SPECIAL STYLES: “Our motto is: ‘What makes a specialty store special.’ We specialize in custom design, and we call it comfortable elegance. That is reflected in the ambiance of the shop. There is a certain image geared to people who want to look nice.” Nick and Jennifer Hilton, owners of Nick Hilton Princeton, offer the finest apparel for men and women.
Sophisticated, elegant, and tailored clothing for men and women is the specialty at Nick HIlton Princeton. The unique studio store at 221 Witherspoon Street, opened in 2001, and has become an important resource for Princeton clients looking for fine quality fashion.
Classic American-styled clothes, many made in Italy, are highlighted, and owner Nick HIlton is a master of customized menswear, featuring comfortable elegance. The award-winning stylist represents the fourth generation of his family to dress American men. The client list includes U.S. presidents, statesmen, captains of industry, entertainers, and sports figures. Mr. Hilton’s classic yet individual designs have been featured in GQ Magazine, among others.
“My great-grandfather Joseph Hilton and his brothers came from Russia in the 1880s, and started a custom-tailoring shop,” recalls Mr. Hilton. “They opened a series of shops, called Joseph Hilton & Sons, and eventually there were 10 stores in New York and New Jersey. The name was later changed to Browning King & Co.
“My grandfather Alex Hilton, and my father Norman Hilton continued in the business. After graduating from Princeton and serving in the Navy in World War II, my father later created the Norman Hilton Country Line. He established a wholesale business that we never had before.”
Nick Hilton wasn’t quite sure whether to follow in the fashion footsteps of his forebears, but in fact, the interest was there, and he started out in Italy, working for a trouser manufacturer. When he returned to the U.S., he became a salesman for the family business, and found that he was to wear many hats.
“By 1975, I was head stylist, buyer, and salesman, and in 1980, I became president of the company.”
His real interest was in design, however, with a focus on softer tailoring and subtle patterns. His designs emphasized an international updated traditional style. “It’s not fashion in the sense of anything trendy or a novelty,” he notes. “We reinvent and update tradition.”
Having moved to the Princeton area in 1980, Mr. Hilton was familiar with the menswear business here, and in September 2001, he decided to open his own studio. “Originally, we had sports coats, trousers, shirts, and ties, and only our own label,” he recalls. “Then we added Hickey Freeman suits, and also sportswear, sweaters, and jeans. We now have pajamas and robes, which are very popular.
“There are definite trends in the men’s line,” he continues. “Jackets are fitted more closely to the body. Our leather jackets are styled more like blazers, with a sleeker look, and the outerwear is sleeker too. They are also multi-functional. It’s not just a rain coat, for example, but a car coat. It can be worn over a suit, and it’s waterproof, as well as lightweight. Another thing, pleated pants are just about obsolete.”
In addition to Mr. Hilton’s own designs, new lines are available this season. “New this year is the Italian duffle coat from Gimo’s and Allegri outerwear. They are cashmere, treated with Teflon, and are waterproof. We have also brought in Allen Edmonds dress shoes, Wolverine boots, and Martin Dingman informal moccasin-style.”
Easy-care, wrinkle-resistant Eton dress shirts, are very popular, and along with folded handkerchiefs, silk handprinted pocket squares are a favorite accent piece.
Cashmere scarves, also reversible scarves with wool and silk on either side, gloves from England will all get guys ready for winter. Lightweight sweaters continue to be in demand, and dark olive is a popular color generally.
Suits at Nick Hilton range from $795 to $2000 and are of the highest quality fabric, including very fine wool. Sports coats are tweed, fine wool, cashmere, and silk and wool blends.
The shop includes a number of displays featuring ensembles which Mr. Hilton has coordinated to show how different colors, textures, and patterns can work together. “I enjoy helping guys and turning them on to style. I like creating a loyal customer, gaining his trust, and assisting him with his wardrobe. We always help with advice and help him put an outfit together. A large part of the business is custom. The customers who come here care about clothes, and are willing to invest in quality apparel.”
And, it’s not just men who will find the answer to their wardrobe needs. In 2006, women’s clothing was added, and that has been a big success.
“In the fall of 2005, we noticed that men were buying shearling coats for their wives,” explains Mr. Hilton. “We wanted to offer sophisticated, elegant, tailored clothing that women would enjoy wearing.”
“We brought in jackets, blouses, T-shirts, dresses, and scarves,” adds Jennifer Hilton, who is the buyer for the women’s department. “We have a lot of new lines this season, including, for the first time, Moschino Cheap and Chic, also Greenstone outerwear from Holland, Missoni, Rachel Ray, Philosophy, and Jackett soft suede jackets that are machine-washable. They are extremely popular.”
In fact, a customer walked in the store wearing one! “I love it,” said the Princeton resident and long-time Nick Hilton customer. “I like to come here often. It’s the quality of the clothes and the personal attention that are so special.”
“We also have a lot of dresses now,” continues Ms. Hilton. “They are primarily dresses that can be worn to work, but many are day-to-evening, very versatile, and can be worn to events in the evening. We are also seeing lots of bright colors now, and also prints and patterns. And scarves with color blocks are very popular in different combinations, including in cashmere.”
Also popular at the store is Barbour rainwear. “This is a special favorite of younger women, including Princeton University students,” she adds. “It’s fleece-lined, lightweight, warm, and waterproof. And it is popular with all ages too.”
Helping women to look their best is important to Ms. Hilton. “I love my customers. They come in regularly to see what’s new, and we always have something special to show them. They are all ages, and they come from Princeton and the area, including Bucks County.”
Quality is the hallmark at Nick Hilton Princeton both for men’s and women’s apparel, adds Mr. Hilton. “Quality depends on three things. One, it should stand the test of time and be durable and classic. Two, comfort is key. The garment should move with you, and the texture should be comfortable and pleasant to wear. Three, it should be aesthetically beautiful and include classical elements, such as color tone (a palette of colors that go together), content and composition.”
Nick Hilton Princeton offers tailoring and alterations, gift certificates, sales in January and July, and on-line shopping.
“We have had 11 years of uninterrupted growth, and I look forward to that continuing,” says Mr. Hilton. “How people dress and how they look is important. It can also be a sign of respect for others.”
As for himself, he says, with a smile: “I like to be dressed. I like to go around in a shirt and tie. I like to dress up. It gives me a kick!”
The studio store is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 10 to 5. (609) 921-8160. Website: www.nickhilton.com.