During the heyday of the Ivy League Look, Norman Hilton was a leading natural-shoulder brand sold at many campus shops and regional clothiers. Hilton was also Ralph Lauren’s first major investor, and made many of Lauren’s suits and sportcoats in the ’70s.
His son Nick Hilton has continued the family tradition, running a clothing shop in Princeton and using the Norman Hilton label for custom suits priced in the $2,400 range.
But now Nick is in the process of relaunching Norman Hilton as a brand sold at better menswear shops nationwide.
The wholesale enterprise is being funded by a retired hedge fund manager operating under the name The Original Natural Shoulder Company, who believes the timing is right to bring back a ’60s-inspired Ivy League-style tweed sportcoat.
The first batch of test jackets was announced October 15 in an email newsletter from Nick Hilton entitled “The Return of Haute Ivy.” Hilton says the jacket is “beyond my wildest expectations” and that initial response has been great.
Priced at $695, the Hampton model, as it is known, is available in six Scottish tweeds and a navy hopsack. It is made in New York’s garment district at a facility that also makes the suits for Ralph Lauren Purple Label women’s collection. The three-button jacket features a removable throat latch, long lapel roll, undarted front, and three-inch lapel. “Three and a half inches was too wide and 2.5 too narrow,” says Hilton.
He chose the contractor after searching carefully for one who understood soft construction. The jacket features natural shoulders and the least amount of chest lining possible to keep the jacket’s front from buckling, Hilton says.
But the biggest challenge was finding a suitmaker who understood what Hilton calls a true 3/2 roll lapel. The top buttonhole should not lie flat and facing outwards, he says. This is the result of poor manufacturing or botched dry cleaning. A true Ivy-style sportcoat should roll gradually to the second button, and to do this requires carefully tailored “spring” at the gorge, where the collar meets the lapel. It was nearly impossible to find a pattern maker or manufacturer who understood this, he says.
The Hampton model is not yet pictured on the Nick Hilton website, but is available by mail order. For more information, call (609) 921-8160. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD