How Hilfiger Exports the Culture of Cool

CMO Avery Baker on the brand's vision of 'American classics with a playful twist'

Avery Baker is the embodiment of Tommy Hilfiger's ambitions to export its preppy vision of Americana, full of plaid and cozy sweaters, to the rest of the world. With a casual country-club polish, Baker operates as Hilfiger's chief branding officer and CMO. From her adopted hometown of Amsterdam she's overseen a steady climb in sales this year, besting sibling brand Calvin Klein (both are owned by PVH Corp.). In fact, PVH reported last fall that Hilfiger's profit rose 9 percent to $870 million in its fiscal second quarter.

Photo spreads in glossy magazines of Baker's outdoor dinner parties reinforce the Hilfiger fantasy. But like the brand's namesake Tommy Hilfiger, the 19-year company veteran seems accessible and friendly, a lot like the American girl next door. We gave her a buzz in Amsterdam to see how the job of selling Americana hip was going. 

Hilfiger's vibe is inclusive and youthful.

You've got to be one of the more glamorous CMOs of an American company. Your lifestyle in Europe probably makes lots of your customers (and colleagues) green with envy. Is it as cool as it looks?

Well, it is pretty great. I'm lucky to have the best of both worlds, spending 50 percent of my time in New York and enjoying all the energy and buzz there, and then coming back to the relaxed life of Amsterdam. It's a great home base because it's a small city that is still very international. I really like the balance, but the travel back and forth can be tiring.

Preppy style, with its upscale, retro connotations, has had its ups and downs in pop culture. How would you define preppy today?

At Hilfiger, our vision of preppy starts with American classics and then we add a playful twist. It is relaxed, sporty and optimistic. The world has become faster, busier and harder, and people respond to optimism. They are looking for a break from all that and they want to associate with brands that bring them a smile.

In some ways has your brand parted ways with the fashion world?

The fashion world is so serious, intimidating and uptight. We try to bring levity to it. Our position to the rest of the apparel industry is "Relax, it's only fashion."

Hilfiger is a global name that is really connected to Americana culture. Does the idea of America still sell overseas?

It does. America is an aspirational brand that has an enduring appeal despite what is happening in the news. People in many countries, including here in the Netherlands, respond to some of the core values that American culture and this brand have in common—diversity and optimism, being inclusive and youthful. They still see the U.S. as fun, authentic and free-spirited.

How did you get tennis star Rafael Nadal to sign on as brand ambassador? Will we be seeing him at company events?

Rafa is a longtime personal friend of Tommy's, and we think his dedication and passion for his sport is inspiring. Yes, Rafa will appear at global press and consumer events in key markets throughout the year.

Let's talk about the Hilfiger clan, that fictitious and eccentric upper-crust family that stars in your ads. Do people want to know more about their exploits beyond what we see in TV and print ads?

We wondered about that and did some testing. We discovered that people didn't want to know more about the fictional characters, but about the real actors who play them. Consumers wanted to see the behind-the-scenes action and what the guy who plays Arthur Hilfiger is really like. So we are producing video that includes the action during the photo shoots, and we're exploring how to get the actors involved in our promotional events.

With the spring 2015 global campaign all about the Hilfigers celebrating a wedding, are we going to see some family drama along with the denim and leather?

In typical Hilfiger manner, our spring wedding celebration isn't the traditional sort. Top model and social media star Behati Prinsloo marries into the family and brings a rock 'n' roll energy to the affair. There is great fun with flower girls running wild, nephews and cousins playing air guitar, and a mix of new and familiar faces.