Nicole Miller in the Spotlight

Nicole Miller in the Spotlight

On April 27 Philadelphia University recognized fashion icon and RISD honorary trustee Nicole Miller 73 AP with its 2013 Spirit of Design Award. Presented as part of the university’s Spirit of Innovation Awards Gala, it was given in appreciation of the outstanding contributions she has made to the world of design and the inspiration she provides to students and young designers.

“Nicole connects with a broad range of customers, and her body-conscious designs are artfully shaped to best flatter a woman’s body,” notes Clara Henry, director of Philadelphia University’s Fashion Design Program. “She is also known for developing innovative textiles for her collections and for her fanciful, bright prints for men's ties.”

Despite the demands of running a high-profile design business, Miller often hosts RISD students at her NYC headquarters and serves as a visiting critic and lecturer. She continues to maintain a close connection with the Apparel Design department, noting that her experience here was critical to her own development as a designer. “Foundation Studies alone was so great, so challenging,” she says. “It showed me a methodology, a unique way of thinking about things and a method for taking on challenging projects.”

In 1986 Miller opened her first New York boutique on Madison Avenue, which marked a major milestone in her ascendancy in the fashion world: She had been working as a designer for clothing company P.J. Walsh when her trademark blend of inventiveness, meticulous attention to detail and business savvy caught the attention of the company's president, Bud Konheim. In 1982 he renamed the company Nicole Miller, launching a label that has expanded far beyond women’s apparel – to handbags, footwear, jewelry, bridal wear and men’s sportswear.

Now, with 15 namesake boutiques nationwide and more than 1,000 specialty and department stores carrying her designs, Miller still thinks fondly of RISD and appreciates that “RISD-educated designers are far more experimental than at other schools. They really push the boundaries,” she says, “so you see a lot more innovation.”

Known for the superior cut and construction of her dresses as well as her striking graphic prints, Miller has built her premier label by avoiding trendy fads in favor of designs that are classic and dramatic at the same time. Her dresses are worn by some of the brightest stars in Hollywood (including Halle Berry and Angelina Jolie), yet she has also worked with inexpensive outlets such as J.C. Penney to create elegant lifestyle lines that “real women” can afford.

Miller has often credited her father, an engineer, and her Parisian-born mother, who gave her an early taste of French style, as influences in the evolution of her signature style. “A lot of my clothes really require a lot of engineering and very complex pleating,” she says. “I like things that are a challenge to be made, rather than something that’s simple. The complexity of engineering in the clothing is one of the most fun parts to me.”

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