Nolan Miller dies at 79; ‘Dynasty’ costume designer
Fashion designer Nolan Miller put a bra-less Farrah Fawcett in a see-through blouse for “Charlie’s Angels,” Tina Louise in a slinky nude-beige evening dress for “Gilligan’s Island” and Elizabeth Taylor in violet gowns for her “Passion” perfume commercials. He even made the goth-black number Carolyn Jones wore as Morticia in “The Addams Family.”
But in the annals of television costume design, Miller was best known for his work on “Dynasty,” the long-running, 1980s prime-time soap that made power dressing glamorous.
He was inundated with requests from female viewers for sketches of Joan Collins’ peplum suits. For better or worse, women dressing for success in the “Dynasty” era craved jackets with massively padded shoulders like the ones Miller designed for Linda Evans.
“When I’m 90,” Miller, speaking of the look he created for Evans’ character Krystle Carrington, once told the London Independent, “my name will still be synonymous with shoulder pads.”
Miller died Wednesday of complications from lung cancer at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, said his former assistant, Rene Horsch. He was 79.
During a career that stretched from the mid-1950s to 2007, he dressed many of Hollywood’s top leading ladies, including Lana Turner, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford and Ann-Margret. In addition to “Dynasty,” his TV work included “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Love Boat,” “Green Acres,” “Fantasy Island” and “Hart to Hart.”
“He loved women and glamorous fashion, the glamour of Hollywood. No one did it better,” Jaclyn Smith, who wore Miller’s designs on “Charlie’s Angels” and other projects, said Friday.
“He always wanted us to be fashionable and elegant,” she said of the clothes he made for her, Fawcett and Kate Jackson for their roles as sexy detectives in “Angels,” which aired from 1976 to 1981. “He couldn’t wait to get us in a scene where we would have a gown.”
Miller would be the first to admit that making a woman look beautiful was his utmost objective, a habit that often aggravated producer Aaron Spelling.
“Aaron used to phone me up and shout, ‘Nolan! Why have you put Jaclyn Smith in a fur coat and couture dress? She is meant to be a police officer! He would go crazy, but I couldn’t stop myself. They were all gorgeous,” he said.
When Spelling approached Miller with his next project, he said, “At last I have a show that will make you happy.” For “Dynasty,” the drama revolving around the oil-rich Carrington family, Spelling gave Miller a bountiful budget — at least $30,000 per episode — and said that he never wanted to see his stars wear the same outfit twice.
“Until ‘Dynasty,’ Nolan hadn’t had a chance to really explode,” said Eilish Zebrasky, a costume designer who worked on the pilot with Miller. “He loved it — the shoulder pads, the draping of the dress, the flowy chiffon, the glamorous jewelry. That was Nolan.”
He was born Jan. 8, 1933. in Burkburnett, Texas. His father was an oil worker and his mother picked cotton. He escaped their hard life by going to the movies.
“I adored all those strong women — Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck — and loved the clothes they wore. By sixth grade,” he recalled in the London Independent interview, “I knew I wanted to dress these people.”
He moved west after high school and studied at Chouinard Art Institute, which merged with another institution to become CalArts. He graduated in the mid-1950s.
Unable to find steady studio work, he took a job in a Beverly Hills florist shop that catered to stars. Crawford was a customer and asked him to design dresses for her. He opened a design studio in 1957.
One of his first commissions was a wedding dress for the daughter of a New Orleans socialite. When that marriage ended in divorce, Miller married the daughter, Sandra Stream, in 1980. Their marriage ended in 1993. Miller had no immediate survivors.
Another customer at the floral shop was Spelling, who was then a struggling writer. He promised Miller that when he landed a show, he would hire him. Miller eventually designed the costumes for most of Spelling’s shows, and made an estimated 3,000 costumes for “Dynasty.” He later launched a line of “Dynasty"-inspired ready-to-wear clothes.
Miller continued to work in TV through the 1990s, although he avoided shows where no one dressed up. “He’d have absolutely no interest in putting women in jeans and T-shirts,” said Rachael Stanley, executive director of Costume Designers Guild, Local 892, who worked with Miller on the movie “Soapdish.”
One of his clients, actress Susan Hayward, was so enamored of one of his gowns that she chose to be buried in it. “She told me that when she got to heaven,” Miller said, “she wanted to look like a star.”
Times staff writer Adam Tschorn contributed to this report.
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