Kathy Hilton has spent decades splitting her time among the New York and Beverly Hills social set and overseeing the happenings among her brood of four children, Paris, Nicky, Conrad and Barron, with husband Rick Hilton. She simultaneously plays protector and mediator to her two younger sisters, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills stars Kim and Kyle Richards, while lending herself to a myriad of charities.
After decades spent traveling the globe, occupying front row seats at fashion shows and walking red carpets, Kathy Hilton has harnessed her access to fashion’s finest and her own creative inspiration to create her debut fashion line, The Kathy Hilton Collection. The line of “special occasion dresses,” as Kathy puts it, ranges from shorter cocktail dresses to floor length gowns, all designed with meticulous attention to detail and craftsmanship.
From baby doll chic and long flowing chiffon to layered fabrics and classic LBDs, Hilton’s collection offers looks that are right off of 5th Avenue and Rodeo Drive, at a more down-to-earth price point.
During our conversation, Hilton was clear that The Kathy Hilton Collection is not a vanity project, but a labor of love for the Hilton matriarch. From working her own trade show booths to hours spent pouring over samples and fabric swatches, Hilton is committed to a specific aesthetic and high level of detail for each dress that is stamped with her brand name. Hilton also tells me that she loves her one-on-one interaction with customers, and that she takes their input to heart when designing the next season’s collection.
Of course we also managed to squeeze in some talk time about Hilton’s two famous daughters, Nicky and Paris Hilton, her younger sisters Kim and Kyle Richards and how the media’s scrutiny of her family over the years has taught her to live life on her own terms.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): Since you grew up in a home filled with girls how did that affect your personality and your style sensibilities?
Kathy Hilton: I would say growing up with two sisters, and my mother, who I loved and adored, and who was so elegant and loved fashion, we all love fashion yet we all have different tastes and style.
PR.com: What did you learn from your mom, and what do you emulate about her sense of style to this day?
Kathy Hilton: She was very glamorous. There are times I like to dress glamorous but then there are times I like to just be a little bit more... a little simpler. I have many different personalities, as you’ll see in my collection (The Kathy Hilton Collection).
PR.com: I’m not much of a fashion person. I’m usually in sweats and a tank top (laughs), but when I saw your dresses I wanted to reach through the computer and grab them. They are so beautiful! Your collection doesn’t show too much skin. The dresses are just very feminine and ethereal.
Kathy Hilton: They are very lady-like and feminine, and there are some that are very sexy. But I’ve also traveled a lot and I understand different styles. This all started because we have to go to a lot of events, and going into the stores and seeing the prices and how expensive things are; everybody is cutting back from this economy. I really wanted something for me, for my nieces, for my sisters, for my daughters, for all of their friends and for women that love beauty [and] quality. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel and wear all of the very wonderful designers and go to all the shows, and so I really love fashion. But I wanted something for everyone.
PR.com: Do you think people would be surprised to hear you say that you’re uncomfortable with some of the prices in the high-end stores?
Kathy Hilton: I think my friends who know me understand. Everybody feels like that. It’s just gotten out of hand. And it’s kind of, not cool to be doing that.
PR.com: Of all the countries you’ve visited, which country’s fashion has inspired you the most?
Kathy Hilton: I would have to say France and Italy. [The clothes] are just very elegant, very lady-like. You look at some of these dresses and it’s like everything [but] the kitchen sink is on the dress. There’s just too much going on, and I feel like you should wear the dress, the dress shouldn’t wear you. And I love to accessorize, too. I love to take a dress and be able to wear it in the day if I have to, and then dress it up and take it into the evening, like with my short dresses.
PR.com: I love the shorter cocktail dresses in your collection that have the layering with eyelet fabric coming up to the neckline.
Kathy Hilton: The eyelet, yes, and then there’s the beautiful silk charmeuse underneath. I love layering it like that. I’m glad you noticed that.
PR.com: Loved it!
Kathy Hilton: We’re doing a lot of layering for fall and for the holidays.
PR.com: Are you picking out all of the fabrics yourself?
Kathy Hilton: Oh yes! I’m not a professional drawer but I have all my little samples and then there’s certain samples that are too expensive to buy in America, so we send out our wish list, and then from China they send back to us the different colors to get as close as we can get, so we can keep to our price point.
PR.com: And your daughter, Nicky, didn’t she study fashion in New York?
Kathy Hilton: She did. I have not, but, you know, I’ve lived it [through] traveling and wearing the clothes. I got married at nineteen so I was thrown into that world and I was on the charity circuit. [I was] married young and going out to dinners, and going out to events almost every single night of the week.
PR.com: Do Paris and Nicky collaborate with you at all or is this dress collection strictly your thing?
Kathy Hilton: This is my thing, and I like to surprise them.
PR.com: How many dresses do each of them have from your collection?
Kathy Hilton: I would say they each have maybe, oh, six dresses, eight dresses… maybe a dozen.
Kathy Hilton: But then I have to grab them back sometimes for photo shoots.
PR.com: I read in a New York Post article that you actually named certain dresses after your daughters Paris and Nicky and after actresses Angelina Jolie and the late Audrey Hepburn.
Kathy Hilton: Well, Audrey Hepburn was an inspiration, Carrie Underwood, and then I have [a dress] that is one of my favorites, and it’s called “Dinner at La Grenouille,” which is my favorite French restaurant in New York. When I’m drawing something it could start with being outside. It could be at a museum. I could be looking at a frame on a 17th century piece of art and see the lace in that, and literally start scribbling it. And then I’ll see a color. I just looked at a beautiful jewelry catalog from Gump’s with the most beautiful colors for next spring. I don’t go with the trends. A lot of these are vintage inspired and classic. I don’t want to be trendy. I want [the dresses] to be classic, and I want someone to feel like a million dollars in my dress without breaking the bank.
PR.com: You are in collaboration with Mon Cheri for this line. How did that collaboration come about?
Kathy Hilton: They approached me about a year and a half ago. It’s every woman’s, every girl’s dream to be able to design. I thought what perfect, perfect timing, and I think there’s great room for this. Because when you go on to the floor of where my things sell which is $350.00 to $600.00, there are not a lot of choices. And if there are, it’s all for teenagers. Some of [my] dresses look like they are two and three thousand dollars.
PR.com: I think the price point is so perfect for women in their twenties or thirties…
Kathy Hilton: Or forties!
PR.com: Or forties, or fifties, absolutely. I would never spend thousands of dollars on a cocktail dress, for example. Particularly, not since I’ve had my son.
Kathy Hilton: We all have to think about what is really important, and that is our children and their education. To be blowing money at a time like this, or any time, I don’t think many people are doing it.
PR.com: Once you become a parent you tend to be extra diligent about where every dollar goes.
Kathy Hilton: Yes, you are so right. You know what I started to do? Buy pieces of art with my children in mind. I’ll say, “Well this is going to be Paris’s,” and “This is going to be Nicky’s,” and “This will be for the boys.” When I save up any extra money that is what I’m doing. And it also inspires me, for my work.
PR.com: There’s a statement that you made, I think it was last year on the show you did with Paris for the Oxygen Network. You told Paris that at one point in your life you thought it was very important how other people perceived you, and now you realize that it shouldn’t matter how others perceive you. Where did that epiphany come from?
Kathy Hilton: I read a quote, “It’s none of your business what other people think of you.” We’ve gone through a lot as a family and perception is not always reality. People make judgments and things can get exaggerated; even positive stories, perhaps, in a magazine. I’ve learned to read between the lines and to really see what some of the journalists do. I know who I am. I’m a good person, I give back and I’ve been in philanthropy since I was a teenager. I’m very involved and I raise a lot of money. I’m nice to people, I’m thoughtful and I really like myself. Everyone wants to be liked. Everyone wants a pat on the back and to be respected. I mean, I think when you lose that and you say, “Well, I don’t care,” then that’s not good either. In my family, I want everybody to do the best that they can and to be good people.
PR.com: So maybe a lot of the public ups and downs were actually a blessing in disguise.
Kathy Hilton: Absolutely, it’s a blessing in disguise.
PR.com: For some reason, thirty was the magic age for me. Ever since I turned thirty, I just don’t care what other people think as much.
Kathy Hilton: You do your best. You can’t wake up in the morning and say, “I’m going to have a bad attitude and do things that would be hurtful to people, and then say ‘I don’t really care what people think.’” But when you know that you do try your best I think you can get to that point, and I’m sure that is how you feel. We are all humans. Nobody is more special than anyone else. We are all just people.
PR.com: Right. And it’s about honoring your authentic self, and not looking for outside approval from others.
Kathy Hilton: Exactly. But you have to go through that seeking approval before you can get to the point that you and I have [gotten to].
PR.com: Can you recall what your best look ever was? And what was the occasion?
Kathy Hilton: I like myself in a really tailored pair of jeans with a button-down shirt and a navy blazer. I think that’s a great look for me, for daytime. It depends on where I am going. This weekend I am going to Las Vegas so I will probably bring some black sequent pretty top with a pair of black pants and some fun shoes, and that’s where I bring out a little of my sparkle. Also, if it’s going to be all gussied up on top, then the skirt part or the pants should be simple.
Kathy Hilton: Unless you’re wearing a formal ball gown. And I love to do that too.
PR.com: How was the experience of putting together your fashion show at The Grove in Los Angeles? Did you have Paris and Nicky modeling the dresses, along with some other runway models?
Kathy Hilton: Nicky was in New York so I said to Paris, “Would you please come? I would like for you, your cousins and both of my sisters to be there.” I thought, how fun would that be, with Mother’s Day coming up, to do something like that? And they loved the idea. Maria Menounos had broken her leg so the dress that I had picked for her, my niece had on. [Maria] needed something long to cover her leg. It was a little chaotic but it was a lot of fun. And boy, I have learned a lot!
PR.com: A lot of people will automatically assume that because you have a famous last name you basically licensed out your name and are kind of just sitting back. It’s important for people to know that you’re rolling up your sleeves and doing the majority of the work.
Kathy Hilton: You better believe it. In fact, you’re right, most licensees are extremely passive. My name is on this and it has to reflect me and many of my different personalities. It’s not just a collection where it’s one type of dress. I have traveled the world and I’ve always been inspired looking at the women walking down the streets in Paris or London, or being in Dubai or Hong Kong or Mexico City. I love to people-watch. I am too much of a control freak. Even when it comes to my house, I’ve got to scour the entire [Pacific] Design building, go to San Francisco, go to every single vintage swap meet, be in London, be in Paris, and in Italy going down those streets in sandals with my feet boiling and blistering, going into every damn store before I can make a decision.
PR.com: Wow! Ok, I get you. You are very passionate and specific about what aesthetics you choose to surround yourself with.
Kathy Hilton: Yes. Sometimes I feel I am a pain in the butt. I know my name is on the label, not somebody else’s. And I’m proud of that.
PR.com: Do you think the Kathy Hilton Collection is being critiqued on its own merit, or do you think there is any prejudice one way or another because you’re a “celebrity” who decided to become a fashion designer?
Kathy Hilton: I don’t consider myself a celebrity. Actually, I’ll be honest with you. The department stores were all curious to see the line and they were saying that they were kind of surprised, just like you. They said it was one of the freshest, most beautifully well-priced [lines], so fresh and different. And they all ordered. And it’s very hard to get into those stores so that did give me a lot of confidence.
PR.com: Let’s talk pop culture, which just happens to involve your sisters. What are your thoughts on your two sisters, Kim and Kyle Richards, being a part of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise?
Kathy Hilton: In the beginning I thought this could be a great opportunity. This could be a platform to do a lot of nice things, to have a voice, to give back; and also for business. Everybody’s looking at these shows to brand themselves and it’s a great opportunity. But you have to give back too, and so they have both been doing a lot of charity work. When I watched the first season and then when I saw what happened on the first season’s finale… Paris and I were here watching that finale together. My mother is no longer here and I broke down, and I felt so bad that I didn’t have her, I missed my mom. It was just heart-breaking that my family could fall apart like that so I didn’t watch the second season at all. I was very upset. I kind of skimmed through the end when they did the reunion. I was only interested in watching Kim and Kyle. I think they’re doing well now, though. They better! At the end of the day, your health, your family, and your friends are the only thing that matters.
PR.com: Had you originally been approached to be on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?
Kathy Hilton: I was working on something else. But I think this should be an interesting season (laughs). How would you feel if you were me?
PR.com: How would I feel if I were you? Well, I’m a private person so I don’t know. I just feel that once you open that can, the worms just keep jumping out (laughs). I plead the fifth.
Kathy Hilton: Right. We never had that with our family in any of the reality shows. The shows were not mean-spirited, they were funny.
PR.com: The show you did with Paris (The World According To Paris) was not mean-spirited at all. I actually thought it was nice watching the relationship between the two of you.
Kathy Hilton: It was fun to be able to spend time with Paris, and it was like therapy. I wanted there to be messages. I think that is when a show is something worth watching. Like with Brooke Mueller I thought that was an interesting message by me saying to her, “Listen [addiction] is nothing to be ashamed of, this is a disease. Don’t feel ashamed.” Because what happens is, these people get into this rut and then they get depressed. They try to get sober, but then they go, “Oh screw it, I don’t care,” and they start getting high again because of the guilt and the shame. Did you see that episode?
PR.com: I did, and my first reaction was that I couldn’t believe that was included in an episode of the show.
Kathy Hilton: Because it was real. This is 100% real. They didn’t show the part when Brooke came up and I was in bed. I was in bed with my mouth guard on, my sleeping mask, I was a mess! I saw this little light peering through and [Brooke] was like “Kathy, Kathy!” There was fighting going on with me yelling at her telling her not to feel guilty and saying, “Let’s get you some help for goodness sake.”
PR.com: How is Brooke doing? Is she ok?
Kathy Hilton: She’s doing well. You know, it’s an everyday battle. And I don’t know if you saw the episode where Paris and I were talking and she was like “I feel like everybody hates me.” That broke my heart. Did you see that episode?
PR.com: I did.
Kathy Hilton: I said, “You know what? I’m getting to a point where people can just go blow a horn.” And I was trying to teach her, “You’re doing the best that you can.” I don’t remember the whole thing but there was a message in that for other people so that if they are feeling that way that you don’t beat yourself up.
PR.com: That was the moment I was referring to earlier where Paris said something to you like, “You used to tell me that other people’s opinions mattered,” and you said something like, “Well I changed my mind, I don’t believe that anymore.”
Kathy Hilton: I feel you kind of have to pick up and move forward. You can’t just be feeling sorry for yourself. Sure, I still care what people think, but I don’t obsess on it anymore because I got to a point where I know who I am. Not everybody is going to like everybody but as long as you do the right thing, I believe in life what goes around, comes around for sure. I try to have good energy, because if you don’t it’s like a rubber band that comes back and gets you.
PR.com: I would love to see Paris de-glam, go somewhere on a humanitarian mission and come back to report on it.
Kathy Hilton: What people don’t realize is that she does a lot of things very quietly. We have a lot of events at our home, where there are no cameras. We work very closely with Starlight [Children’s Foundation] and Make-A-Wish [Foundation], and we do not allow any press in. We don’t allow the parents to bring cameras in. We play with the kids, we color with them, we go out and do duck-duck-goose, we bake and we do arts and crafts. I think if you are going to do something nice you don’t have to have Entertainment Tonight following you around. Whatever country Paris is in, she will go to an orphanage, she will go visit children because that’s her thing. So you don’t see and hear all about that because then it looks like you are doing it for show. I have had my girls helping, whether it was stuffing goody bags or selling raffle tickets, getting involved with every single charity that I have ever been involved with since they were five or six years old.
PR.com: With the Kathy Hilton Collection, will you be putting out a new collection for each season, or are you putting the one collection out and adding some pieces over time?
Kathy Hilton: We have a whole new collection that will start shipping in August. We have the fall collection coming out and then the holiday collection coming out. I’m just finishing up spring 2013, so it’s all fresh, all new.
Kathy Hilton special occasion dresses are available at select Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue locations and at boutiques nationwide.
Visit kathyhilton.com to view dresses from The Kathy Hilton Collection (Twitter: @KHiltonDesign) and to find local stockists. Follow Kathy Hilton on Twitter @KathyHilton.