Designer Nicole Miller calls herself "the most disorganized person in the world." She orders fabrics "by intuition" and finds dress ideas in dreams.
But somewhere in this haze is a thriving businesswoman who, by making clothes to please herself, has found a customer and a niche.
"My closet's always stuffed, but I can't find anything to wear," she complains. "That's what I react to. Clothes have to be irresistible."
After five years, her New York firm--which she owns with partner Bud Konheim--reports an annual volume of $18 million. Nicole Miller Inc. just opened its first 1,000-square-foot boutique on Madison Avenue. Business is so encouraging, in fact, it's enough to make Miller nervous.
"I used to have complete anxiety attacks. Complete traumas. In the past year, everything has been working. It's been too easy. So I'm really scared," says the 35-year-old, whose sleek hair varies in hue from reddish at chin length to brown on top. She recently came to JW Robinson's South Coast Plaza store for a show of her cruise line.
Miller arrived for the event looking like an offbeat schoolgirl--swathed in a Miller-designed "ghostbuster" print dress that narrowed into a hobble skirt. She admits she's drawn more to humor in clothes than to any conventional wisdom about trends.
"You can't pay attention to trends," she says. "It has nothing to do with the real world. I'm more interested in women and how they're feeling. And I feel like I'm dying to show my legs again. Last year, I wasn't ready for short skirts, and I assume other women are on my wavelength."
For cruise, Miller synthesizes retro shapes--like Victorian bustles and '40s peplums--with playful '80s fabrics. One look at the designer's new "fettuccini" print, and you believe her claim: "When I sketch things, I get real 'cartoony' about it."
The show concentrated on swingy rayon dresses in pastel-and-black prints, with below-the-knee hems. She used bits of cowboy fringe and shirring. Prices range from $150 to $320.
Whimsical as she gets, Miller says her primary customer is the career woman who's become bored with strait-lace office clothes. She acknowledges this isn't "a real conservative person."
Miller says she offers new shapes each season--plus older ones that have proven popular. She espouses variety: "I will always make a baggy and a skinny dress."
This season--contrary to her predictions--she found customers prefer her tight silhouettes over the roomier ones. All of which proves to the Massachusetts-born designer, who was trained at Rhode Island School of Design, never to hold too tightly to a preconception.
"When I started out, I was highly opinionated," she recalls. "Now I never say never. I'll give anything a try."