this same idea). This one even includes some Astroturf and skis. And when it comes to classic Anglo worship and the concept of kinfolk on a journey, Ralph Lauren, of course, got there earlier. It's been almost 30 years since he showed a gang of models glumly sitting around the porch of their (unheated) ancestral cabin in the Adirondacks, warming themselves with their red plaid blankets, ancient skis stacked to the side next to the huskies, toasty in the knowledge that their trust funds had not yet been tapped out.

Of course, Lauren hardly invented the classic prep style. Born in the Bronx, he was merely smart enough to translate his vision of British sartorial upper crustiness into timeless sportswear for monied Americans. His success came (mind-blowingly) full circle when Princes William and Harry -- actual polo-playing royalty -- started to wear Lauren's polo-bedecked polo shirts.

With "The ultimate tailgate," the more affordable Tommy Hilfiger brand (bought by Phillips-Van Heusen for $3 billion in May) comes full circle as well. While the designer himself told WWD that "this is the first campaign to truly capture the brand's 25-year heritage of twisted, pretty American sportswear," he's been done with the oversized urban streetwear phase for a while.
The campaign, and the line itself, certainly suits the trend toward retro and nostalgia. In the same issue of Vanity Fair that includes a "The ultimate tailgate" gatefold, there's a piece called "The Official Preppy Reboot," an excerpt from True Prep, Lisa Birnbach's follow-up to The Official Preppy Handbook, which came out 30 years ago.
Interestingly, in terms of the campaign, Birnbach writes in the article that lo these many decades later, "we are all interconnected, intermarried, inter-everythinged." And perhaps that's why the Obamas provide the most bona fide examples of preppies these days. And that's also where the good craziness of the ads comes in.

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