Nicole Miller on Fashion, Past and Present

Fall is just beginning, but in the fashion world designers have already unveiled their spring 2005 collections.

Word from fashionistas is that the “dress” will be the must-have item when the snow thaws. spoke to Nicole Miller, one of America's leading dress designers, about her 2005 spring collection, which is full of elegant, flowing pieces.

FOX: Can you talk about the new Nicole Miller Signature Line (search)?

Miller: Well, I’ve always had a few dresses in the regular collection that were a little bit more expensive. It was always four or five evening looks at the end of my collection that were probably $1,500 to $2,000. We always sent a few of them out on the runway and my stores always had a really good response to them, so I thought that I would make a bigger effort and expand that area. This year, my collection was probably about 80 percent of the more expensive [dresses], and I just fit in about 20 percent of the regular collection in with it. When my show was over I had to go back and add some pieces to the regular line because most of what I spent my time on was the more expensive collection, my new Signature Line.

FOX: Which audience is this Signature Line catering to?

Miller: I’m one of those people who always thinks young and I can’t design old. I mean, I can’t do tweed jackets. I just think I’m not good at those stiff fabrics, so I think I’m still catering to somebody with a young mentality. I’ve always catered to the mother and the daughter. Very often they wear the same clothes, or very often the mother aspires to what the daughter is wearing, or the daughter aspires to what the mother wears. So I feel that in my stores I have the affluent mom come in with her daughter and she might buy this dress for her daughter if she wants, but she might buy it for herself when she’s buying her daughter something from the regular line.

FOX: How many stores do you have now?

Miller: I have 25 in the states.

FOX: Wow, I remember when you just started with the one on Madison Avenue.

FOX: I’m sure everybody asks you this: What was your inspiration for the spring collection?

Miller: This year I was really obsessed by Celtic symbols, which I’ve always been obsessed by. I love them and I think they’re really beautiful and so everything from the jacquards to the beading incorporated these symbols. I really got carried away. But, I’m glad because it will make a real statement in my stores. Maybe I’ll keep going with it through fall. Sometimes when I like something so much I follow through to fall.

FOX: I’ve been going to your shows for 20 years now. My impression was that usually I see splashes of color and lots of patterns, but this season was very tame and subdued.

Miller: Last spring was very muted. I only used pale pink and ivory. Fall was a little brighter. The one print I have is the peacock print, so I try to just have just one print per collection. This collection I had two and they were scarf prints, with Celtic symbols. When I look back, there was one show that I did that was all prints, print jackets and print pants and print dresses. It was over-the-top prints. It was kind of fun, but none of it ever sold.

FOX: The Celts were extremely passionate and very spiritual people. I was wondering if you chose that because it had anything to do with where you are in your life right now.

Miller: Well, it isn’t so much about where I am right now, but it was more my feeling about the times, because I just feel like too many people are trying to go cultures other than their own, and then there’s this mysticism and everything. Everyone’s searching for something else. I don’t think people should ignore their heritage. I’m certainly in love with my Celtic heritage, on my father’s side. ... But I just sort of observed it, for me, acknowledging my heritage, whereas I felt like so many people are fighting their heritage. I was just reading about Cat Stevens, and I just wish he’d go back to being Cat Stevens. I feel people should not ignore their heritage. To me, it’s something to be proud of and to honor, and remain in touch with. I was more interested in the decorative aspects in my use of the Celtic symbols.

FOX: You were one of the first designers to open up your own free-standing store, after which many of the designers followed suit. What inspired you to do that?

Miller: That was my partner's idea. He wanted a store and I wanted to do fashion shows. We did the store first. I made some ties for a friend and decided to put some in the store as an accessory. That ended up taking off, and it made our business blossom. That freed me up to do the fashion shows.

FOX: I remember you and your very first office. It was just you and Debbie, who was your assistant, receptionist, publicist.

Miller: What really amazes me now, I mean none of us had PR back in those days. I mean maybe Calvin (Klein) and Ralph (Lauren) had publicists, but none of us. Anybody who had PR was like in Paris or something. We had our receptionist doing our PR for years.

FOX: It’s just astounding how far you’ve come from that little office with just that one receptionist 20 years ago and the empire you’ve built. What has been your driving force?

Miller: I’m just one of those people that always had to work. I just don’t understand not working. I would be totally lost and probably bored.

FOX: This is your 20th anniversary and you are still going strong. Your business now encompasses dresses, sportswear, ties, bridal, cosmetics and fragrance. What’s next?

Miller: I’d like to get back into men’s wear in a bigger way. We have our things at Bed Bath & Beyond, and the house sheets and home line, which is great, it’s expanding. We have furniture coming out, which is very beautiful, it's kind of Deco inspired.

FOX: What has been the key to your success?

Miller: I don’t know, I guess just staying with it. Resilience. I don’t know, you just have to sort of keep at it.

FOX: Now that you have achieved all this success, what is the most important thing to you?

Miller: Oh, absolutely family.

FOX: Who’s your favorite designer other than yourself?

Miller: I like Dries Van Noten (search), Anna Molinari (search), also (Azzedine) Alaia.

FOX: There are a lot of new designers in the fashion scene. Do you have words of wisdom for them?

Miller: There were 10 to 12 people that were showing 12 years ago. This year we had 124 shows. My advice to the new designers: persistence, persistence and never give up on your dream.