The keys to building a successful fashion house are: step one – captivate the audience, and step two – always leave them wanting more. The concept itself is easy enough to understand, but the execution is an entirely different story. Many brands have gone the way of deep discounting – luring customers in with the promise of savings. The mode of thinking has become so standard in the marketplace that consumers rarely bat an eye at even modest discounts. A percentage-off sign is now expected rather than appreciated. But then there is the old-fashioned way of doing things. Unfortunately, it involves constant innovation, which can be tough on the psyche, but very rewarding when all the stitching comes together so seamlessly.
“Nicole Miller’s got an aesthetic that’s hard to put into one word, but it’s really interesting,” explains CEO of the Nicole Miller brand Bud Konheim. “Everybody likes to say it’s sexy and at the same time edgy and girly, uptown-downtown – no one can put a name on it that captures the whole thing, and that’s the secret of great design and of great designers, which I consider Nicole to be. She’s a great designer and one thing that’s true to every great designer is they hate what they just did because if they were satisfied, they wouldn’t ever need to do anything again.”
Since 1975, when Konheim hired Miller as an in-house designer to 1982, when he made her a partner and named the brand after her and to the current day, Nicole Miller has been a fashion powerhouse of ideas season after season. Miller herself was born to a French mother, trained at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in Paris.
RISD inspired Miller’s sense of freedom and creativity while Chambre Syndicale gave her a mastery of the classic French techniques of haute couture. French attitude combined with a youthful American spirit has led to a steady fan base, including many entertainment industry professionals and celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Halle Barry, Beyonce, Joss Stone, Jordin Sparks, Amy Poehler, Heather Graham and Felicity Huffman. It’s a fan base that lives in excitement of what Nicole Miller will do next – because there’s always something next – and yet never finds itself disappointed.
“Every great designer has a burning desire to change the status quo, even if they are responsible for the status quo,” Konheim says. “After each show, they pick apart the show and what they don’t like about it. She immediately after having done something becomes bored with it and the fan club responds to that. The synonym for boring is predictable. You can’t say that about Nicole because she’s always changing. She can do chartreuse for two or three seasons and then is obsessed with hot pink. Her aesthetic and taste level is the same but the designs are always changing.”
And that has been Nicole Miller’s strategic success plan, because unlike shoppers, fans are not slaves to big sale weekends and an abundance of price slashing. Instead, fans are loyal so long as the brand they love stays loyal by remaining true to what the fans fell in love with in the first place.
You could say it’s more of a lifestyle and that is exactly what Nicole Miller is aiming for. With 27 licensees and a presence in national high-end department stores such as Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor and Neiman Marcus, and a few freestanding boutiques, Nicole Miller offers everything needed in the realm of women’s and children’s wear and accessories.
“All of those licensees cover everything except automobiles,” Konheim jokingly explains. “Handbags, shoes, children’s wear, eyewear, evening wear and it all builds the lifestyle of Nicole Miller designs, which is really what we’re after. It’s not important to concentrate on selling how many pieces of sportswear or how many skirts or handbags or tops. We’re focused on creating a culture who just love Nicole’s aesthetics.”
One of the things the Nicole Miller brand is doing to build this fan base is giving them greater insight into not only the designs but the designer herself. The brand’s website along with a strong saturation of social media sites – including Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr – gives the fan base greater access into the brains behind the brand. Not just new arrivals, but updates on news, events and trends promote more than just clothing but a way of life. Konheim says the team has also taken the reins on appearances within retail stores to make sure the events are more meaningful than before.
“Instead of just accepting retailer’s ideas that cast us in the role of being passive, we are strategizing over the year by picking spots and key targets to saturate those areas,” Konheim says. “We’re making sure that everyone knows Nicole is coming and everyone is up to speed with product information and doing a whole court press.”
And that brings us back to step one – captivating the audience, and captivating them long enough for them to figure out that there’s a reason for step two – coming back for more.
It’s not an easy thing to do – especially in the world of ever-changing fashion – but for the past 31 years the Nicole Miller brand has proven that it can be done.
“The world is changing and I’m changing with it,” Konheim insists. “I’m scraping every day to stay ahead of what the culture is. You can say the public has a lack of attention but actually there’s a lot of attention, it’s just not focused on any one thing.
“We’re trying to focus our energy on the people out there and get them more engaged,” Konheim continues. “So instead of one second they spend looking at you, maybe they’ll spend two seconds and we’ll be a big winner.”