Uncompromising & Visionary: Remembering Norman Hilton

Ivy Style had the somber privilege of sharing the news of Norman Hilton‘s death back in 2012, and now, lest his name be forgotten at this tumultuous time in American retailing and American society, we revisit this post. May it serve as a reminder that the qualities of being both uncompromising and visionary can carry you through the ups and downs, especially when wedded to goodness, as in good taste.

Upon his death, Hilton’s son Nick, who also works in menswear, said the following to the trade publication MR:

Perhaps the best word to describe my dad is ‘uncompromising.’ In every aspect of his life, he never settled: it had to be hand-sewn button-through throat latches on his sportcoats, gold-stamped Tiffany stationery, John Lobb shoes. When he wanted to add neckwear to his collection, he hired Ralph Lauren. Nothing but the best: every detail perfect.

Norman Hilton was a visionary. Hired to build the Burberry brand in America, he didn’t sell raincoats; he sold British heritage. He had an amazing ability to see the bigger picture.

From my dad, I learned everything about piece goods, about why two-ply English cloth works better for tailored clothing than flimsy Italian fabrics. He was never afraid of high prices: his clothing was for customers who wanted the best and that’s what he gave them. But more than any of this, my father was an incredibly generous man. The outpouring of love and affection at his funeral will stay with me always.

12 Comments on "Uncompromising & Visionary: Remembering Norman Hilton"

  1. Orthodox Trad | February 8, 2012 at 8:39 am |

    Norman Hilton and the clothing he produced were the real thing. He didn’t pander or capitulate to revisionists.

  2. Boston Bean | February 9, 2012 at 4:38 am |

    One can’t help but wonder what Mr. Hilton would say about slim-cut OCBDs.

  3. Bill Stephenson | February 9, 2012 at 8:24 am |

    It was not until his departure last year that I stopped to think about the marvelous contributions that Mr Hilton made to our culture. Yes, top quality garments, but much more.

    Ralph Lauren owes his start to Mr Hilton. as you know. RL would have probably made it without Mr Hilton recognizing the talent of the former BB tie salesman, but you never know. RL stock hit a new high yesterday. It is great to see people like RL prosper, and help countless others to succeed, with him. “The rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say is that it all started with an unknown, being backed by Mr Hilton.

    To this day, Mr Hilton still has an impact. Nick revived the line, and the Southwick jacket is an exact duplicate of the gorge and button placement of the original NH line that Christian featured recently.

  4. Just chatted with Charlie Davidson, and one of the things that came up was the loss of Hilton (Charlie didn’t know). He compliment him highly, saying his choice of pattern and color for his suitings was “almost magical,” and despite how original they were, they actually sold.

    Charlie says when he picks unusual fabrics they don’t sell, “even though I know I’m right.”

  5. The world needs more men like Norman Hilton.

    Sometimes I wonder if the market has changed so much in recent years, that it would be impossible to do something as uncompromising, as he did. Most of what we see nowadays is just halfway good, but never really just good.


  6. It wouldn’t be as good. I’ll grant as much. But it could still be done. There are a handful of Scottish mills and weavers who don’t deal directly with the public. They work with tailors, and, as necessary, maybe with a few cloth brokers (quietly). They make amazing two, three, and four ply worsteds. And burly woolens. One could as the folks at Breanish, Magee, Lovat, and Fox to create short runs of the good stuff–16 oz. Shetland hopsacks, Donegal mists in a multitude of shades, Woollen flannels that put anything in the Holland & Sherry flannel books to shame. And on and on. One could ask the folks at Acorn to weave a real beefy Oxford (not the flimsy stuff seen everywhere)in white, yellow, and the perfect steel blue. At least a few shirtmakers will make a longer unlined ocbd. Add details as wished for. Imagine what Vanners and Atkinsons could do if challenged: repps and challis and Irish Poplin. Short runs. Seasonal. Every year, something new. Different weights, different colors. Stripes, neats, emblematics galore. It could be done. Enough of the same old.

    As for the style: I know of only a few tailors who can pull off that shoulder. Better than soft. Better than what passes for natural. Mr. Hilton’s cut-and-sew guys in Linden were Italian tailors who knew how to do it perfectly. A few of them are still around.

    It could be done. The mills, weavers, and tailors are out there. Stylists and professional designers, and haberdashers who would insist upon a substantial profit take, would ruin any serious effort. Profit means cutting corners on cloth and construction. Profit means picking whatever’s available in the same cloth books every haberdasher in the country has.

    It could be argued that the people in the middle–the retailers–are to blame for the downward spiral of this look. And nearly everything else that’s gone straight to hell.

    So, small groups of a committed few can bypass retailers. They can go in on group purchases of the good stuff, and find the master tailors who work directly with clients.

  7. Mills and weavers in England and Ireland too, of course.

  8. ‘Gionshōja no kane no koe. Shōgyomujō no hibiki ari’, ‘The bell of Gion Temple recalls the impermanence of all things’

  9. I am the daughter of William ( Billy) Hilton.
    Judith Ann Hilton
    Married my mother; Barbara Factor( max Factor)
    Had me when my Dad was 34 mother 191/2 years old in BH .ive been trying to meet my Dads family

  10. My mom was a seamstress at the Linden location for many, many years. I knew she sewed men’s jackets for suits but had no idea she partook in making history. Ironically, my son has a love of fine clothing, but unfortunately, was too late to obtain one of these fine Hilton suits. I wish I had known then, what I know now.

  11. The combination of masterful tailoring, superb cloth, and the overall “cool” vibe of the ad copy (always aimed at the older professional) — When I think about Norman Hilton clothing, an island in a sea of Heyday mediocrity, this Bill Evans classic comes to mind:


    Neither “swingin” nor kitschy. Soft, mellow, beautiful.

  12. Ned Pendarvis | September 30, 2022 at 3:32 pm |

    I bought my first Norman Hilton sport coat in 1964. I was going off to college. Bone buttons I remember. Paid $90 for it. It served me well. I’m sure I couldn’t wear it now but I loved that coat. The center vent was about 4 inches. 3 button.

Comments are closed.