LOS ANGELES — As the doting wife of hotel and real estate scion Rick Hilton, the mother hen to tabloid darlings Paris and Nicky Hilton, and the aggrieved childhood friend of Michael Jackson, Kathy Hilton has always been one step to the left of the spotlight.
Half sisters Kim and Kyle Richards struck reality show gold with Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” but Kathy Hilton’s own turn at reality TV, “I Want to Be a Hilton,” lasted just one season on NBC.
Now she’s trying out a new starring role — aspiring lifestyle mogul — beginning with the Kathy Hilton Collection of party dresses.
When it comes to the holidays, Hilton is enthusiastic, to say the least. She hosted a Christmas party at her Bel-Air home recently to celebrate her new venture, complete with carolers, a high-end Santa Claus and little people cast as elves.
It was all very happy homemaker, Bel-Air-style.
Hilton, a creaseless 53, was dressed in a black, sparkly pleather lace short-sleeve peplum top and miniskirt she had whipped up by the tailor at her dry cleaner, with fabric bought at Britex Fabric in San Francisco. The outfit will be translated into a dress for the fall 2013 collection.
“I didn’t go to school for this, but I love fashion,” she said.
The Trenton, N.J.-based occasion-wear manufacturer Mon Cheri approached Hilton with the idea about a year and a half ago. And while the term “occasion wear” may conjure not-so-flattering images of mother-of-the-brides in floating chiffon and sprays of crystals, Hilton’s designs are more sleek, subdued and, yes, sophisticated than those usually found in the formal dress department — with a heady dose of Hollywood inspiration, of course.
A red silk ruffle halter gown with a keyhole cutout in the front recalls Valentino’s famously red, red carpet creations. (Hilton namechecks him as one of her favorite designers.) A black A-line jersey mini-dress with long, billowy sleeves and rhinestone cuffs brings to mind the mod ensemble Megan Draper wore during the “Zou Bisou Bisou” serenade on “Mad Men.” An emerald green cocktail dress with a jersey halter top and a ribbon-trimmed tulle skirt was apparently designed with daughter Nicky in mind. (Neither daughter was at the party; this was strictly their mother’s affair.)
“I went to the special occasion departments at all the stores and found the dresses looked really pageanty,” Hilton said. “I wanted something more feminine, flirty and reserved — with attention to detail.”
Priced from $350 to $870, the dresses sell at more than 400 stores worldwide, including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. Many styles come in multiple colors and lengths, and many have sleeves. “The sleeve thing is a big deal to me,” Hilton said. “Because sometimes you just don’t want to show your arms.”