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.