Meet Betsy Hilfiger

Location: New York, NY
Age: Over 50
Marital Status: Single
Education: Nursing degree from the Arnot Ogden Hospital School of Nursing

Now as Director of Community Affairs for Tommy Hilfiger corporate, you might say Betsy is truly the “heart” of the mega fashion empire. She coordinates community service projects, charitable giving and outreach to fashion schools. “I’m more or less the company ambassador,” she says.

It’s sibling revelry, for sure.

Where did you grow up?

Elmira, New York. I married my high school boyfriend when I was 21 and we had two sons. I went to nursing school there, the same school my mom and my two sisters attended. We’re all registered nurses.

Do you have other siblings besides Tommy?

There are four boys and five girls.

Are you still married?

My husband and I divorced when I was 29. Later, he died in a car accident, which was devastating.

Did you remarry?

Yes, but it didn’t work out. Fortunately, I am still very close with my stepdaughter.

How long were you in nursing?

After I did clinical nursing, I sold pharmaceuticals. Then I opened my own Tommy Hilfiger store in Elmira in 1994 and ran it until 2003.

How did Tommy get started in the fashion business?

Tommy started in Elmira in 1969, selling bell-bottom jeans in his first store, called People’s Place. I worked for him when I was in high school. He had a young, creative mind and opened eight more stores by the time he was 28. He designed under the label Tommy Hill.

When did you leave Elmira?

I moved to New York in 2003, after my sons had graduated college.

What do your boys do?

My son, Michael Fredo, is a singer at the Plaza Hotel. My other son, Joe Fredo, is a salesman for Harley-Davidson. I’m lucky to have a beautiful daughter-in-law, Shannon (Joe’s wife.)

What did you do when you came to NY?

I worked with my brother Andy and Jennifer Lopez, when they were launching her junior clothing line. I was a merchandiser.

How was that experience?

It was interesting. Andy is amazing, just wonderful to work with. I love him. I learned a lot and got my feet wet in New York. I would go to all the Macy’s stores around the country and make sure that the clothing was arriving and was positioned properly when it was put out on the floor.

Andy is a rock and roll musician. He’s also dressed celebrities and bands and worked in public relations and marketing.

What did your dad do? What do your sisters and brothers do?

Dad was a watchmaker. My sister, Kathy, is a decorator. Sisters Susie and Marie are RNs. Youngest sister, Ginny, is a designer and has her own line, called “Ginny H.”  She also works for a company called Tiger J.

Brother Billy was an amazing musician who had his own landscaping business in New York City. Sadly, Billy died of a brain tumor September 15, 2001. Brother Bobby is a stonemason, who also has his own business. Youngest brother, Andy, now owns a clothing company, called Star Branding, and has his own line of clothing, called “Andrew Charles.”

Was it hard adjusting to New York after all the years you spent in Elmira?

Absolutely, I found it really difficult, being in one place for 48 years and then moving to a big city.

The noise alone was deafening to me and I lived in an apartment after I had always lived in houses.

How did people treat you here, as the sister of a fashion icon?

Some people would be mesmerized by my last name until they realized I was just a normal person. People are funny. Some people would ask why I worked since Tommy is my brother and I’d say,  ‘Do you have a brother or sister who does well? Do they support you?’

When did you start to work for Tommy?


Tell me about the foundation.

Tommy started it 10 years ago. He was always very generous but he wanted to do something to make a difference.

Tommy wanted to give back, to do something for women and children. First, he became involved with the Fresh Air Fund and started Camp Tommy, for kids. Then he became involved with the Race to Erase MS, because of our sister. He also became interested in UNICEF and breast cancer. Most recently, he gave $5 million to the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC.

Does the foundation work with a set number of charities?

A team decides on the sponsorships and fundraising events. Tommy remembers his humble beginnings and is very charitable.

What aspect of the foundation do you work on?

As Director of Community Affairs, I work with New York City homeless shelters, the New York City Food Bank, the Ronald McDonald House, The Fresh Air Fund and with many other organizations. I also host tours of the company for college students interested in fashion.

Do you see Tommy much?

He’s not here on a daily basis anymore, but when he’s here, he’ll stop by my desk or call me and say, ‘Come on over’ or ‘Let’s go get lunch.’

Switching direction, what’s your favorite restaurant in New York?

I like Artisanal Bistro. The fondue is fun to eat.

I read that you had to have your pancreas removed a few years ago. How does that affect what you eat?

The pancreas produces insulin, so when it’s removed, you get diabetes. I must watch my carbohydrate and sugar intake. I’m pretty good about testing myself, so even if I do splurge and have a piece of pie, I just make sure that I’ve given myself enough insulin. I’m very good about watching it. I have an insulin pump that I change every three days. It acts like a little pretend pancreas.

How do you define your style?

It’s classic with a twist. I might wear something really bright, like a navy blue blazer with a really bright blouse. Or I’ll wear a really bright belt on a black shirtwaist. I am sooo classic.

Whose clothes do you like the best?

Of course, I love Tommy Hilfiger and Ginny H. I’m waiting for the Andrew Charles line to hit the market.

What’s your favorite perfume?

Beach by Bobbi Brown. I smelled it on my sister-in-law.  When I told her I loved it, she reached into her purse and gave me the perfume. It’s very light and pretty and smells like a breath of fresh air.

Do you have a favorite book?

I adore The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I read it four times and was almost late for my sister’s wedding because I was reading it and couldn’t put it down. I really like Dominique, maybe because we’re so different.

Passion projects?

Gardening and decorating are my passions.

Do you have a lot of friends who are celeb types?

I have no celebrity friends. Ten of my best friends are from kindergarten and nursing school. We’re all best friends.

We’re scattered around but twice a year we meet different places. I’m on the phone all the time with these girls. I have a huge network of best friends. They all know me and I know everything about them and they are just amazing, just wonderful women.

Note on the Tommy Hilfiger Archives: Over 80,000 items that have been collected by Tommy for over 40 years in the Corporate Closet. Among these include: Marilyn Monroe’s jeans and cowboy boots, Elton John’s platform boots and Tina Turner’s dress and heels. The current designers often borrow clothing from the closet for inspiration.

“The photos are of me showing a few of the vintage Tommy pieces. The studded jacket is made of very heavy leather and was worn by a famous Rock n Roller… I think maybe Lenny Kravitz or Mick Jagger! The plaid dress is one Tommy bought in London at a vintage shop.”

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