Nolan Miller ruled the world of television costume design and fashion during its most golden age: the 1980s. As the costume designer for the hit show Dynasty, Miller wrote the book on shoulder pads, embellished satin day-gowns and bejeweled-to-the-bejesus women. When I learned that the famous designer had passed away of lung cancer at the age of 79, my mind immediately turned to The Fug Girls over at Go Fug Yourself; Jessica and Heather are die-hard Dynasty fans who frequently reference his work on the show on their popular fashion blog.
Just imagine -- before Nolan Miller, gold lamé was not necessarily considered appropriate for daytime.
The New York Times ran a fabulous obit on Miller full of interesting tidbits about the designer, who was nominated for six Emmys over the course of his career in costume design: four times for his work on Dynasty, once for the television movie Malice in Wonderland starring Elizabeth Taylor, and once for The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, which starred Ann-Margret and Claudette Colbert. A few items of note jumped out at me from the tribute piece:
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• The weekly costume budget for Dynasty was $35,000. • On Gilligan's Island, Ginger's beige, jeweled dress was a Nolan Miller, as was Morticia's (The Addams Family) black column gown. • Miller was born in Texas, in Burkburnett. • Nolan Miller dressed Joan Crawford for 20 years, and based his style on her look from the classic Hollywood age. • Miller lived with Aaron and Candy Spelling but moved out because he and Candy got into a fight over a dress. Allegedly.
I loved his clothes from the Dynasty era, and remained a fan for years. During my bartending days, I became a big QVC fan, spending many a late night (or early morning) letting their salespeople pitch me to sleep. I would occasionally catch Miller's on-air presentations, and his warmth lit up the screen. Combined with his stories about Hollywood's rich-and-famous, he was a fan favorite at QVC and certainly one of mine -- even though I never ordered a thing from his line.
If they're viewed only through the lens of his over-the-top creations for late-night soaps, it would be easy to dismiss Miller's career and aesthetic as costume-y, period kitsch. But the truth is, his inspiration for women's fashion was firmly rooted in an era of Old Hollywood Glamour, which he translated for a new generation of women in America -- women who were powerful in ways women in the 1940s had not yet become.
He designed costumes, but also clothed some of the richest, most famous, most powerful women in Hollywood -- Crawford, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Lauren. He defined the fashion of an era, and made it the definition of the era itself -- a fitting and enduring legacy, and one to which every fashion designer aspires.