Even if you never watched Dynasty, who doesn’t have a deep respect (or healthy fear) for the show’s scheming, shoulder-padded, sequined female characters? “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,” said Nolan Miller of Joan Collins, whom he dressed both on and offscreen for twenty years. Collins herself confirmed Miller’s death this week. He was 79 and had been suffering from lung cancer for the past six years.
Born in Burkburnett, Texas, in 1935 (or, according to his family, 1933) and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Miller attended the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles (now the California Institute of the Arts). After bouncing around different fashion retail jobs, he began working for a floral shop that did flower arrangements for celebrities around Hollywood. He first met Collins when he was sent to her house to trim her Christmas tree. He described the early stages of their relationship in a 2003 interview:
She always had a big photograph by her bed of Judy Garland, and she kept roses there. I one day arranged roses, and she showed me her dressing room. It was quite amazing how she handled her clothes. Every garment was photographed on a hanger, and she had a card system, with each card had a shot of the garment, a swatch of the fabric, and what the accessories wore that she wore with it — the shoes, the jewelry, and the handbag. And then on the back of the card she wrote where she wore it, and made notes on who was there … so that she would never wear the same garments with the same people.
Miller started working at NBC in the fifties and later designed the costumes for television shows like The Addams Family, Gilligan’s Island, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. He had a longstanding relationship with Dynasty producer Aaron Spelling and even lived with Spelling and his wife Candy in their L.A. home for several years until he and Candy had a fight in 2000.
Miller designed all the costumes for Dynasty, which was on-air from 1981 to 1989. According to his obituary in the Times, he had a weekly wardrobe budget of $35,000 and designed some 3,000 outfits throughout the show’s run. He explained his process for envisioning a garment to the Archive of American Television:
I would visualize who I was going to sketch for, and I would always start with a face. So I’d say, ‘This is a gown for Lana Turner, or Elizabeth Taylor.’ And I would always do the face first, because if the face didn’t work, I wouldn’t finish the sketch …
I’m truly a designer for film. The minute I get a script and I know who I’m working with, I can visualize how they look. I’d read the script for Dynasty, and I’d say, ‘Okay, Joan is coming down the stairs, and she’s going to start a conversation, and she’s going to look like this.’
In the same interview, he also described how he’d like to be remembered:
Of course, it would be nice to be remembered as a nice person. I’ve always tried to do right and not hurt anyone. There are such amazing talents in this world, like Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga and Dior … Talents that really border on genius. I will never be remembered as a great designer. It’ll probably be on my tombstone that I did Dynasty. But my forte, I think, is that I am capable of making women look pretty. I love seeing women look glamorous, and look pretty, and when I was married my wife said I turned her from muslin and cotton lace into gold lamé and sable. And that’s what I seem to do to everyone.
In addition to making costumes, Miller worked as a private couturier to several actresses in Hollywood, including Barbara Stanwyck. He also had a line of Dynasty-branded power suits and fragrances and sold jewelry on QVC until last year.
Miller was married to Sandra Stream, a client of his, from 1980 to 1993. He has no immediate family members.