Photo: Courtesy of Nicole Miller
The fashion company Nicole Miller was officially created in 1982 by CEO Bud Konheim and designer Nicole Miller. But it’s actually the latest iteration of a fourth-generation family business with deep roots in New York City’s Garment District.We recently sat down with Konheim to hear about the evolution of the company, known for its trendy dresses.
Konheim’s grandparents and great-grandparents all worked in New York’s burgeoning fashion industry at the turn of the century. Among other endeavours, his relatives worked in the hat business.
But in 1955, his father bankrupted the business and the family of their money.
Konheim’s mother, who had never worked a day in her life but was heavily involved in charity, decided to fix the family’s economic struggle by starting a juniors label, which she felt was missing from the market.
After soliciting donations from friends, Mrs. Konheim forged forward, with label called Connie Sage for juniors, and kicked the business off with a twist. She sent martinis to the buyers offices with a note, “Have a drink on Connie Sage, and join us for our grand opening.”
The next week, the space at 1400 Broadway had a line around the door.
The store was a hit, and as it expanded Bud Konheim took over the juniors’ business and filled it with fashion-forward dresses.
Konheim wanted to innovate, and hired a designer. His uncle thought he was crazy, commenting that it’s far cheaper to rip off someone’s design.
But eventually, Bloomingdale’s came knocking. The department store asked Konheim to produce two of his junior dresses for their misses line. Konheim agreed, extended the waistline and shipped the garments.
The dresses sold out.
He called it “Eric & Alex.”
“Everyone thought I hired these two gay guys,” Konheim said. “Really, I just named it after my sons.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Konheim was experiencing health issues and decided to close her business. Konheim kept the misses line he created and seamlessly transitioned the old “Eric & Alex” Konheim launched P.J. Walsh, a dress line, with designer Phyllis Walsh.
The new business thrived, but just six days after opening the new business, Walsh told Konheim she had fallen in love and was moving to Paris. She gave six months notice.
Konheim scrambled to find a new designer, and wound up interviewing 170 people for the job. He narrowed it down to three, but knew the then-unheard-of Nicole Miller, a Texas native who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and trained at Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, was the one he wanted.
In 1982, P.J. Walsh closed, and “Nicole Miller” opened.
Now, 30 years later, they are still in New York and thriving. While a lot has changed over time, the company still keeps closely to its design and family roots.
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