Nicole Miller started her career as an intern and opened her first store on Madison Avenue in 1986. The rest is New York City fashion history.
The Tribeca resident's interests extend well beyond fashion, and her passion for food has led her to co-host, with chef Michael White, Our Town's The Art of Food. Held at Sotheby's on October 13, the event welcomes 25 Upper East Side chefs who will be preparing dishes inspired by the auction house's works of art.
What was it like when you opened your first store on Madison Avenue? Madison Avenue had a reputation for having very snooty stores, and it's kind of comical because you would walk into another store and everybody would be aloof and cold. And these stores would open up and close up and open up and close up. And there were so many times when half of Madison was empty, between the recession or being poorly run, or whatever. We withstood the times. We were there for years and years and years.
I read that your company grew significantly after you designed a tie.When we opened the store on Madison Avenue, I decided to make some ties. I was making scarves and my own accessories at that point. My business partner said, “Make me some ties while you're at it.” So, we took some of our old prints and had the fabric reprinted and made some ties. It just became a huge hit. It was great because when women were shopping with their husbands, the men would have something to shop for. Or if the women were shopping, they would buy one for their husbands. And it was back when conversational ties were a new thing. There wasn't anything like that around. And anytime a guy wore one of these ties, they just got so much attention. And they would come back for more. So we really had a huge tie business for a while. Until people started copying us and making ugly versions of them. And then there were casual Fridays and then men got conservative and went back to grey ties again. We still make a few ties, but it doesn't have that super excitement it did back in the '90s. We made a lot of ties with food and alcohol on them.
You've said that the fashion industry has changed as far as quality goes.Well, there used to be mostly domestic manufacturing, and not so much global. So I think the whole quality and level of American design has gotten much more elevated. Back when we started, I was only making things in the United States and the factories were very limited. If I wanted to make a bias cut dress, they would go, “Oh no, but we can't.” They didn't let you do anything that was challenging. So gradually we started making things overseas a bit. In the meantime, American manufacturing has caught up and there are all these great factories in the United States now.
As far as New York City goes, you've called it 'conservative' clothing-wise. I'm talking about how when you go to events in New York, I find that a lot of times, everyone is kind of wearing your basic ball gown. Some of them are really great, but unless you go to a downtown event, then you see people being a little bit more adventurous.
How do you think New York fashion is different from anywhere else in the world?Well, at this point, it's in a big comfort zone. I look around and everybody is always dressed for comfort, with sneakers. People will dress up to go out. Even offices have gotten so much more casual. I even noticed that when I went to the fabric shows in Paris, though. When I used to go, everyone was dripping in their leather jackets and cool, latest whatevers and now everyone's in jeans and sneakers.
As far as this season goes, what are the trends you see?My runway show is very colorful this year. Even though I tend to wear a lot of black, I have a big feeling for color. I was actually kind of surprised that the United States' shows seemed to have a lot of black and white. The European shows seem to be very colorful this year. I'm not the kind of person that goes out wearing white outfits. I've just never been a believer in white outfits. [Laughs] I'm more of a believer in color.
How do you define your style and that of your brand?Well, I think I'm not into that goody-two-shoes way of dressing. My girl, she's a little bit more edgy than that. I don't go for that kind of sweet-looking, girly type of clothing.
What are your favorite restaurants in Manhattan?In my neighborhood, which is Tribeca, I'm very spoiled since I live across from Nobu. I go there all the time. But my two all-time favorite restaurants are Indochine and Da Silvano. And Waverly Inn, I like that, too. And in my neighborhood there's a great place called Khe-Yo, owned by Forgione. It's Laotian food. The Butterfly is in my neighborhood; I like that a lot. too. I also like to go to Santina in Meatpacking.
What are your future plans?We're developing our handbag and shoe collection quite a bit and that seems to be taking hold, so I'm excited about that. And we're already starting to think about summer of next year, which is terrifying. [Laughs] It's funny, I spend the whole summer doing boardsports- wakeboarding, water skiing, kiteboarding- so now I'm like, “What am I going to do now?” since there's a gap before snow season comes around.
Next week: Art of Food Co-Host Michael White
For Art of Food tickets or other information, go to artoffoodny.com