Découvrez l’Univers Preppy: Tommy in Paris

The grounds of the Centre Pompidou, the modern art museum in Paris, is an unlikely place to find a display of preppy clothing and accessories. But that’s where Tommy Hilfiger recently chose to set up shop for Prep World, a new collection in collaboration with “Preppy Handbook” author Lisa Birnbach. Or rather it’s where he chose to set up shack, for Prep World is a one-room, cedar-shingle structure resembling a beach house on the Cape, replete with blue-and-white awnings and a weathered mailbox attached to a white picket fence.

There, in the shadow of the Pompidou — an iconic piece of post-modern architecture, its colorful exposed ducts and beams shining in the spring sun — visitors could browse pastel polos, “vintage” blazers, bright braided belts from Kiel James Patrick, and accessories emblazoned with prep iconography (tennis rackets, sailboats, anchors). The uninitiated could consult a definition of “preppy” emblazoned on the doormat, his and hers dressing guides on wall posters, and copies of Birnbach’s “True Prep,” which was for sale on the center table under a light fixture made of wooden tennis rackets.

It was all a little incongruous, but that, it seems, was the point. Hilfiiger is a Tommy-come-lately to the prep trend, not a go-to brand, and setting up a beach house on the shores of the Pompidou (the first stop in a nine-city tour, according to the accompanying website) is certainly one way to attract attention to the new collection.

You won’t find many everyday prep items as you would at J.Crew or Land’s End (the latter of which recently launched a French site of its own). The Prep World pitch is tongue-in-cheek — e.g. bandannas with phrases like “Prep in the City” and “I’m Ivy League” — and the goal seems to be to get people to have fun and perhaps be ironic by picking up something they otherwise might not wear, from a designer whose name they know but previously didn’t associate with prep. “Preppy style has its roots in England, but the English version is staid and serious,” Hilfiger told GQ last year. “The American version is irreverent. There should always be a twist.”

By mid-afternoon on Easter Sunday, “La Prep Pop Up Maison,” as it was called, was getting decent foot traffic from passers-by and the occasional legit prep aficionado (still a rarity in this city). Was it truly true prep?  Not really. But a fun diversion, particularly for an American ex-pat living in Paris and missing the beach back home?  Bien sûr. — MATTHEW BENZ

Thirty-four-year-old Matthew Benz is an American lawyer and writer living in Paris.

6 Comments on "Découvrez l’Univers Preppy: Tommy in Paris"

  1. Thank you Matthew for your on-the-seen reporting. Tommy, has a very long way to go to be considered prep. I am a bit surprised that you would being a prep, lump J.Crew and Lands’ End in the same sentence. Still a good look at what is going on in the world.

    Always, Bumby

  2. Col boutonné | May 3, 2011 at 7:56 am |

    Lands’ End’s French site is an enjoyable place to try out one’s highschool French:


  3. PhiAlpha | May 3, 2011 at 1:53 pm |

    Tommy Hilfiger is about as prep as American Eagle.

  4. Ok, so all of this is happening in Paris. Home of the Louvre Museum where the featured restaurant is a McDonald’s. And to think I have always wanted to go to India to buy clothing from the original Tommy Hilfiger (Mo Murjani)

  5. Oh, sure I went for a visit.
    The house itself is nice enough, and there is an interesting mix of Prep brand new clothes and vintage clothes. But the bermuda shorts are printed, not embroidered. And there is not one blazer in sight. The women section was actually more interesting than men’s, and one could buy hunting wooden duck, if it mattered.

  6. Hilfiger came along this past year with one of the best advertising campaigns I’ve seen in a while. “Tailgating” always had great photos, as well as an array of ages and styles. Very well done.

    Still, as I walk into a retail store, I immediately am dizzied at the amount of Hilfiger flags that I see stamped onto everything they sell. The beauty behind their campaign is that their staple emblem is not prominently displayed. If they want to break into a new market, they should try to hide that thing.

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