Thoroughly Modern Nicole Miller
By Laurie Brookins
Photographs by Douglas Friedman
Plaster silk twill dress ($410) and foiled skirt ($345), Nicole Miller. 200 South Broad St.. Shoes, bracelet and watch, Miller’s own
David Bowie To the Rescue
She has explored Byzantine cultures and ancient Mayan civilizations, all in the quest of design inspiration. So what moved Nicole Miller for her Fall 2011 collection? A little David Bowie.
“I was into melding a rocker aspect with a futuristic take, and that is what Bowie says to me,” Miller explains in her New York studio one late June morning. “I feel like I have done the travel thing, so what interested me was moving on to a more abstract idea, one that blended artistry and futurism.” Her penchant for digital prints likewise evokes this idea, with Miller pointing to the contemporary artist Ellsworth Kelly as a key inspiration: “He is a little earlier than what I collect—I tend to collect more from the ’80s onward—but I am certainly a big fan, and that is definitely at the heart of the angular ideas for the prints,” she says.
Fashion for the People
The fashion community will see this artful blend, from Bowie-influenced metal pants to Kelly-inspired graphic prints, when Miller shows off her Fall collection on September 12 as part of The Philadelphia Collection, a 10-day series of fashion events around the city, where it will be part of the XIX Most Fashionable Women kickoff party at the restaurant XIX Nineteen (which will benefit The Career Wardrobe). But if you are expecting full-on Ziggy Stardust, then you don’t know Miller. “People are always asking, ‘Is fashion art?’ But fashion really has to function, whereas art does not,” she says. “It is fun to make some crazy things once in a while, but in the end, someone has to wear it.”
It is this mix of posh and pragmatic, the notion of luxe clothes that never veer into the unapproachable or outlandish, that has garnered for Miller a devoted fan base, particularly in the Philadelphia area. “She is a rock star when she comes into Philadelphia; everyone knows her,” says Mary K. Dougherty, owner of the two Nicole Miller boutiques in Manayunk and Center City. “And when I am at a party, I feel like a rock star, because everyone comes up to me and asks, ‘Omigosh, you’re wearing Nicole Miller? I wore her to my wedding,’ or ‘I wore her for my very first job interview.’ When you have been in this business a while, you see things come and go, but Nicole is someone who is always rocking and rolling. She is young and fun and has a great spirit, and that comes through in her clothes.”
Style and Substance
This year marks the 25th anniversary since Miller opened her first boutique on Madison Avenue (you will now find 28 around the US, including the two Philadelphia locations), but during that time, she has never strayed from focusing on one key question: How do you create a collection that feels modern but relatable? For several seasons, that question has been the impetus behind Miller’s drive (and impressive ability) to mix chic pieces—“I have some really great coats in the Fall collection,” she points out—with her growing fondness for digital prints. “I am always interested in the newest fabric; I think I was the first designer to get into metal fabrics, for example, and I have always been interested in how to take prints to another level,” she says. “But it is only recently that the industry caught up to what I wanted to do.