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June 11, 2012

Nolan Miller, Wardrobe Designer Whose Artistry Left Enduring Impact on Television

Miller, who created elegant and glamorous clothing for decades of top female stars, is perhaps best known for his contriibution to the 80s drama Dynasty.

Nolan Miller, a fashion designer who created distinctive looks for some of Hollywood’s top actresses, and achieved renown for his association with the 80s television drama Dynasty, died June 6, 2012, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. He was 79.

According to news reports, the cause was lung cancer.

On Dynasty, Miller created an array of attention-grabbing outfits notable for such features as padded shoulders. His designs were worn most memorably by the show’s female leads, Joan Collins, Linda Evans and Diahann Carroll. During his years with the series, produced by Aaron Spelling, Miller worked with a reported budget of $35,000 per episode.

The cultural impact of Miller’s Dynasty wardrobe was so great that he launched a successful line of Dynasty-branded clothing based on the show’s signature looks, as well as a separate line of his own.

Miller’s other television credits included such series as Honey West, The Addams Family, Gilligan’s Island, Green Acres, Charlie’s Angels, Hart to Hart, The Love Boat, The Colbys and Models, Inc.

He also created designs for numerous made-for-television movies and miniseries, including Mr. and Mrs. Ryan, Hollywood Wives, The Two Mrs. Granvilles, Malice in Wonderland, Life of the Party: The Pamela Harriman Story and These Old Broads.

During his career Miller received six Primetime Emmy nominations — four of them for Dynasty.

Miler was born January 8, 1933, in Burkburnett, Texas. Growing up in modest means, he often went to the movies as a form of escape. The family eventually settled in San Bernardino, California.

After graduating from high school Miller attended Chouinard Art Institute, a predecessor of the California Institute of the Arts. Unable to find work in the fashion arena, he took a job at a Beverly Hills flower shop frequented by celebrities, including idols of his such as Joan Crawford. He made her acquaintance when he was sent to trim her Christmas tree, and later he began to make clothes for her and others. He opened his own studio in 1957.

Another customer at the shop was Aaron Spelling, who was enjoying his first success as a writer and producer. Spelling hired Miller to design clothing for Zane Grey Theater, with actor Dick Powell.

Miller’s former wife, Sandra Stream Miller, from whom he was divorced in 1993, died last November. No immediate family members survive.

On April 8, 2003, Nolan Miller had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. During the interview, conducted by Gary Rutkowski in Beverly Hills, California, Miller began by talking about his entry into television in the wardrobe department at NBC in the late 1950s, with the daily anthology series Matinee Theater.

He also talked about his break into the entertainment industry when he met several notables — including Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Carolyn Jones, and Aaron Spelling — while working part-time in several flower shops.

Meeting, Spelling, Miller explained, led to his work on Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater, soon to be produced by Spelling. He spoke in great detail about his long association with Spelling’s series, including Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat and the series for which Miller’s name is synonymous — Dynasty.

Miler described his work on Dynasty and the introduction of some of the series’ well-known costume choices, such as hats and shoulder pads. Miller further talked about working with the cast and producers of Dynasty, the budget he received for each season, and some of the individual costumes he created for the show.

Additionally, he discussed his work on several other series, including Burke’s Law, Gilligan’s Island (for which he created gowns for Tina Louise), Green Acres (for which he created costumes for Eva Gabor), The Addams Family (for which he followed the Charles Addams cartoons to create the characters’ initial wardrobe), Honey West (his first credited series as costume designer, for which he made memorable zebra-striped and leather costumes for Anne Francis), The Mod Squad (for which he asked for the job title of wardrobe consultant), The Survivors (costuming screen icon Lana Turner), Vega$ (describing his work with Robert Urich), Fantasy Island (discussing his work with its leads), Hart to Hart (discussing his work with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers), Hotel (working with Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor) and The Colbys (particularly how he took a different approach than with Dynasty, from which it originated).

In addition, Miller elaborated on the television movies The Two Mrs. Grenvilles and Poker Alice, and the Academy Awards (as a private designer for celebrities and as a designer for the 58th Annual ceremonies).

The full interview is available here.

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