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Costume designer Nolan Miller’s influence on fashion

Kai Ryssdal Jun 8, 2012

Costume designer Nolan Miller’s influence on fashion

Kai Ryssdal Jun 8, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: Fashion designer Nolan Miller died this week.

“Dynasty” theme

He created costumes for dozens of films and television series over the decades. Glamorous costumes, too.

But there was one look he was most best known for:

Kate Betts: Shoulder pads.

And they made women:

Betts: Bigger, taller, more substantial let’s say.

Shoulder pads were the “thing” in women’s clothing back in the ’80s. They made it into evening gowns and business suits.

So we got fashion writer Kate Betts on the phone and asked her how big a deal Miller and his shoulder pads actually were.

Betts: Well I think it translated because suddenly women were entering the workforce in droves, and they were achieving a certain kind of power in the workplace. And they needed the armor — or they thought they needed the armor — to compete with men.

Ryssdal: Wow, that’s a telling phrase.

Betts: Yeah.

Ryssdal: But you look back now and you say, ‘Gee, was that really such a good look?’

Betts: Well, yeah. I mean, the proportions have changed significantly, let’s just say that. But it’s funny because he was a costume designer and costumes are necessarily exaggerations. So it’s really a testament to the influence and success of “Dynasty,” Joan Collins, Linda Evans, Diahann Carroll — that his look had such an impact on the culture.

Ryssdal: The idea that he was able to get from designing costumes to selling things in retail fashion — and eventually, we should say, on QVC and all that — it’s sort of an interesting transformation.

Betts: It is, but I think it’s something that we see a lot now. Now the fashion business has become a global business and you see entertainment and fashion crossing over, especially commercially. The thing that comes to the top of my head today is somebody like Sarah Jessica Parker, you know? She became Carrie in “Sex and the City,” and that show also had costumes that were highly exaggerated, but had an influence on the culture. And then, you know, you see people like the Olsen twins.

Ryssdal: Mary-Kate and Ashley, right?

Betts: Yeah, now they’re the toast of 7th Avenue with their line. You know, they started off on TV.

Ryssdal: Oh my god, the apocalypse is upon us.

Betts: Yeah, exactly. So perhaps Nolan Miller was a trendsetter in more ways than one.

Ryssdal: Kate Betts, she’s a fashion writer. Her most recent book is called “Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style.” Kate, thanks a lot.

Betts: Thank you Kai.

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