Nolan Miller, Designer of ‘Dynasty’ Power Looks, Is Dead at 79
By ERIC WILSON
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 on Wednesday in Woodland Hills,
Calif. He was 79.
Mr. Miller learned he had lung cancer six years ago.
His death was confirmed in a statement by the 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
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 Jan. 8, 1933, in Burkburnett,
Tex., 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, Calif.
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 the 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
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
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 anymore,” 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.”
Born: 1/8/1933, Burkburnett, Texas, U.S.A.
Died: 6/6/2012, Woodland Hills, California, U.S.A.
Nolan Miller's westerns - costume designer:
Yuma (TV) - 1971
Wild and Wooly (TV) - 1978
Love's Savage Fury (TV) - 1979
The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (TV) - 1982
Poker Alice (TV) - 1987