Is Tommy Hilfiger a Racist?

Tommy Hilfiger strikes a pose backstage at fashion week

Monica Schipper / Getty Images

Anecdotal reports circulating via email and social media claim fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger made racist statements during an appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Despite denials by both Hilfiger and Winfrey, the false rumor continues to spread.

  • Description: Rumor / Urban legend
  • Circulating since: 1996
  • Status: False

Example of Email Rumor about Tommy Hilfiger

Forwarded email text December 1998:

Subject: FWD: Tommy Hilfiger hates us...
Did you see the recent Oprah Winfrey show on which Tommy Hilfiger was a guest? Oprah asked Hilfiger if his alleged statements about people of color were true
he's been accused of saying things such as "If I had known that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians would buy my clothes, I would not have made them so nice," and "I wish those people would not buy my clothesthey were made for upper-class whites." What did he say when Oprah asked him if he said these things? He said "Yes." Oprah immediately asked Hilfiger to leave her show.
Now, let's give Hilfiger what he's asked for
let's not buy his clothes. Boycott! Pleasepass this message along.

In other examples, racial epithets were included.

Rumor Analysis

A whole lot of nice, earnest folks who surely don't consider themselves liars used the Internet to spread a false and libelous rumor about fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger. It comes to them in the form of a forwarded email or a shared social media post. They read it, they either believe it to be true or don't care if it's true, and they pass it on to friends, associates and people they hardly even know with the click of a mouse button or the tap of a share button.

Knowingly or not, each one of these people becomes a link in a growing chain of scurrilous, hurtful lies. We know they are lies because the parties involved have issued repeated denials.

Oprah Denies Rumors

Winfrey addressed the rumor personally during a show broadcast in 1999, summarized on her website as follows:

For the record, the rumored event that has circulated on the Internet and by word-of-mouth never happened. Mr. Hilfiger has never appeared on the show. In fact, Oprah has never even met him.

Winfrey's exact words were quoted on Tommy Hilfiger's Website:

So I want to just set the record straight once and for all. The rumor claims that clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger came on this show and made racist remarks, and that I then kicked him out. I just want to say that is not true because it just never happened. Tommy Hilfiger has never appeared on this show. READ MY LIPS, Tommy Hilfiger HAS NEVER APPEARED ON THIS SHOW. And all of [the] people who claim that they saw it, they heard it—it never happened. I've never even met Tommy Hilfiger.

Eight years later, on May 2, 2007 Hilfiger appeared on "Oprah"—for the first time, mind you—to put an end to this scurrilous rumor.

Denial by Tommy Hilfiger

Hilfiger, also quoted on his own website, stated the following:

I am deeply upset that a malicious and completely false rumor continues to circulate about me. I create my clothing for all different types of people regardless of their race, religious or cultural background. I want you to know the facts so that you are not the victim of a classic 'urban myth' that perpetuates untruths and has no basis in reality.

Anti-Defamation League Finds No Racist Statements by Tommy Hilfiger

Further putting the lie to this misbegotten rumor are the results of an independent investigation conducted in 2001 by the Anti-Defamation League, which summarized its findings in a letter to Tommy Hilfiger:

Dear Mr. Hilfiger:
The Anti-Defamation League has received recurring inquiries regarding a number of defamatory rumors that have been spread on the Internet and by word-of-mouth in recent years about you and your company. Based upon our investigation, it is apparent to us that you never made the statements that attribute racist remarks to you. In some cases, the rumor alleges that you appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and made racist remarks, causing a supposedly irate Oprah to ask you to leave. We have concluded that these rumors are completely false, and it is apparent that you never made the statements attributed to you, nor did you appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Bottom Line: Tommy Hilfiger Did Not Make Racist Statements

Check the facts before you share a scurrilous email or social media post. There is no excuse for perpetuating this false rumor, for bearing false witness against a neighbor, when the truth is only a few links away.