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Nolan Miller; designed lavish wardrobe for Dynasty series

By Eric Wilson
New York Times / June 9, 2012
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NEW YORK — 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 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 turban.

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, as well as fragrances, modeled after the clothes worn by 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 to help set the tone of 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 Cramer, executive producer of ‘‘Dynasty.’’ ‘’I always referred to him as Aaron’s secret weapon.’’

Mr. Miller idolized the style of Hollywood stars such as Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford, whose films he watched as an escape while growing up in poverty in Texas and Louisiana in the Depression.

He eventually designed clothes for all of those women, modeling the character Alexis’s style after that of Crawford, whom he dressed for 20 years.

Nolan Bertrandoff Miller was born in Burkburnett, Texas, the fourth of five children. 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 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 costume designer Bob Mackie, who often saw 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.’’

Spelling had also been a flower shop customer and, as a producer of Dick Powell’s ‘‘Zane Grey Theater,’’ hired Mr. Miller to design clothes.

His former wife, Sandra Stream Miller, died in November. He leaves no immediate family members.

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