Nicole Miller reveals the secret to lasting in the fashion industry for decades

American fashion designer Nicole Miller.
On staying relevant in the fashion world, designer Nicole Miller says, “I hang out with a young crowd. The people I work with are young, and I stay open-minded about everything. I always like to have fun.”
(Nicole Miller)

While going through her late mother’s belongings, Nicole Miller unearthed a pair of neat navy and white slingback shoes that she wasn’t thrilled to find.

“I hate slingbacks,” the New York-based designer recalled during an interview earlier this spring. “Nothing could be more contrary to my style or personality.”

However, Miller went to work one day sporting the elegant shoes as a homage to her mother. She wore them with a pair of jeans and what she described as “a bathrobe.”

“It was bad,” Miller said. “But everyone at the office thought it was the coolest outfit. I thought, ‘I should learn from this.’ That’s what fashion is about — breaking things up.”

A look from Nicole Miller's spring 2018 collection. Jonathan Dee

Miller was in Los Angeles in May for a dinner at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood to debut her spring 2018 collection, which was predicated on floaty, floral dresses and cropped jackets — or what Miller describes as a “tropical safari.”

“We imagined a girl on a safari in Africa, who has brought all the wrong clothes,” she said. “Maybe a safari jacket, but the rest is all stilettos and cocktail dresses. That’s how we styled the collection.”

The flame-haired, frankly spoken designer has been a force on the American fashion landscape for decades, having launched her brand in 1982. Her name appears on multiple categories from bridal to ready-to-wear and accessories such as sunglasses and phone cases. And what has been the secret to her professional longevity and staying relevant in the world of fashion? Her answer is to think like a young person would.

“I hang out with a young crowd,” she said. “The people I work with are young, and I stay open-minded about everything. I always like to have fun. I still go out and do everything that [young people] do.”

For fall, Miller, again, returned to things discovered in her family home.

Nicole Miller's Vintage Floral Silk Burnout Sleeveless Dress ($530), Jacket: Embellished Eagle Leath
Nicole Miller's fall 2018 collection includes a vintage floral silk burnout sleeveless dress ($530) and an embellished leather moto jacket ($1,200). Daniel Matallana

“I found a trove of vintage holiday magazines in my parent’s attic, so the line is somewhat vintage travel-inspired,” she said, adding that she garnished pieces with “a touch of vintage military and post-war era. Sometimes girls want to borrow from the guys. Other times they want to dress more feminine. There are some florals, but we have touches that are taken from menswear or military uniforms too.”

Also Miller said a woman can never have too much black in her wardrobe. That’s somewhat contrary to the core inspirations behind each seasonal offering and the brilliant colors and strong prints seen throughout her collections. Miller said she was heartened to see supermodels Amber Valletta and Kate Moss in chic black cocktail dresses at this year’s Met Gala in New York.

“Everyone was on a major costume thing,” she said of the otherwise flamboyant outfits in the crowd. “But with [Valletta and Moss], black was a statement. It looked very cool.”

Miller has a few fashion pet peeves such as the preponderance of sneakers and the athleisure-wear trend. (“I think things will become even more casual before we get dressed up again,” Miller said.)

Pieces from Nicole Miller's fall 2018 collection include a camo jacquard boyfriend jacket ($420) and a camo jacquard high-waisted pant ($365).
A camo jacquard boyfriend jacket ($420) and camo jacquard high-waisted pants ($365) from Nicole Miller's fall 2018 collection. Daniel Matallana

“Everybody now looks like they’re an athlete and go to seven different gyms a day,” she said. “A lot of those workout clothes are silly, and people look bad in them.” She conceded the look might be a West Coast thing. At her gym in Tribeca, she said she’s immersed in a sea of black and gray clothes.

“Nobody wears anything sexy or with any color,” she said. “You will barely see a criss-cross bra. One girl showed up once in neon and stripes and cut-outs, and I thought, ‘What is she doing here?’”

As for what fashion still teaches her, Miller said her most significant recent fashion epiphany was the notion that imperfection is a good thing. It’s something she often sees around her.

“I’ve always had that aesthetic that everything should be pretty and perfect,” Miller said. “But the way fashion is going, it’s like the wrong aesthetic works — the one that is discordant or a little bit off. Quirky is cool. Shoes that don’t work with your dress look good. All the stuff that didn’t work in the past now works.”

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