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The Tommy Hilfiger Oprah Myth That Just Won’t Die
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tommy-hillfiiger-oprahThe Tommy Hilfiger is a racist hoax e-mail has been circulating for over 15 years–we originally received it in the late 1990s, and it is among the original memes on the Internet that used a celebrity name to spread a vicious rumor.  We spoke with Tommy’s lead counsel back then who told me that the firm had been battling the rumor for years and had even called in the FBI to find out who started it. But to this day noone knows the original source.

The Hilfiger e-mail circulates about twice a year, every year–and poor Tommy Hilfiger has to refute the same thing each time. It is no doubt perpetrated by competing fashion designers who can’t keep up with Hilfiger’s popularity in the urban market, and this editor wishes it would stop. If you see this in your e-mail, reply to all and tell them to hit DELETE.


Here is the email forward we received in 1999:

From: Walter Arnold <sculptor@mcs.net>

I couldn’t find this one on your site, so it should be added. Chicago Tribune, Tuesday Jan. 12, 1999, section 1 p. 17 contains a refutation of the hoax by Leonard Pitts of Knight Ridder/Tribune. He says that a spokeswoman for Oprah Winfrey states that “Tommy Hilfiger has never appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show”. (and also, variation on the rumor puts him making statements on a CNN show, but CNN spokesperson said that is a lie).

Here’s the e-mail hoax:

>Hello Everyone!

> I thought maybe this is worth sharing with you all!

> IM SURE MANY OF YOU WATCHED THE RECENT TAPING OF THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW WHERE HER GUEST WAS TOMMY HILFIGER. ON THE SHOW SHE ASKED HIM IF THE STATEMENTS ABOUT RACE HE WAS ACCUSED OF SAYING WERE TRUE. STATEMENTS LIKE IF HE’D KNOW AFRICAN-AMERICANS, HISPANICS AND ASIANS WOULD BUY HIS CLOTHES HE WOULD NOT HAVE MADE THEM SO NICE. HE WISH THESE PEOPLE WOULD *NOT* BUY HIS CLOTHES, AS THEY ARE MADE FOR UPPER CLASS WHITE PEOPLE. HIS ANSWER TO OPRAH WAS A SIMPLE “YES”. WHERE AFTER SHE IMMEDIATELY ASKED HIM TO LEAVE HER SHOW. MY SUGGESTION? LETS GIVE HIM WHAT HES ASKED FOR. LETS NOT BUY HIS CLOTHES!

>LETS PUT HIM IN A FINANCIAL STATE WHERE HE HIMSELF WILL NOT BE ABLE TO AFFORD THE RIDICULOUS PRICES HE PUTS ON HIS CLOTHES.

>> >>> >BOYCOTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

>> >>> >BOYCOTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

>> >>> >BOYCOTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

>> >>> >PLEASE SEND THIS TO ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO SPENDS THEIR HARD EARNED

>MONEY ON CLOTHES MADE BY SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT RESPECT THEM AS A PERSON OR A PEOPLE!

The Truth: Tommy Hilfiger had never appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show until 2006, when she finally cleared up the rumor in this interview:

Oprah: Let’s break this down. Tommy, in the 21 years that we’ve been on the air, have you ever been on the show before today?

Tommy: Unfortunately, not.

Oprah: And when you first heard it, Tommy, what did you think?

Tommy: I didn’t believe it. … Friends of mine said they heard the rumor. I said, ‘That’s crazy. That can’t be. I was never on The Oprah Show. I would never say that.’ And all my friends and family who know me and people who work with me and people who have grown up with me said that’s crazy.

Oprah: Well, did you ever say anything close to that? Where do you think this originated?

Tommy: I have no idea. We hired FBI agents, I did an investigation, I paid investigators lots of money to go out and investigate, and they traced it back to a college campus but couldn’t put their finger on it.

Tommy says his clothing company’s intention has always been the exact opposite of what that rumor says. “I wanted to sell a lot of clothes to a lot of people,” he says.

“It hurt my integrity, because at the end of the day, that’s all you have. And if people are going to challenge my honesty and my integrity and what I am as a person, it hurts more than anything else,” he says. “Forget the money that it has cost me.”

Not only is he a fashion icon, Tommy is also the founder of a summer camp for inner city children and one of the driving forces behind the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Fund—a group dedicated to creating a monument to the slain civil rights leader in Washington, D.C. They’re holding a fundraising concert on September 18, 2007, in New York City.

“The next time somebody sends you an e-mail or somebody mentions this rumor to you, you know what you’re supposed say to them?” Oprah says. “You’re supposed to say, ‘That’s a big fat lie.'”

From The Tommy Hilfiger corporate site in 2002:

Tommy Hifiger Rumor FAQ

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Giovanni
Best selling author, connoisseur of pop culture, and professional Urban Mythologist, debunking your life since whenever.

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