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Costume designer Nolan Miller, best known for the big-shouldered designs he poured Joan Collins, Linda Evans and Diahann Carroll into for the Eighties series “Dynasty,” died Wednesday at the Motion Picture Country House in Woodland Hills, Calif.
This story first appeared in the June 8, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Miller, 79, died of complications from lung cancer, according to his longtime business associate Rene Horsch.
After studying fashion design at the Chouinard Art Institute in the Fifties, Miller took a job at a Beverly Hills florist that catered to Hollywood insiders, aiming to parlay that into a costume design job at Universal, Paramount or one of the other major studios. While trimming roses, he met Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, Betty Davis and Aaron Spelling, who was then a struggling writer-producer. Those regulars helped him break into Hollywood but as movie studios were then phasing out costume design, Miller set his sights on TV. His prolific career stretched from the mid-Fifties until a few years ago. Although Miller retired from fashion in 2007, he had a jewelry line on QVC from 1992 until last summer.
For “Dynasty,” Spelling told Miller, “This is a fantasy for a lifestyle if you were rich, rich, rich.” In the high-flying Eighties, Miller had a budget of $35,000 per show — an exorbitant amount for that time. “Nolan used real fur. He would have Joan and Linda dripping in sables and in Harry Winston jewels that he borrowed,” Horsch said. “It was a global phenomenon. It was really the first time designers in Europe were looking at America to see what the trends were. Everyone would tune into what Joan and Linda would wear. People had ‘Dynasty’ parties.”
The interest became so intense that Spelling kept a closed set. In an interview last year, Miller said Spelling told him, “I never want to see them wear the same thing twice and if Cary Grant wouldn’t want to go to bed with her, I don’t want to see her.”
The weekly soap opera-ish show became so popular it spawned a signature clothing label. When Miller launched the line at Bloomingdale’s New York flagship with the cast, fans swarmed the store. He also maintained his own signature made-to-measure collection throughout his career. Miller had a licensed suit line through Leslie Fay from 1984 to 1995.
Nominated six times for an Emmy Award, Miller won one in 1984 for his work on “Dynasty.” The following year, he was nominated for “Malice in Wonderland” with Elizabeth Taylor and again in 1987 for “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles” with Ann-Margret and Claudette Colbert. “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island,” “The Colbys,” “Hotel,” and “Vega$” were some of the other TV shows he worked on. “If you look at Aaron Spelling’s shows, Nolan’s name is attached to each one as costume designer,” Horsch said.
Accomplished as he was, Miller had a meager upbringing. The son of a Cherokee father and an American cotton-picker mother, Miller grew up on an Indian reservation in Burkett, Tex. At that time in the early Thirties, his father and fellow Native Americans were banned from going into town. By the time the younger Miller was in high school his family had relocated to San Bernardino, Calif.
Horsch said, “Nolan’s favorite place in the world was Venice, Italy. He wanted Mark Zunino [his former business partner] and I to sprinkle his ashes in the Grand Canal and then go to Harry’s Bar for bellinis to celebrate his life. Eventually, we will do that but it’s not going to happen next week. We will probably do a memorial [in Los Angeles] even though he said he didn’t want one. Joan Collins, Linda Evans, Jaclyn Smith and all his ladies have been dialing in so we have to do something.”