Back in the fall of 1996, a rumor involving famed fashion mogul Tommy Hilfiger (pictured) had a cyber explosion. The rumor accused Hilfiger of being a staunch racist, and alleged that the designer made racist comments while on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” stating that if he’d known that Blacks would be wearing his clothing, then he would never have made them. WHAT!?
And that wasn’t the end of it.
Another version of the rumor mill allegedly ballooned to include Asians, “If I knew that Blacks and Asians were going to wear my clothes, I would have never designed them,” Hilfiger purportedly said.
The rumor went on to say that Oprah actually threw Hilfiger off of her show for his incendiary statements.
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Even though folks were up-in-arms about what Hilfiger had allegedly uttered, no one was quite sure what he had in fact said, whom he’d said it to, or to exactly which ethnic group.
Yet Hilfiger’s clothing line was boycotted by those who believed the damaging myth.
To counter the slander that had spread like wildfire, Hilfiger representatives sent out notices, stating that he had never appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Oprah also attempted to come to Hilfiger’s rescue on January 11, 1999, by emphatically stating that Hilfiger had never been a guest on her program:
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.”
Even the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that was formed to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, got involved and delved right in to the out-of-control conspiracy theory that was wreaking havoc on Hilfiger’s reputation. In 2001, the League summarized its findings in a letter to Hilfiger: