Jun 8, 2012, 2:12 PM
Nolan Miller, the fashion designer whose strong-shouldered dresses and power suits established the over-the-top look of glamour on the television series Dynasty, died Wednesday in Woodland Hills, California. He was 79.
"Dynasty" fashion designer Nolan Miller dead at 79
Mr. Miller learned that he had lung cancer six years ago.
His death was confirmed in a statement by actress Joan Collins, whose portrayal of the vicious Alexis Carrington Colby on the show, about a rich oil family in Denver, was made all the more delicious by an old-Hollywood-style wardrobe of sequined gowns, luncheon suits, wide-brimmed hats, frivolous veils, fur stoles and the occasional turban.
With a weekly wardrobe budget of $35,000, Mr. Miller designed some 3,000 outfits for Dynasty, which was on the air from 1981 to 1989.
"I never want to see them wearing the same outfit twice," he said.
While Mr. Miller's Dynasty creations were his most famous, earning him an Emmy in 1984 and setting a trend for thick shoulder pads during a decade of power dressing, he also designed costumes for at least 40 movies and more than a dozen other series, including Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat and Green Acres.
When Tina Louise's Ginger was shipwrecked on Gilligan's Island, she wore a beige Nolan Miller dress sprinkled with silver bugle beads. On The Addams Family, Morticia’s customary long black gown, evocative of a cobweb, was a Nolan Miller original.
But the Dynasty look became so well known that it established Mr. Miller as one of the few costume designers to have a successful career on Seventh Avenue as well. The show itself inspired a Dynasty-branded collection of power suits (not to mention fragrances) modeled after the clothes worn by Ms. Collins, Linda Evans and Diahann Carroll. Mr. Miller also had his own line of moderately priced suits, produced under license by Leslie Fay.
For most of his career, Mr. Miller worked with the producer Aaron Spelling, designing clothes that would help set the tone of Mr. Spelling's shows. "It was Nolan's real vision of not just the clothes, but of the surroundings and milieu that were so important for Aaron," said Douglas S. Cramer, the executive producer of Dynasty. "I always referred to him as Aaron's secret weapon."
Mr. Miller idolized the style of Hollywood stars like Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, whose films he watched as an escape while growing up poor in Texas and Louisiana during the Depression. He eventually designed clothes for all of those women, modeling the character Alexis's style after that of Ms. Crawford, whom he dressed for 20 years.
"Everything matches: the suit, the hats, the gloves, the jewelry," he said. "When she walks down the hall, you may not know who she is, but you know she's rich, and you know you better get out of the way."
Nolan Bertrandoff Miller was born on January 8, 1933 in Burkburnett, Texas, the fourth of five children. (He later said he was born in 1935, according to his family.) His grandparents had been homesteaders in Oklahoma; his father, William, worked as a carpenter, and his mother, Marie, picked cotton. The family moved at least twice before settling in San Bernardino, California.
After high school, Mr. Miller attended Chouinard Art Institute, a predecessor of the California Institute of the Arts, with the dream of becoming a studio designer. But that line of work was disappearing as Hollywood adapted to the advent of network television programming. Mr. Miller, instead, went to work in a Beverly Hills flower shop, whose clients included many of his idols. He met Ms. Crawford when he was sent to trim her Christmas tree. He began to make clothes for them and opened his own studio in 1957.
"He very much loved that Hollywood lady," said costume designer Bob Mackie, who often saw Mr. Miller at a beading factory in Los Angeles. "I would say three or four times a week, he would be seen with an actress on his arm wearing his dress."
Mr. Spelling had also been a flower shop customer and, as a producer of Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, hired Mr. Miller to design clothes.
Mr. Miller met his wife through one of his earliest private clients, Matilda Gray Stream, a New Orleans socialite. Mr. Miller designed the debutante gown and the first wedding dress of Ms. Stream’s daughter, Sandra, and then, about 10 years later, after her marriage had ended in divorce, married Sandra himself, in 1980. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1993.
Sandra Stream Miller died in November. No immediate family members survive.
Mr. Miller, who continued designing for television until the late 1990s and had a costume jewelry collection that was sold on QVC until last year, had been living at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital.
For many years, he lived with Aaron and Candy Spelling in their faux French chateau. But he moved out in 2000 after a disagreement with Ms. Spelling, reportedly over a dress.
In an interview with W magazine, he lamented the changes in Hollywood where actresses often wear a designer's creation for only a night before returning it.
"Nobody buys a dress any more," he said. "When I started, Crawford would buy three things for the Oscars because she wasn't sure what she wanted to wear. Stanwyck never borrowed a dress in her life."
[Via New York Times -- www.nytimes.com/2012/06/08/fashion/nolan-miller-designer-of-dynasty-looks-dies-at-79.html?]