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Nicole Miller's Runway to Success

Nicole Miller's business is a rare success in the fashion industry -- her boutiques are turning a profit instead of just promoting a brand. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports on the designer as part of Morning Edition's Fashion Week series.

The first Nicole Miller boutique opened on New York's Madison Avenue in 1986. The store did well, but Miller's first big break came by accident.

Miller had made a series of silk dresses with a print made out of a design of theater tickets. Bud Konheim, her business partner of 22 years, remembers the dresses were "awful." Konheim and Miller discussed using the silk to make women's scarves but settled on men's ties instead. A security guard at the Madison Avenue boutique also happened to work nights at the Metropolitan Opera. He borrowed one of the ties and showed it to a buyer of the Met's gift shop.

"The next day, the buyer came to the store and bought all 35 ties, doubled the price and sold them all at the gift shop," Konheim says. Within two years, the line of ties grew into a $12-million business for Nicole Miller.

By letting Konheim focus on the business side, Miller has been free to concentrate on design, a combination that's been a key to the firm's continued success. She's been exhibiting her designs at New York's prestigious Fashion Week shows for more than 10 years.

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.