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Miller, Nicole

MILLER, Nicole

American designer

Born: 1952, in Lenox, Massachusetts. Education: Graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; spent third year attending the École de la Chambre Syndicale Parisienne. Family: Married Kim Taipale, 1996; child: Palmer. Career: Designer, Rain Cheetahs, New York, 1975; head designer for Bud Konheim, P.J. Walsh women's fashion company, New York, 1975-82; in partnership with Konheim, company renamed Nicole Miller, 1982; launched line of men's accessories, circa 1987; began licensing agreements for socks, tights, jeans, handbags, and men's formal wear; debuted footwear, 1992; fragrance and cosmetics collection, 1993; bridalwear 1995; Nicole line 1997; men's and women's at-home wear 1999; men's sportswear 2000. Opened boutiques in New York (1987), Mexico City and Naples, Florida (1991), Barcelona, Tokyo, Osaka, and Seville (1992), Los Angeles (1993). Awards: Dallas Fashion award, 1991; Girl Scouts of America award, New York, 1994. Address: 525 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY, 10018, USA. Website: www.nicolemiller.com.

Publications

On MILLER:

Articles and Video

Schulte, Lucy, "A Real Fashion Outlaw," in New York, 16 February 1987.

Hochswender, Woody, "A First Show with the Right Flair," in theNew York Times, 3 November 1990.

"Nicole Miller: Fashion's Wittiest High Roller," in People, 29 April 1991.

Shand, Gayle, "Miller's Crossing," in Footwear News (New York), 3February 1992.

Rockwell, Abigail, and Sally V. Beaty, A Different Look: The Nicole Miller Story (video), RMI Productions, 1993.

Ball, Aimee Lee, "Thoroughly Modern Miller," in New York, 8 March 1993.

Drake, Laurie, "Can Nicole Eat Lunch in This Town?," in Los Angeles Magazine, May 1993.

"Miller Time: Nicole Goes Retail," in Crain's New York Business, 15June 1998.

Mui, Nelson, "Nicole Miller Launches Sportswear Collection for Fall 2000," in DNR, 20 December 1999.

Curan, Catherine, "Nicole Miller Redresses Strategy," in Crain's New York Business, 12 June 2000.

Johnson, Hillary J., "A Fashionable Address," in InStyle (New York),November 2000.

***

Immense talent as a designer, fun, and an astute sense of fashion are the key to Nicole Miller's success. Miller is a hands-on designer, who pays particular attention to clothing construction throughout the entire design process. Her studies at a haute couture school in Paris taught her the importance of a well-engineered and well-fitting garment. Realizing that few women have perfect bodies, she has always made certain every body looks its best, camouflaging problem areas. Because of simple but unique details and superior cut, a woman wearing a Nicole Miller garment is assured of looking her best.

Nicole Miller has had her own women's line of clothing since 1982. The company is primarily known for great looking dresses in both solid and printed fabrics. However, due to an over-abundance of leftover fabric from a line of unsuccessful dresses, she opted to make the conversational black silk print, featuring colored ticket stubs in the foreground, into the Nicole Miller necktie sensation; hence the birth of the Nicole Miller men's accessories line. A dark cloud turned out to have a platinum lining and Miller blossomed into a leading men's accessory manufacturer. In the mid-1990s, the Miller ties, shirts, boxer shorts, and robes accounted for 20 percent of business.

Inspiration for Miller prints can come from anywhere. After seeing the off-Broadway hit Song of Singapore, Miller decided to create a special silk print in honor of the show. The company employs dozens of artists who develop a wide range of graphics. Designs incorporate everything from assorted candy, animals, or vegetables to the sports collection, which has featured basketballs, footballs, and baseballs. These prints have become so influential that knockoffs can be found at every level of the marketplace.

Miller has been prolific in other areas of design as well. She was involved in designing costumes for the Brooklyn Academy of Music's New Wave festival tribute to the late Carmen Miranda. Inspiration for the costumes was the peasant clothing of the Bahia region of Brazil visited by Miller.

Although she received a great deal of publicity for her prints, Miller's reputation was actually built with her dramatic pared-down silhouettes and her striking use of graphics. Some examples are her curvy, strapless pale linen chambray dresses, and her short white rompers and dresses stitched in red like a baseball. Flattering fit and drop-dead designs are not Miller's only strong points. She is one of the few American designers with fashion's sixth sense for setting the trends without resorting to fads; her clothes are young and fresh. In a time where many of the baby boomers have become more conservative, the Miller customer remains forever young.

While Miller's cocktail dress and men's novelty ties were the mainstays of her business in the 1980s, she oversees an extensive product line. Miller keeps close watch on her customers and expands her offering to meet their needs. While the core business for the Nicole Miller line remains the dress and dinner suit, she created a bridal line in 1995 after noticing prospective brides were ordering several copies of a particular dress for their bridesmaids. She also launched the Nicole line in 1997 to serve her younger buyers with more contemporary styles like t-shirt dresses.

Drawing on her relationship with the men who buy her ties, Miller launched a sportswear line in 2000 offering trendy clothes priced at a lower-bridge level, including pants, sweaters, shirts, and pajamas, all in characteristically bright, catchy colors. In addition, Miller's prodigious design talent has been applied to many more nontraditional products, including hospital gowns for Hackensack University Medical Center, ties for the NFL as well as the Komen Foundation to fight breast cancer, and a line of premium cigars and accessories.

The growth of the Nicole Miller line accelerated the company's move into retail. Responding to changes in the retail market during the 1990s, department stores began carrying more private labels than designer lines and turned to promotional techniques which some designers believed hurt their image and profits. By establishing Nicole Miller stores which would carry the entire collection, the company could control its identity to the customer. In 1998, Nicole Miller opened many stores outside of New York by licensing the designer's name and giving local owners a great deal of latitude to operate their businesses. Although some of the stores remain successful, the company also faced problems from bad locations, stores selling merchandise that wasn't Nicole Miller, and a case of credit card fraud. The company met the need for another expansion in 2000 more cautiously. All new stores were company-owned and a new director of retail coordinated their operation. In 2001, the company has 30 stores within the United States. Nicole Miller launched its web site for information only in 1994 and began selling online in 1998 at the Nicole Miller website and other sites dedicated to specific products, like its skincare line. Nicole Miller's design talent and her understanding of her customers will make her an important part of the fashion scene for years to come.

Roberta H. Gruber;

updated by Janette Goff Dixon

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