Ivy Trendwatch: The Return of Norman Hilton

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

14 Comments on "Ivy Trendwatch: The Return of Norman Hilton"

  1. Looks very nice. Would have liked patch pockets on at least one or two of these, but I may still pick one up.

  2. Are these fully canvassed or half canvassed?

  3. Naturally I asked that question but the answer was so long I left it out of the story. Basically it’s fully canvassed but with spot fusing. They used their own method of construction, basically.

    You’d need to get the long version from Nick.

  4. On the store website is an interesting account by Nick Hilton of his father’s involvement in the start of Polo Fashions, Inc.

  5. Those are some handsome jackets. Thanks for the head’s up!

  6. These look like proper 2-button jackets without that absurd top

  7. Except that there is the absurd top buttonhole.

    Been there a long time:


  8. NaturalShoulder | October 27, 2010 at 7:50 am |

    Looks promising. I may pick one up.

  9. Keith mansel | October 27, 2010 at 12:09 pm |

    The entire Natural shoulder, sack suit look centers around the top buttonhole

  10. They are beautiful!

  11. Do the patterns match?

  12. Christian, Thank you for bringing this to the table. The jackets look very comfortable. I do enjoy the items that I have bought from Nick, I must look at these.
    Thanks again.

  13. Love these, but can someone PLEASE start bringing back a skinnier lapel, take IVY , please… i recently found an old suit from a local long-gone university shop (“Vaughn at Sather Gate”) in Berkeley…american made, 3 button, skinny lapels…. man it goes DUMB!

  14. Dead center new American classic three button odd jackets. Not bad, not bad at all.

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