In The Magazine

Fresh Heir

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The merging of illustrious families via marriage has a long and storied history. But in a day and age when even the British royals have eschewed this long-standing tradition, it’s a rare and precious occasion when such unions still occur.

Such is the July marriage of American hotel heiress Nicky Hilton and British banking heir James Rothschild, following a quiet, four-year courtship.

It’s an unexpected happily ever after for those who recall Nicky in the early aughts. Nicky Hilton and sister Paris rose to fame in their teens amid a flurry of controversy and camera flashes. Blond, beautiful and gloriously wealthy from a family with a legendary lineage, the tabloids couldn’t get enough when the sisters appeared on the party circuit.

Paris was clearly the wild child and Nicky far shier and more grounded. They both nonetheless ran with what was then a hard-partying crowd that included Lindsay Lohan, Bijou Phillips, Tara Reid, Nicole Richie and Kimberly Stewart. Her exploits included a 2004 Las Vegas marriage to fonancier Todd Meister that was annulled soon afterward and a string of romances with famous men including actors Ian Somerhalder and Kevin Connolly, TV personality Brian McFayden, model Marcus Schenkenberg, and a lengthy relationship with David Katzenberg, the son of Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

However, anyone who has met Nicky in person would find the Nicky Hilton covered in the tabloids diffcult to reconcile with reality. Nicky exudes a soothing, low-key energy. She speaks softly and sparingly, taking pride in values like traditionalism, hard work and decorum.

“Half of what you read about us wasn’t true,” Nicky says of her earliest years in the spotlight. “The things I would read about myself in these gossip columns growing up . . . I once read I jumped onstage at some concert and was singing with the band. I mean, can you imagine me doing that? Anyone who knows me would know that wouldn’t happen in a million years.”

While it would have been easy to get swept up in the same tidal wave of fame as Paris, Nicky felt strongly from a young age that she was meant to take a different path, turning down the offer to film The Simple Life, the reality show that helped make her sister famous.

“For anyone at that age being told we’re going to pay you a ton of money to be famous and be on a TV show it would be a no-brainer, but I had to say no. That’s not me,” Nicky says.

Instead, Nicky pursued a career in fashion, designing a series of fashion lines over the years as well as collaborating with other brands on collections. Her first book, 365 Style, came out in September 2014; she recently put out a fine jewelry collection with Denovo Diamonds, and a bag collection for Linea Pelle, and a cat-eye makeup kit and campaign for Smashbox are forthcoming.

But it’s Nicky’s fast-approaching wedding that is her biggest project at the moment.

Nicky and James met in 2011 at the Rome wedding of Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone and billionaire businessman James Stunt, a fact that delights her. “It goes back to tradition,” Nicky says. “In the olden days that’s where you met your husband, at a wedding.”

The two hit it off immediately, but circumstances were not in their favor. At the time, Nicky was living in LA and James in London. But, after a year of making it work long distance, the two both settled in New York.

Despite having the born right to claim a spot as a New York City power couple atop the social food chain, they’ve instead opted to settle into a quiet life together, splitting time between their apartment on Bowery and the Hilton home in Southampton. “We’re very similar. Very shy, very quiet,” Nicky says, noting they’ve made a conscious decision to keep their relationship out of the spotlight, as evidenced by the lack of photographs of them together online. “We’re homebodies. It makes me sound so boring, but just to cook, relax, watch movies, read books, it’s what we like to do. Very chill.”

“When I first met James at an event Nicky was doing, I remember seeing him look at her and thinking, ‘Now that is a good guy who loves her’,” says friend and fashion designer Stacey Bendet of Alice + Olivia. “It made me so happy. He’s just a humble, sweet person who truly adores her, and I think they’re going to be really happy.”

Cooking is a shared passion for the pair, especially when they’re in the Hamptons. James is a master of gourmet European food, while Nicky serves up classic American fare like meatloaf and tacos. En route to the Hamptons, they stop by local farm stands for fresh ingredients on their way home and spend the entire weekend together, cooking up a storm.

They make their way out East frequently, especially during the fall and winter, when the summer crowds have died down. When it came time to ask for Nicky’s hand in marriage, James took her father to East End Clambakes after a round of golf while Nicky supported the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund’s Super Saturday shop-a-thon with her mother.

James finally got down on one knee and proposed in Lake Como, Italy, in the same country where they first met almost exactly three years earlier. “He didn’t ask anyone for help with the ring,” Nicky says proudly of the exquisite Asscher cut sparkler, which is the perfect size (estimated in press as between 6 and 8 carats) to make it showstopping without being gaudy. “He has very good taste.”

The newly engaged duo were welcomed home with an engagement party hosted by Kathy and Rick Hilton in Southampton that included guests such as David Koch, Robert Zimmerman, Jay McInerney and Anne Hearst, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan and Bettina Zilkha.

Now a mere three months out from the wedding, all of the plans are in motion. They fulfilled Nicky’s desire for a destination wedding by selecting James’s hometown of London. The intimate, black tie affair will be attended exclusively by close friends and family and celebrated with excellent wine, considering the groom’s family own the legendary French vineyard Château Lafite.

While most brides would have been in a flurry over wedding plans from Day 1, Nicky was in no rush to plan their nuptials. In fact, in April, there was still plenty to be done.

“I’m too nonchalant of a bride, and I think it terrifies my fiancé,” Nicky says. “He’s always asking, ‘Did you do this? Did you talk to the caterer? Did you talk to the florist?’ I really just want everything traditional and beautiful. So many brides today want avant garde, over the top, fashiony. I just like sticking to what works.”

Th e one thing Nicky is most certainly on top of is the dress and making sure she looks perfect in it. Always svelte but never intense about diet and fitness, she’s now working out regularly with a trainer at Equinox and working with a nutritionist on her diet in anticipation of the big day. “I’m so tired of chicken,” she says. “Anything that tastes remotely good is unhealthy, I’ve found. Even fruit—my nutritionist would say, ‘It’s all sugar, don’t eat fruit.’ I’ve been reading all these books about health and well-being—they kind of scare you into being healthy.”

She lights up at the prospect of finally flying off to Paris in May, when she will be seeing her gown in person for the first time.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” she says of selecting who would design the dress. Although she won’t reveal the name of the designer, Valentino seems like a safe bet, considering she regularly attends the Valentino Haute Couture show in Paris. “I’ve wanted this designer to design my wedding dress since I was a little girl, so the fact that it’s happening and they’re making me a custom couture dress is just very exciting. I was shown about 15 sketches and then came back for another round, and we narrowed it down to three and then clicked in on the one. Th is is going to be my first time seeing it all put together. I’ve seen a million drawings and fabric swatches but I haven’t tried it on.

As part of her “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue,” she plans to accessorize with a piece for her Denovo diamonds collection as well as a piece of jewelry from either her mother, Kathy Hilton, or her mother-in-law-to-be, Anita Guinness.

Even though the wedding is still ahead of her, Nicky already has her eyes firmly on her future as a mother, hoping for two or three children, ideally including at least one girl and one boy. Considering she’s one of four children and incredibly close with her entire family, it should come as no surprise that family is something she looks forward to. What may come as a surprise is that her parents and mother-in-law all agree that Nicky will be a very, strict mother.

“Th ey always say I’m strict, and I am!” Nicky says. “Manners are so important to me. When I see children with no manners it drives me up the wall, and you have to blame the parents. It’s all about filling the children with lots of hobbies and activities so they can’t get into trouble.”

Bendet, currently pregnant with her third daughter, adds, “She’s definitely going to be the mom who looks sexy until the moment she goes into labor.”

While the wedding and upcoming plans, like a road trip through the American South for James’s birthday, certainly excite her, it’s clear that motherhood is the adventure she’s got her heart set on.

“People say your life doesn’t even begin until you have children,” Nicky says. “I’m so excited for the next chapter in my life, having children and starting a family. There’s nothing better than that.”


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