Location: Montreal, Canada
Marital Status: Married
Education: B.A. in textiles from De Montfort University in England (formerly Leicester School of Art)
Because Hilary sees opportunity where most would see obstacle. “I don’t really like winter,” says Hilary. “But when I started designing, I realized it’s a natural fit in Canada. People have to wear coats.“
Age is no obstacle for Hilary, either. At 40 she had her first child (“I got him in under the wire, let’s put it like that”); in her 50s she got married; and at 52 she climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (“It was such a great feeling”).
Today, Hilary, 63, is one of the leading outerwear designers in North America. Her coats are sold at Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor, and she has recently expanded her collection to include handbags, shoes and scarves.
Talk about a second wind!
Besides bundling up in one of your coats, how do you endure the cold winters in Montreal?
I love to ski. I ski with my husband and son. It makes me feel fantastic. I do it to embrace the cold weather and stay fit. Skiing four runs is equivalent to two hours at the gym.
Where do you ski?
I have a place in Stowe, Vermont. I’ve had it for thirty years.
You have two residences?
I actually have three. I’m very lucky. I have a main residence in Montreal, a place in Vermont a nd another little flat available to me in New York.
Are you married?
Yes. We don’t have any children together but I have a son from a different marriage. We just visited him in Rio, where he’s studying. It was amazing. I also have four stepchildren.
How did you get into fashion?
I was raised in England, which had very good art programs. I always drew and I still love to draw and paint. When I was seven, my teachers told my parents that I should go to art school. I went at age 16. It was natural for me to study art in college. I went to De Montfort University where I studied textile and fashion design. It was a very creative and professional environment that produced some very good designers.
How did you end up living in Canada?
When I first graduated, I worked in television costume design in England but realized it wasn’t for me. Before I graduated from De Montfort, a friend told me to let him know if I ever wanted a job at his family’s knitting mill in Canada. So, I took him up on it. That lasted about a year or so. Then I traveled to the East; from Japan to Korea to Taiwan to Hong Kong for five years.
You traveled for fun or for work?
I was designing, but the traveling was more fun than the the work which was very corporate and mid-range. After I got back, I decided to design my own collection. I felt very restless about my life. I didn’t want to get married. I wanted to be financially independent, to make my own way. I was part of that first wave of women’s lib.
How did you get into designing outerwear?
I had worked freelance for one of the oldest coat companies in the world. I liked that I could see my work go from the sketch to the finished garment. A lot of that has changed now since everything is made abroad. I still had a sample room up until three years ago. Most of our actual samples are now made in Peru, the Dominican Republic or China.
Where do you sell your collection?
My big U.S. accounts are Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Lord & Taylor.
What were some of your biggest commercial hits?
I made some iconic designs. My Happy Coats, a brightly colored rainwear line, was a hit. Then we did rainwear for men made from lined Gabardine which had not really been done before. What made my mark in America though, was my boiled wool, raw edge coats. They were a massive commercial hit.
What are you working on now?
I’ve expanded from outerwear. I have licenses for handbags, shoes, eyewear and scarves. I’m flying into Toronto to look at jewelry next week to see whether I like it or not.
How do you describe your own personal style?
Classic and contemporary with a little twist. I try to put my personal style into my collections when I design, but sometimes I have to forget certain things and be more commercial. Right now, in my studio, I’m making a leather sleeveless dress that I’ll wear with tight pants. Today I’m wearing Gap skinny jeans, leather boots that go over my knee (I bought them three years ago when they weren’t trendy) and a Vince sweatshirt. I just love fashion. I’m fortunate I found a passion and a way to be financially independent.
Do you have a signature piece?
I like skirts. Women underestimate the power of showing their legs. Legs are the last things to go on a woman. Your face goes, your hands go, your arms go, but legs stay very well in shape. I also love heels if they don’t break my ankle. I’m pretty tall anyway, I’m 5’8”.
Do you have any favorite designers?
I like to bring back designers from years ago. I’ve been wearing these pants by Romeo Gigli, he was a brilliant designer from Italy. I have a couple vintage Chanel pieces I’ll wear and I mix it up.
Besides skiing, how do you stay fit?
I go to the gym. I have a trainer two times each week. Athletics have always been important to me because I like feeling fit. I have to exercise because I love to eat and I love to drink wine.
Do you have a favorite restaurant?
Milos here in Montreal and there’s also one in New York. It has great, fresh fish. It’s just wonderful.
Do you have any other hobbies or passions?
I love interior design. I think it’s sort of natural as a fashion designer to like interior design. We just did my kitchen in Montreal, I love it. Once the snow goes in April I’ll be very busy with gardening. I’ve also always played tennis. I try to get on the courts as much as I can.
What’s your skincare routine?
Shu Uemura face wash, which I discovered in Paris a few years ago. It’s in a pump and I use it morning and night. I’ve been using Kiehl’s moisturizer because it’s so cold here.
What makeup do you wear?
I’ve been addicted to Lancome mascara all my life. I never wear anything on my face unless I’m going to a ball. Just mascara and a tiny bit of blush. I do IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) therapy. It’s quite expensive, so I do it occasionally. It really works, they use a laser to stimulate the collagen under your skin. Having healthy-looking skin takes a bit more now than just a mask.
Your advice for other women over 50?
Don’t worry about your age. Keep fit, eat healthy, do all the common sense stuff and don’t let age get to you.