The US sportswear fashion business claims that some clothing on sale in the supermarkets was the work of counterfeiters and has served a writ seeking damages and a High Court injunction to stop the stores selling allegedly fake products
But Tesco immediately reacted by saying that it "absolutely believes" that the garments on sale are genuine and accused Tommy Hilfiger of trying to "muddy the waters" over the issue of selling designer labels in supermarkets. It added that there "would not be any issue if brands like Tommy Hilfiger agreed to supply us directly".
Undercover agents bought sample goods from 25 Tesco stores at the time of the promotion which started on Easter weekend. The company said that clothing was sent to the United States to be tested. A spokesman said that Tommy Hilfiger had carried out exhaustive "due diligence" studies to establish what was counterfeit, adding: "You do not go up against a company like Tesco without having done your homework first."
Tesco had bought the merchandise from unofficial sources - the so-called "grey market" - as part of drive to target designer labels which refuse to supply the chain on the grounds that their stores are not the right environment for expensive clothing.
The Hilfiger offer, available in 200 stores, is the latest in a series of high-profile attempts to sell leading brands at cheaper prices.
Tesco has targeted several designer labels in this way, starting with the sale of cheap Levi jeans and followed by offers on Calvin Klein clothes.
On Wednesday, to the fury of Umbro, it started selling official England and Scotland World Cup football shirts for about 25 per cent less than other British retailers.
A spokesman for Tommy Hilfiger said yesterday that the issue was not about Tesco selling its goods cheaply, but whether the customer was being sold counterfeit goods. "Tommy Hilfiger is a globally respected brand and we owe it to all our consumers that whenever they buy Tommy Hilfiger merchandise they can be sure it is genuine," said Fred Gehring, chief executive of Tommy Hilfiger Europe.
"We are therefore determined to take this legal action to stamp out the trade in counterfeit goods".
The writ, which includes a claim for damages, calls for an injunction to restrain Tesco from infringing trademarks and "passing off" clothing and accessories as having been made by Tommy Hilfiger.
The writ also calls for the supermarket chain to destroy all remaining allegedly counterfeit Hilfiger-branded items in its possession and to identify "all persons and corporations" which had supplied it with the allegedly counterfeit goods.
John Gildersleeve, a director of Tesco, said that if there was ever doubt about the authenticity of its goods, it would withdraw them inmediately.
"We don't understand why Tommy Hilfiger has taken this action now. We have been seeling their products for over seven weeks and have given them access to inspect the full range.
"They have repeatedly refused to meet us to discuss supply issues. We can only believe that this is a move to muddy the waters over the real issue of selective distribution - a system that brands operate to restrict supplies and maintain high prices."