Here at Fashionista, we're passionate about covering all the ways that the industry is changing for the better. That's why we wanted to honor the forces working tirelessly to reshape what it means to work in fashion and beauty. With our new annual series, Fashionista Five, we'll be doing just that by highlighting (you guessed it) five people whose work we've admired over the past year.
During New York Fashion Week in February 2018, the industry could not stop talking about the Pyer Moss Fall 2018 runway show. Titled "American, Also," the new collection marked designer Kerby Jean-Raymond's comeback following a short hiatus after buying back his own brand. Throughout subsequent seasons, his namesake brand's growth has only accelerated, seemingly exponentially: He secured a two-year contract and creative role with Reebok, for which he now serves as artistic director, focused on special projects and products. He presented another memorable Spring 2019 show at the historic Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He received Pratt's 2019 "Visionary Award," presented by Dapper Dan, and won the 2018 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
It's not exactly a coincidence that Jean-Raymond decided to partner with Nate Hinton in October 2017, a time when Hinton was about to quit his full-time agency PR job to start his own company, The Hinton Group. As one of his first clients, Pyer Moss was bound for a revival — and Hinton was going to do everything in his power to make that happen.
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"I got really emotional when he showed me the sketches of 'American, Also,' and I said to him that we are going to flip this brand around," recalls Hinton of his first meeting with Jean-Raymond. "We're going to talk about your clothes in a different way. We are not going to allow people to tell us what to do. We're not going to be dictated by anyone's rules and we are going to win."
In September, Pyer Moss will return to New York Fashion Week after taking last season off, and while that decision was certainly risky, the brand's return ranks as one of the most highly anticipated shows on the calendar. When I spoke to Hinton over the phone, he'd just booked the venue: Staying true to Jean-Raymond's Brooklyn roots, the fashion crowd will trek to the borough's famous Kings Theatre to witness the new collection.
And while Hinton says one of his best accomplishments has been pulling off 20 shows and events during fashion week over the last two or three seasons, it would be remiss to categorize him simply as a publicist. Hinton considers his company's forte the ability to span multiple categories, including brand development, consulting, marketing, events, social media, digital and business strategy. It's a new type of approach that many seasoned publicists are tapping into as they leave their longtime agency jobs to strike out on their own.
But what Hinton truly has a knack for is building fashion businesses that don't follow the traditional industry norms, much like Pyer Moss, as well as the rest of his client roster, which includes Public School, Vaquera, CDLM/Creatures of the Wind, Carmelo Anthony's Melo Made, Christopher John Rogers, Deveaux NY and Aliétte by celebrity stylist Jason Rembert.
"They happen to be designers who are emerging and growing right now," says Hinton. "They're all expanding and getting new business. And I like to think that I had something to do with that. If you're trying to break into this business and break down barriers and be accepted and build a loyal fan base, you cannot do the exact same thing that people have been doing for the last 20 years because the landscape and all industries in society alone has changed."
Although it took more than a decade of work experience before Hinton started his own business, his interest in fashion stems from his teenage years growing up in Virginia. In high school, he started a fashion organization and produced fashion shows, and then did the same during college in North Carolina. After graduating, Hinton initially worked in finance for Federated, which owned Macy's at the time. "Inside of that company, I went through an executive trainee program and I knew that I wanted to be in that business," recalls Hinton. "I just didn't want to be in finance."
So he packed up his Ford Taurus and moved to New York City, nabbing a freelance assistant gig at Prada's marketing office, eventually transferring to the PR department. Soon enough, his hard work landed him a full-time coordinator job for Prada menswear, where he climbed the ranks to a managerial role. After nearly five years, Hinton went on to Diesel, and then in 2011, he made the switch to working for a PR agency. "I knew that we were hiring [agencies at Prada and Diesel] because we needed help, but what I didn't know is that we were hiring them because they were seen as experts in the field. So I wanted to be the best," says Hinton. "I wanted to be one of the experts."
He got a job at PR Consulting and began working with Altuzarra, Acne Studios and Brut. But after a year, he was let go, and then within three months, he was hired by KCD, where he worked on Carven, Miss Wu (a diffusion line of Jason Wu), Tommy Hilfiger, Public School and Victoria's Secret. "If I had to pick a place that taught me the most and that gave me the best experiences, it was definitely KCD," recalls Hinton, adding that co-founder Ed Filipowski helped ignite his entrepreneurial spirit. "It's where I flourished and where I came into my own as a person and professionally. There's something about Ed that just brings that out of you."
After five years with KCD, Hinton went back to PR Consulting, attracted by the opportunity to work directly with Raf Simons for his debut at Calvin Klein. "Who's going to turn that down?" asks Hinton. "He's one of my favorite designers. The artistry, the passion that he puts into it and just to be a part of that team and experience was enough for me to say, 'Yes, I'll deal with the pressure of being at a place that fired me because I get to work with Raf.' I put myself aside to be alongside the greatest." A year and a half later, Hinton started to grow bored with traditional PR and by January 2018, The Hinton Group was officially born.
The first year running his own business came with an extreme learning curve and a number of new challenges, like dealing with finance, HR and administrative tasks; marketing, advising designers and even being a shoulder for them to cry on. "It's not easy and it's not for everyone, but it was the best decision I've ever made because it's more fulfilling than any job I've ever had," he says.
Four employees work under Hinton and he utilizes freelancers as well, especially during New York Fashion Week. With a lean team, The Hinton Group is able to place utmost importance on clients' businesses. "I want to affect your actual bottom line, which is sales. I want to help you make money. I don't want to just take your money on retainer every month and say, 'Oh, I got this person to wear your clothes,'" says Hinton. "If that didn't turn into an overall conversion of sales then what does that matter if we aren't getting down to the nitty-gritty?" He recalls a time when one of his clients didn't have a salesperson to sell the designer's collection, though business was doing very well through a direct-to-consumer model. Once Hinton placed the brand in a sales showroom, it acquired three retailers.
"Do you know how big that is for a brand that never have had retail?" he asks. "If we had not had that conversation with me telling him, 'Forget spending money on a show to be reputable and to keep up with the Joneses,' as my mother used to say. What are you doing to make money? How are you selling these things? Are you meeting with buyers? Thought processes like that help with the PR end because by the time I get to the storytelling part of it all, I've known the struggle, so who better to tell that story than me?"
A few days after our conversation, news broke that Hinton had co-founded a new firm called White Space Agency alongside two other PR veterans: Engelbert DeCastro, who first came up with the idea, and Savannah Engel, a longtime business partner of Hinton's. Together, the trio's combined expertise will likely attract bigger companies and brands across fashion, consumer and lifestyle, and, essentially, "give established PR firms a run for their money." When asked how he'll split his time between his new venture and The Hinton Group, he's quick to give the comparison of designers working as creative directors for fashion houses, while also being designers of their own brands. The way he sees it, it's not only possible but almost crucial for him to have a hand in both.
"I don't think that I was put on earth to just do one thing or work at one brand. I believe that," says Hinton. "I can be a part of this big team and service certain big brands and clients and have The Hinton Group. What I offer with The Hinton Group is that special thing. I hope it's special anyway. There's no one else making a top line decision on anything that happens but me. I started this company for a reason — for the reason of growing brands. And seeing their growth is something that I can't let go of."