BY: HAL RUBENSTEIN
Fashion relentlessly blankets social media but its direction has become rudderless. Rules are long discarded, designers change luxury brand allegiance on what seems a monthly basis, fast fashion beckons hordes of shoppers away from department stores, while each season trends seem to multiply like crabgrass in May.
And yet, Nicole Miller’s label has thrived for more than three decades, which means she must know something many of her contemporaries don’t. Look at her clothes and the answer is obvious. Miller’s designs are elevating but relatable, boasting an acute passion for singular texture and fabric, shaped in silhouettes that eliminate intimidation. With construction as solid as their energy is insinuating, Miller’s clothes don’t appeal on one demographic. “I like to think I dress mom and her daughter,” says Miller, “giving each the freedom to style a look their way.” (That’s where we come in.)
Miller has always favored hi-low dressing, so a leather bomber over an asymmetrical print cocktail dress looks as unexpectedly ‘yeah-I-love-that’ as her organza sweatshirt will over a sleek sequin skirt. “I don’t want you to have to think about looking good. So, I create pieces that I hope always feel right,” says Miller. “This way you’re ready for anything.” Knowing that, Gabriel couldn’t ask for a better match for our ever-growing trove of Fine Jewelry Everyday.
“These earrings are so light, which is great,” says Miller, “because I like to wear my favorite jewelry often. And that I’ve never seen anything like these before. (watch the video below) That’s very cool.” Hmmm... We may gotten ourselves a new customer! Just like we know that once you take a look at Nicole Miller’s line, you are bound to become one of hers.
INTERVIEW WITH NICOLE MILLER
HR: How long have you had your label?
NM: 35 years.
HR: That’s quite a track record.
NM: Oh yeah, considering the rate at which fashion chews up brands out today. But thanks to a great crew of people we’ve assembled, we have a good time and I have fun. And though there is a lot of tension in this industry right now there’s also a lot of excitement.
HR: Was it easier to create a brand back then?
NM: Yes. My partner and I just decided to leave a big corporation one day. We didn’t think twice, consider cost of runway shows, or about being global – nobody did- didn’t even know from public relations. We were too naïve to be scared.
HR: How did the Nicole Miller label first click?
NM: We couldn’t afford to do anything for show back then. If you made it, you sold it. And I designed this smock trimmed dress, topped with a traditional Chinese Cheongsam collar. It was so avant-garde for the time, we swore it wouldn’t sell but we loved it so much. Well, the dress we loved became a smash. It flew out of store all around the country. In fact, after a few seasons I stopped making it because everyone was copying it. You’ll never own a good idea for long. But the money we made from that dress, launched our business. I found one on Ebay recently.
HR: Can you still start or run a business that way today?
NM:No, now you can’t sit still for a second. Each demographic of shoppers require different targeted marketing and communication. Social media has changed everything. Whereas you used to rely on department stores, now we look at them as markdown money. You must sell in Europe, the Middle and Far East, and expand online. And unlike before, the more avant-garde the idea, the better.
Gabriel & Co. jewelry pieces are lovely because they’re distinctive without dominating an outfit. And they’re not designed to match only one specific outfit. -Nicole Miller
HR:Who is “your girl?”
NM: I’ve always had a core customer and, thankfully, she’s incredibly loyal and knows what works for her. But the landscape is so different having your own site. You can be more adventurous and daring and get immediate feedback. So I try not to pigeonhole myself. That said, I have a look, which is pretty much how I like to dress; mixing hi and low, flowy dresses with leather jackets, embroidered sweatshirts over long sequin skits with racing stripes, tailored blazers with organza overlay.
HR: What drives this aesthetic?
NM: I see my style as smart and ageless. I believe – actually, I know, based on what we sell and whom we sell it too – that I dress both mother and daughter. I like that. Women should dress appropriately but don’t dress to old.
HR: Are American women guilty of dressing based on their birth certificate?
NM: Too many of them are. If you go to Paris or Milan, you will see that women less likely to do that. They dress based on how they look and feel and they know, as all women should, what shapes to choose and textures to avoid to look their freshest. For example, if you are older, never wear anything in tweed. It’s great for young women, because tweed ages you.
HR: But aren’t there less rules about style than ever?
NM: All the barriers are broken now In the 50s, the designer Pauline Trigere, one of the pioneers of 7th Avenue used to insist that after 20, every women must cut her hair shorter with the passing of each decade. Look how many women have longer hair now. There are maxi and mini dresses out there, heels, flats, thigh high boots and sneakers. So, you can wear anything - as long as you’re confident it looks good on you.
HR: But as freeing as creating personal style is for some, isn’t that disorienting for many shoppers?
NM: Well, then you better slow it down or you’re going to get confused and make bad choices. The rules are yours to make. Find your best asset, whether it’s a small waist or great legs and always make sure it’s accentuated.
Experiment to find what tops look best with your bust. If you’re long-waisted choose a longer sweater or pants with a higher rise. If short-waisted have your skirts ride on your hips and crop your blazers. Always check yourself out in a three-way mirror for obvious reasons - to see what everyone else will be looking at.
HR: What do you trust. What do you avoid?
NM: My go-to piece of clothing is a soft crepe jacket that goes with everything. I won’t ever wear stirrup pants or anything I’ve already worn in another era like bell bottoms or shredded jeans. We have a huge leather business because you can’t go wrong with a leather jacket. They’re always sexy.
I avoid buying too much. People have too much stuff in their closets, so if you’re in a rush, you pick what’s in front because you can’t dig around. But, throw out stuff you never wear, and actually see what’s remaining and your wardrobe is likely to expand without buying a thing.
HR: Please speak about some of the clothes we have on our shoot?
NM: My new favorite jacket is that glen plaid one with the organza overlay. It’s so different, work appropriate yet girly.
I did an organza bomber as well because people may be getting more casual but they also need a little more romance in their lives.
I’ve always been crazy about camouflage. It has mystery and toughness. To make it more feminine we pleated it and then added a layer of gold foil which made it murder to keep those but the dress is worth it because it’s right with sneakers or stilettos.
I like the sportif influence, but I’d never make clothes using sports team colors. Instead I rework sweatshirts and track clothes in more luxe fabrics like organza and sequined cotton with racing stripes.
I don’t like heavily beaded evening wear because it weighs you down and often doesn’t look modern. And I’m not married to black. I like color especially used in a painterly way I’d rather spray beading over a floral print, or apply metallic embroidery to a dress with a lot of movement.
If beading is too heavy it clashes with jewelry you may want to wear.
HR: What kind of jewelry do you favor?
NM: Like many American women, I keep big jewelry in a safe. That’s not what I wear right now. I want to keep things light. Sparkly but easy. My preference is silver and white gold with small stones. This way, even if you layer, it’s not overpowering.
HR: That’s pretty much the aesthetic you’ll see accessorizing your clothes.
NM: I like that. Gabriel & Co. jewelry pieces are lovely because they’re distinctive without dominating an outfit. And they’re not designed to match only one specific outfit. I don’t like being stuck in a uniform. One day I’ll wear a dressy top over skinny pant to the office, The next day it might be an asymmetrical dress like the one you’ve picked. On the weekend I’ll wrap myself in a sarong. I want to be able to reach for my favorite accessories and not worry about what goes with what. These pieces satisfy their goal. When you buy jewelry you really love you want to wear it a lot. Buying clothes that don’t go with the rest of my wardrobe is as big a mistake as buying jewelry that only goes with one dress. It’s frustrating and it’s not smart shopping.
HR: So your clothes and accessories should be as adaptable as you need to be.
NM: It’s a time of changing moods. The way to make sure your clothes reflect that is you create a closet with clothes and accessories that don’t slow you down, never push you in the background, and always make you smile. Simplicity will never fail you.