Interview: Designer for Celebrities, Mr. Hilton Lee, Talks to Elfateh Merghani

Friday, February 20, 2015

Seoul- (PanOrient News) His private clients call him "The man with a magic touch and fashion critics compare his designs to those of Armani, Calven kline, and Dolce & Gabbana".

Elfateh Merghani: When and how did you become a fashion designer?

Mr. Hilton Lee: Since I was a teenager, I have had great fascination for fashion. At that time, foreign fashion magazines were the only source available. So when I graduated from the United States and joined the army, one of my assignments was to manage the PX Store, and that gave me access to all foreign magazines. I think it was from that time in particular that I started developing a strong passion and genuine interest in fashion.

PanOrient news: Going back to the 70s who was your inspiration?

Mr. Hilton: Back in the 70s there was a bunch of designers that influenced me in one way or another. Designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, considered one of the most famous fashion designers in France - for women as well as men.

PanOrient news: What was women’s stuff like at that time, that is to say the 70s?

Mr. Hilton: Really groovy and funky: The mini, midi and maxi.

PanOrient news: - Fashion critics say that your designs are growing in competition with the designs of greats like Armani, Calvin Kline and Dolce &Gabbana. What makes your style so special?

Mr. Hilton: First, as you know most of our products are hand-made. In other words, we take care to make the client part and parcel of the whole process, a luxury he doesn’t enjoy with the ready-to-wear product. He feels more comfortable with us than with ready-to-wear designs. Everyone has unique body characteristics and we take that into account when it comes to designing.

PanOrient news: Sometimes the press refers to you as the presidential designer, and sometimes as the celebrity designer. Which sobriquet do you prefer?

Mr. Hilton: I prefer the nick name Dr. Suit.

PanOrient news: A very interesting nickname. Who gave it to you?

Mr. Hilton: It was President Joseph Kabila, the President of the Republic of Congo, and that is a very long story.

PanOrient news: Would you like to share part of it with us?

Mr.Hilton: I designed some suits for him and he liked them so much that he called me Dr. Suit. He also ordered 30 suits on the spot, and ever since we have become friends. He never called me by my first or family name, but rather “brother”.

PanOrient news: I understand that you have ties with the Royal Family of Swaziland as well. Have you ever visited Africa?
Mr. Hilton: Yes. I visited the Congo and also I visited the kingdom of Swaziland as a guest of honour on the king’s birthday.

PanOrient news: What was it like being a guest of honour at such a royal event?

Mr. Hilton: It was fabulous; I was treated like a king. The first day they sent me a Mercedes Benz, the next day it was a Rolls-Royce … Every day, throughout my stay, they changed the car but the driver remained the same person.

PanOrient news: Were you surprised that polygamy was common in the Kingdom of Swaziland, and the fact that the king had dozens of wives?

Mr. Hilton: I was pretty much surprised. But each country has its own culture.

PanOrient news: It has been said that you were the one behind Hyundai Motors push into the Latin American Markets. How did you do that?

Mr. Hilton: I just did my job as any Korean would do.

PanOrient news: Let’s go back to fashion for a bit. Why did you choose men’s fashion world, is there any particular reason for such a choice?

Mr. Hilton: Since I was a young boy I have wanted to specialize in men’s fashion. I have made some designs for women though, but most of my clients are men.

PanOrient news: What is the difference between designing for male and female celebrities?

Mr. Hilton: Female celebrities like Musicians and movie stars prefer very unique styles, unlike men who always want something a bit conservative and not too fancy.

PanOrient news: Did you really describe men as colour-blind in your interview with American TBS TV?

Mr. Hilton: I didn’t put it that way. I said that” men have fewer choices than women when it comes to colour’s preferences”.

PanOrient news: You met and dealt with so many celebrities, statesmen, VIP’s, movie stars, sports figures and entertainers. What was the most interesting experience that you have had, if any?

Mr. Hilton: Throughout my career as a designer, I have dealt and befriended many celebrities like presidents, ambassadors, singers, actors and sports stars. But I remember a funny experience with the opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. He had such a very large body that it wasn’t possible for us to take his measurements by using one measurement tape. So we had to attach two tapes together in order to take his measurements precisely. When he finally got the suit, he was so impressed that he ordered more than 20 suits on the spot. From that time we became great friends and I invited him to my home for dinner. It was so much fun and we had a great time. He even performed: “O mio Babino Caro” for us

PanOrient news: You also designed stuff for the Hollywood movie star Steven Siegel, and he also, like Pavarotti, has a large body. Did you experience the same funny situation with him?

Mr. Hilton: No. Movie Star Steven Segal and the phenomenal basket baller Magic Johnson have big bodies but not as big as Pavarotti’s, he was like a Sumo wrestler.

PanOrient news: You have been a close friend of the diva of all time, Celine Dion and her family. What is she like in real life?

Mr. Hilton: She is one of the most family-oriented figures that I have ever met. She turned down an offer to sit on “America Got Talent” show so that she could spend quality time with her family. She always travels with her husband Renee and her kids Eddy and Nelson (Named after Nelson Mandela, the Late South African President). I fell in love with her music the very first time that I heard her amazing voice and songs.

PanOrient: It has been said that she was one of your female celebrity clients. How do you feel about that?

Mr. Hilton: Indeed, I was privileged.

PanOrient news: You have been in the fashion business for more than 30 years. Where does the Korean fashion industry stand today?

Mr. Hilton: The Korean fashion industry has developed significantly over the years. Back in the 50s, there were very few people who had an interest in fashion. Because after the Korean War most people couldn’t make both ends meet. The Country was in abject poverty. But in the 60’s many Koreans needed more clothing as the country had started achieving incredible economic growth. So as the economic situation improved, the need for business suits increased. At that time there was little ready-to-wear stuff and most people went to custom tailor shops. In the early 1970s to 1990, a full-fledged boom in the fashion industry was developing in Korea. Today, Korea stands as one of the biggest fashion markets.

PanOrient news: How often do you follow the latest hit in fashion trends?

Mr. Hilton: I am a subscriber to a number of fashions magazines and fashion show TV channels. I also have regular contacts with many fashion specialists. I cannot ignore the trend, but I also don’t follow it blindly, because it always changes constantly. If I follow it blindly, that will make me lose my own personal touches.

PanOrient news: You have trained a number of fashion designers, I believe.

Mr. Hilton: That is right. One of the most talented designers, the designer for the American First Lady, was one of my protégés.

PanOrient news: You have also been involved in some philanthropic and humanitarian activities. Can you elaborate a bit about that?

Mr. Hilton: As my business grew, I thought I should share a portion of my profits with society. So far, I’ve donated lots of money to organizations in the world that care for children with special needs, and sponsored scholarships for many orphan pupils and university students...

PanOrient news: What are your future plans for the business?

Mr. Hilton: I want my son to take over this business. Since early 2013, he has been working and learning the business in the corporation. He graduated from Yonsei University, business administration. Now he is in charge of our online-website shopping mall. I am also planning to launch some fashion galleries world-wide.

PanOrient news: Thank you very much indeed Mr. Hilton Lee.

Mr. Hilton: It was my pleasure.

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