Hit makers: Tommy Hilfiger and Zendaya on their most recent collaboration

Home / Hit makers: Tommy Hilfiger and Zendaya on their most recent collaboration

“I love her style …” Tommy Hilfiger begins to list, looping his little finger as Zendaya sashays around in the background in golden platforms, possibly within earshot, cool as a cucumber, metallic make-up shimmering in the light. Funk and soul classics from Prince to Diana Ross boom into the 7th arrondissement studio, keeping the tempo up as the pair prepare to work on their collaboration late into the night, finishing pieces and completing fittings with Joan Smalls and Pat Cleveland ahead of their first Paris Fashion Week see-now-buy-now show tomorrow.

“I love that she’s in film, TV and music,” he muses, three more fingers quickly disappearing. “And she believes in what she believes in,” and just like that, thumb gone too, we’re already out of digits to count all the ways Hilfiger knew Zendaya had to be his latest global ambassador. And we get it. Because Zendaya, the 23-year-old American actress and singer with close to 60 million followers on Instagram, is not short of admirers.

Just this year, we’ve seen her in HBO’s Euphoria, the bildungsroman TV drama that made controversial waves with its eyes-wide-open depiction of teenage sexuality and drug use in suburban America. She’s also appeared in Netflix’s second series of The OA; reprised her role as Michelle Jones in the latest Spider-Man instalment (with electric chemistry opposite British co-star Tom Holland); and completed filming alongside Timothee Chalamet, Charlotte Rampling and Jason Momoa on next year’s all-star sci-fi, Dune. And that’s just acting. 

Fashion highlights include that Met Gala Cinderella moment in a techsmart dress (a wry nod to her Disney Channel days). But Zendaya eclipsed all the above when she linked arms with Hilfiger on the spring/summer ’19 runway, having just sent out their first TommyXZendaya 1970s- and zodiac-inspired collection. For the show, the pair had cast all black models, from the age of 18 to 70, and everyone from Winnie Harlow to Grace Jones walked for them. Fashion never felt so refreshing. All the clothes were available immediately, globally, from sizes 4 to 24 – the first time that’s ever happened.

“I did that because it’s important to me,” Zendaya states, matter-offactly. “I wouldn’t have done this without it. If my older sister, if my mother, if my aunties, if they couldn’t wear these clothes that I’m designing, then why would I make them?”

Thankfully, Hilfiger’s approach was: “I’ll let you do anything you want!” He grins, remembering his head-over-heels courtship of Zendaya. And so, after many emails, FaceTiming, meetings and messaging, a friendship blossomed and a collaboration formed. Hilfiger, it seems, was no easy taskmaster, either: “You know, we had it in a good place [at one point],” Zendaya begins, “but Tommy was like: ‘I think you can do better’. And I was like: ‘Word. I hear you!’” Zendaya recalls of rising to the challenge. “He offered so much guidance, because we have all these ideas, but it’s wonderful to have someone with the experience and the knowledge; someone who can push you to take that next step.”

“And that’s all I had to say, and it happened,” Hilfiger verifies, eyebrows raised, implicitly impressed by Zendaya’s savvy. “Tommy offers guidance, but he’s also interested in younger perspectives,” Zendaya continues.

“He wants to know what I think is cool or what I’m interested in. It would be easy for him – with his long career and level of experience and knowledge of the industry – to be like: ‘I know best’, but he nurtures young creativity. Which is actually how you have a long career, by nurturing the people coming up under you.”

That evening, Zendaya displays not one butterfly of nervousness ahead of sending out her debut fashion week collection in front of a slew of editors as well as Tyra Banks, Janelle Monae and Gigi Hadid, Tommy’s former global brand ambassador, all watching with anticipation from the front row. Clearly her partnership with Hilfiger was a natural fit, since the next range with the brand was already in the works before the first one hit the runway. 

So what can we expect for the autumn/winter ’19/’20 collection, set to show at New York fashion week this month? “I heard spots …” I posit, waiting for their reaction. Zendaya and Hilfiger look at each other. “Am I allowed to say things?” Zendaya asks dutifully of Hilfiger. “It will show in Harlem,” Hilfiger reveals. “And there’s going to be lots of tailoring,” Zendaya adds excitedly. “Expect a lot of suits, a lot of clean lines, but in our own funky way.”

When Hilfiger first contacted Zendaya, she was window-shopping with her assistant. “To be honest,” Zendaya says with a shrug, “I was pretty sceptical. You know you get into those situations: people will promise you the moon and the stars but when you get there it’s like: ‘Oh well, here are the clothes, put your name on it and that’s how it’s going to work.’ This wasn’t one of those situations.”

“After Gigi, we figured we had to find someone phenomenal,” Hilfiger adds. “I just thought: ‘Zendaya’s so perfect for us.’ If she wants to do what she wants to do, I’ll let her do that. I had other people in the company say: ‘But what if she wants to do something really crazy? Are you going to go back on your word?’ And I said: ‘I trust that somehow she’s going to come up with a look and an idea that’s trendsetting for us.’ And guess what? Voila!”

Turns out, Hilfiger did serve up the moon and stars – and Zendaya made them shine.

This article originally appeared in Vogue Australia’s October 2019 issue.

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