By and  on January 31, 2007

The dress is more popular than ever in recent memory, but you don't have to tell Nicole Miller.

The designer has made dresses the centerpiece of her collections for the past 25 years, and retailers said the quest for dresses in a range of categories, from daytime to social occasion and petites, has made this Miller's moment.

Of course, Miller has had many moments. Over the years, she has mined everything from the ancient Mayan civilization and Byzantine mosaics to Celtic priestesses and vintage Seventies and Eighties styles for her prints and silhouettes. The designer's ability to find ideas in diverse places is what keeps her collection interesting and keeps fans coming back. Beloved by bridesmaids for her elegant alternatives to the typical poufy atrocities, she's equally admired by professional women for her unique color palette and use of innovative fabrics. Then, of course, there are her evening gowns, which are long and slinky for spring.

Miller has described her designs as "sexy and feminine with an edge." Retailers use superlatives to describe her business.

"The dress business in general has been very strong, but [Nicole Miller] is the best of the best," said Frank Doroff, senior executive vice president and general merchandise manager of women's at Bloomingdale's. "Their business is incredible. They're probably one of the best-performing dress resources that we have. Nicole Miller has carved out a great niche for themselves. The growth rate is incredible."

Donna Wolff, divisional merchandise manager and operating vice president of dresses, coats and swimwear at Bloomingdale's, added, "Miller's clothes have an amazing fit, and nobody has a pulse on prints and color the way she does. There's a great synergy between those dresses and our customer because the prints and styles are fresh and young and sexy."

Nicole Miller sales are also on fire at Macy's Herald Square, according to Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of Macy's East. "She's very individualistic. She has a definite sensibility and has been known for her prints. I love the way she reinvented herself with her prints and shine. She's been evolving. Her colors are quite unique. Nicole has her own source of inspiration and point of view. She's definitely going for a more refined approach."As a store known for its wide dress selection, Lord & Taylor has long counted Miller as one of its key resources. "Collection sells unbelievably well," said Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president of advertising, sales promotion and public relations. "The performance is truly outstanding. For holiday, customers loved her stretch metallic taffeta. Her label appeals to a broad age range because it is not about age but a modern, easy and sophisticated attitude."

John Maguire, a dress buyer at Houston-based Tootsie's, which has stores in Dallas and Atlanta, recalled a retrospective runway show held at the Houston store for Miller's 20th anniversary and the outpouring of support from longtime customers. "It was really neat to see all the things she's done over the years that she pulled out of the archives," he said. "She had pieces that are 15 to 20 years old and we'd say, ‘Remember that?' Our customers pulled out their 15-year-old Nicole Miller dresses and wore them."

Miller is one of Tootsie's top five vendors, Maguire said, a testament to the designer's staying power. "I think her line is great looking and getting better all the time," he said. "It's a lot of look for the money, and the fit is excellent. You're getting a designer product at a bridge price point."

Another longtime Miller supporter is Neiman Marcus. "We've probably had the business since she started," said Ann Stordahl, senior vice president and general merchandise manager. "The most incredible thing about Nicole is that she keeps reinventing herself and keeps her line so relevant. I remember myself wearing those dresses. Today they look equally good for the time. Her fine arts background has sustained her in terms of her design process."

Miller's customers are as diverse as her patterns. "A lot of her dresses are worn to proms and we'll also see them on members of the wedding party. She dresses the mother and daughter very well," said Stordahl.

Bloomingdale's Wolff noted that any discussion of Miller must include her partner, Bud Konheim, the company's chief executive officer. "You can't mention Nicole without mentioning Bud," she said. "Her success is part and parcel to his success. They're like peanut butter and jelly."

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