Photo: Courtesy of Nicole Miller
Being in a recession has never scared Nicole Miller CEO Bud Konheim. He’s been through three of them.His company may make expensive clothes, but he says that he and his team are in the “feel-good business,” meaning that women buy their clothes when they want to look and feel great.
The philosophy, he says, has helped the brand continue to do a steady business even when times are tough, adding that if you make a good product, money will follow.
“We make young-looking clothes for the more sophisticated woman,” Konheim said. “And when you put them on, you feel good.”
A big key to the label’s success revolves around designer Nicole Miller’s continued involvement in the line.
The designer, who is best known for her smart dresses and an early line of playful neckties, still drapes most of the clothing inside her Garment District office, where collections are produced. She sketches every chance she gets (it is her favourite part of the job, after all). And she does research online to gather inspiration.
She’s committed to the company that bears her name, and says that lines begin to suffer once their head designers get lazy and over-delegate once they make it big.
Konheim, who founded the company that later became Nicole Miller 30 years ago, bragged that Miller (now a partner) always produced garments that were two years ahead of the trends.
On a recent visit to the company’s headquarters, he told us about how in 1993, Miller barged into his office waving the front page of The New York Times. Archaeologists had unearthed dinosaur fossils, and the findings captivated Miller.
Konheim shrugged, but Miller persisted. In her next line at Fashion Week, all the models walked down the runway in dinosaur prints.
No one was immediately blown away by the collection, but a few weeks later, the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” was announced. Dinosaurs were suddenly all the rage.
Konheim’s phone started ringing, and people were amazed by Miller’s forward thinking.
How did she know?
“I guess she just got lucky,” Konheim said with a knowing grin.
It wasn’t long before people started copying Miller’s designs.
But when it comes to the competition, Konheim won’t settle for No. 2. He also refuses to copy anything another brand or label is doing.
When asked if Nicole Miller would consider doing a bridal line such as Vera Wang did for David’s Bridal, Konheim scoffed at the idea of following a trend set by another designer.
“We don’t operate our business by looking on the other side of the fence,” Konheim said. “We know there’s a sweet spot with the price point. We don’t follow others lead because that’s like saying, ‘I’m OK with being No. 2.'”
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