Hilton was born in Newark, NJ and graduated from Princeton. He went to Harvard Business School before joining the Navy in WWII. He married Constance Carens in 1947. After the War, Hilton joined his family’s menswear business, which was founded in 1888.
Under his own label of suits and sport coats, Hilton was a promoter of the Ivy League look. He invested in Ralph Lauren’s new business in 1967. He worked with Burberry’s US business, growing their sales thirty-fold between 1975 and 1987.
His son, Nick Hilton, remembered him: “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.”
Norman Hilton is survived by his wife Constance; sons Norman Jr. (Nick), Alexander and Thomas; daughter Laura; and 13 grandchildren.