Designer Tommy Hilfiger has played a leading role in the world of fashion since he was 18. So it's no surprise that his foray nearly 15 years ago into a different arena -- giving back -- was done with style.
The red, white, and blue ski jackets he designed for the Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis were an instant hit at a fundraiser. "Everybody loved them," Hilfiger, 59, recalls.
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Elissa Levy, a 37-year-old with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), is living proof of the unpredictability of this progressive neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.
Soon after being diagnosed in January 2002, her physical status plummeted quickly. The former fitness buff who regularly skied and jogged describes the overwhelming MS-induced fatigue that plagued her almost daily. "Sometimes my eyes...
That was just the beginning of his relationship with the foundation as well as a personal friendship with Davis, the daughter of Marvin Davis, a businessman in the oil and entertainment industry. Shortly after his fashionable contribution, Davis asked Hilfiger to be on the foundation's board of directors and serve as co-chair of the annual fundraising gala, Race to Erase MS. He eagerly accepted.
His involvement was particularly apt -- his younger sister has MS, a neurological disease that attacks the central nervous system, resulting in problems with muscle control, vision, balance, and sensation (such as numbness). MS affects about 400,000 Americans, with around 200 new diagnoses per week, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Since she was first diagnosed when he was a teen, Hilfiger has watched Dorothy, 58, struggle with the condition. "When you see someone's life change as a result of a disease, it really hits home," Hilfiger says. "I'm a healthy person, and I'm very grateful being able to get up in the morning. Seeing [Dorothy] suffer makes me feel that I should be able to do something.”
Hilfiger and the Race to Erase MS
Since he joined the board in 1995, Hilfiger has regularly participated in fashion shows and golf tournaments to promote the foundation's mission and help raise funds and awareness. Davis founded the charitable organization in 1993, two years after she was diagnosed with MS, and to date has raised more than $30 million to help find a cure for MS.
"I've watched Nancy relentlessly grow the organization," Hilfiger says. "I just wanted to be able to help out the best way I could.”
This year, the Race to Erase MS gala is on April 29 in Los Angeles and primarily funds Davis' Center Without Walls program, which links seven multidisciplinary scientific programs and experts across the country to advance research toward finding a cure.
"Hopefully, [that] will happen sooner rather than later," Hilfiger says. "If I could help out, I would do whatever I could possibly do, but certainly now the doctors are the ones who really deserve all the credit."