Nicole Miller

nicolemillerNicole Miller leads in the fashion world because it always follows its own path.

By Chris Petersen

Success in the world of fashion comes from being able to react to trends just as easily as you shape them, and for more than 30 years Nicole Miller has been at the forefront of women’s fashion for that very reason. With a broad base of upscale specialty retailers carrying the Nicole Miller brand, women around the world have been able to get their own versions of Miller’s designs, which have been worn by tastemakers including Beyonce, Jennifer Anniston and Angelina Jolie.

A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and l' École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne in Paris, Miller has become world-renowned for her combining of fine art with couture technique. But in fact she was creating styles that caught the fashion world’s attention even before she founded the Nicole Miller brand with CEO Bud Konheim in 1982. In addition to being found at upscale retailers around the world, Nicole Miller has two brick-and-mortar locations in New York City’s Soho neighborhood and West Hollywood, Calif.

As one of the company’s co-founders as well as a long-time veteran of the fashion world, Konheim has seen many trends come and go over the course of his career. In recent years, Nicole Miller has reacted to some significant changes to the realm of fashion retailing, and although these changes have tripped up many other brands, Konheim says Nicole Miller has been able to stay on its feet thanks to the company’s forward-thinking mindset and strong internal culture based on independence. As the label prepares for the MAGIC show in Las Vegas this winter, Konheim says the way the industry has changed is substantial but nothing that Nicole Miller hasn’t been prepared to face.

Out in Front

Just as Miller’s unique blend of her art training and fashion prowess have made her styles stand out on the runways and in stores, Nicole Miller stands apart from other brands thanks to its dogged determination to follow its own path and avoid sticking with the herd. As Konheim explains, the world of fashion is full of imitators, and derivative products flood the marketplace. In this environment, Nicole Miller’s overarching philosophy of independence is what differentiates it from the rest of the industry.

“We only have one guiding philosophical difference, and that is we are totally independent,” Konheim says. “We absolutely don’t do what is generally accepted and we carve our own way, good or bad.”

With so many labels out there pushing derivative product out into the marketplace and diluting styles, the lines of distinction between individual products have become blurred, Konheim continues. It’s only because of Nicole Miller’s insistence on carving its own path and doing things independently that the brand has been able to deliver a unique experience for its devotees.

“The distinction is how you deliver the product, who you deliver it to and how you make it special,” Konheim says. “That’s probably the reason we’ve been viable the entire time we’ve been in business.”

Changing World

The world of fashion is a much different place from it was when Nicole Miller first opened its doors more than 30 years ago, and the retail world in general is much different from what it was when Konheim started his career. In the late 1950s, he says, there were approximately nine square feet of retail space for every man, woman and child in the United States. Today, however, that figure has ballooned to more than 45 square feet of retail space per American. Consumers have more choices than ever, especially considering the reach of the Internet, and that choice along with the need to turn over inventory much faster than in the past has resulted in falling prices.

At the same time, the traditional retail model that existed when Miller and Konheim launched the Nicole Miller brand has undergone some substantial changes, as well. In the early 1980s, department stores tended to be located primarily in the middle of large urban centers. However, as cities began to lose their economic power, department stores followed their customers out to the suburbs and became much more spread out.

This trend affected the way buyers interacted with brands and manufacturers because buyers were now operating from centralized locations for greater efficiency. As Konheim says, buyers became more efficient but lost their touch with the sales floor. With their attention focused on spreadsheets instead of the merchandise, the end-result is that merchandise at most department stores has become homogenized. Konheim says one of the biggest changes to come along with this shift is that retailers now rely on the manufacturers to keep them up to date with the latest styles, rather than buyers finding them on their own.

Still Adapting

These changes have given labels headaches for years, but Konheim says Nicole Miller has been true to its independent spirit and found its own path to adapt to them. “Now what’s happened is we’ve changed our business model to walk away from the generally accepted business model that’s out there,” he says.

By adjusting its strategies to put more focus on e-commerce and working closely with retailers to keep its newest styles out in front of them, Nicole Miller is blazing its own trail in the fashion world, according to Konheim. Just as it has done since 1982, Nicole Miller is using its independent mindset to maintain its leadership position in the marketplace.

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