Norman Hilton, 1919-2011

Norman Hilton, who ran an eponymous Ivy League clothing brand and was Ralph Lauren’s first investor, died yesterday at the age of 92, his son Nick told

Hilton’s motto was “Doing One Thing Well” and his logo features a weathervane. Tonight it points not north or south, east or west, but towards the sky.

Below is a copy of Hilton’s obituary, provided by his son:

Norman Joseph Hilton, 92, passed away peacefully at his residence on St. Simons Island, on Monday October 31, 2011. Formerly a resident of Rumson, New Jersey, Mr. Hilton resided at Sea Island and St. Simons Island since 1995.

Born April 13, 1919 in Newark, New Jersey to Alexander and Lillian G. Hilton, Mr. Hilton attended Newark Academy and Princeton University. Upon graduation from Princeton in June, 1941, Hilton enrolled in graduate school, at Harvard Business School, in Cambridge. Mr. Hilton entered the U.S. Navy, achieving rank of Lieutenant, during World War II. He met Constance Carens of Wellesley, Massachusetts, in that period and the couple were wed in July, 1947.

Mr. Hilton entered his family’s 80-year-old clothing manufacturing and retail business and quickly became a pioneer of the emerging “Ivy League” look in menswear. His Norman Hilton brand of fine, traditional suits and sport jackets achieved nation-wide renown for quality and style, and his collection thrived for nearly five decades in men’s clothing stores from coast to coast.

In 1967, Mr. Hilton made the first significant investment in a business venture begun by a then-young employee by the name of Ralph Lauren, effectively making Hilton the man who helped to found Polo Ralph Lauren, now a multi-billion-dollar, worldwide enterprise.

Hilton was selected by Burberry of London to lead their efforts in the US, overseeing the growth of sales of the Burberry brand in America thirty-fold between 1975  and 1987. His ability to see the marketing potential of a brand and an idea were responsible for the continuing series of successful ventures to which he dedicated himself.

Mr. Hilton participated in the Board of Directors of Riverview Hospital in Red Bank, New Jersey.  He was an avid golfer and member of elite clubs, including Sea Island, Ocean Forest, Pine Valley, and the Royal Company of Edinburgh Golfers, at Muirfield, Scotland. He also was an avid New York Giants football supporter, and enjoyed walking for relaxation. Mr. Hilton was also a member of St. William Catholic Church on St. Simons Island.

Survivors include his wife of 64 years, Constance Hilton of St. Simons Island, three sons, Norman Junior (Nick) of Skillman, NJ, Alexander, of Oklahoma City, OK, and Dr. Thomas Hilton of Jacksonville, FL, as well as one daughter, Laura Hilton of Brunswick, GA, and thirteen grandchildren.

A memorial Mass will be held at 2PM Thursday at St. William Catholic Church on St. Simons Island with Monsignor John Kenneally and Father George Greenway officiating. Memorials may be made to Amity House or the charity of your choice.  Edo Miller and Sons Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

16 Comments on "Norman Hilton, 1919-2011"

  1. It’s a kind of chilling coincidence to learn that I was wearing a Norman Hilton blazer all day and had just removed it when I learned the news. The menswear world, and the history of Ivy clothing in particular, has lost a legend. My condolences to Nick and his family.

  2. Norman Hilton passes to the ages the memory of a man of wit and exquisite taste. He will be remembered as a Princetonian gentleman whose intellect and passion joined with his commercial talent as a pantheon of American Fashion History—-Richard Press

  3. A life well lived. He greatly contributed in shaping the look over all these years. It is a great testament that aficionados and new converts alike still seek the old label in the second hand market due to the quality, look and feel.

  4. Ken Pollock | November 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm |

    I, too, just happen to be wearing a Norman Hilton sport jacket today. I have dozens of his garments. He knew how to cut a jacket, had superb taste in fabric selection and made the finest TNSIL clothing which has ever been made. It is a shame that he is going to be most remembered for financing Ralph Lauren, because they were not in the same league. Ralph Lauren out-sourced most of its products, copied others and did nothing original, except to use a huge advertising budget to appeal to the masses.

  5. William in Portland, OR. | November 2, 2011 at 3:44 pm |

    I credit Norman Hilton for my attraction to Traditional American Men’s Clothing, not to be confused with what we now refer to as “Trad.” It’s been many years but one look at that Norman Hilton herringbone sport coat or that lovely tweed suit and I was hooked for life.

    Without a doubt he followed his motto of “Doing one thing well.”

    Norman Hilton made his mark. Rest in peace sir.

  6. Matthew Benz | November 2, 2011 at 4:07 pm |

    I have to admit I didn’t know much about Norman Hilton until I started reading about him today. Now I’m beginning to understand the enormous influence that he had on the clothes that I admire most. And that motto is one to live by. May he rest in peace.

  7. Richard Meyer | November 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm |

    George Frazier, in the magnificent “The Art Of Wearing Clothes”, credited Hilton for having the best styled American suits and jackets, and noted that he also made sport jackets for Brooks Brothers.

  8. The Duke of Windsor | November 2, 2011 at 6:25 pm |

    A sad loss for ivy style devotees. I’m sure heaven will be a little better dressed now.

  9. My vintage Norman Hilton items are among my very favorite. My gray herringbone sportcoat and my tweed suit are treasures I hope to wear for decades to come. RIP.

  10. Skip Clemmons | November 2, 2011 at 9:08 pm |

    My first good suit, and many of my favorites thereafter, and most of my favorite sport coats in the years since, have had his name inside, or have looked worthy to be his product. Since the departure of his brand, I have had Southwick, Samuelson, Zegna, and Oxxford, and others, but never with the enthusiasm that I have enjoyed my favorite Hiltons. I am glad to know he is in the Catholic section of Heaven. His faithful alumni always want to know where they can find a Hilton! I am sorry for your loss but happy for his legacy. Eternal rest grant unto him. And all best wishes for his family.

  11. I appreciated reading about this classy and important man- my condolences to his family…

  12. Sandy Swan Guidera | April 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm |

    Mr. Hiltons daughter Laura and I were roomates one year in boarding school .I have thought about Laura often over the years and am sorry to hear this sad news.

  13. Fiona McCabe | November 5, 2013 at 1:49 pm |

    He may have done some things well, but Norman Hilton was a notorious womanizer. His favorite lair was the New York Athletic Club where he performed marvelous feats of athleticism. Was always impeccably dressed however.

  14. I just went on the web to see how many of my old resources were still around; my first look was to see if Norman was still in business. My store in Lynchburg,VA closed in 1979. Hilton was my top of the line clothing maker. I sold more Hilton garments at their price than my competition sold other brands at much lower prices. Hilton was always my favorite resource and I admired Norman from the day I met him & I loved his philosophy which was his motto, “Doing One Thing Well”…and he did, better than the others. I am sorry to find that he left us in 2011.

    Bev Jordan, former owner of: “Jordan, Ltd.”

  15. see above

  16. Edward Pendarvis | March 17, 2014 at 10:57 am |

    I purchased my first Norman Hilton sport coat in 1964 for $90. That was a lot of money for a freshman beginning college that year. It was a favorite for many years. Since then I have bought other Norman Hilton clothes. They were well made and I very much enjoyed the quality tailoring that was involved.

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