Events such as the Underground Lauderdale Fashion Weekend – which held its inaugural event earlier this year, and which organizers plan to make an annual happening – are helping to gain exposure for local designers and link Fort Lauderdale up to the wider world of fashion. The first Underground Lauderdale boasted a pair of big names in the fashion world – Nina Garcia and Nicole Miller. → Fort Lauderdale Magazine caught up with both of them to talk fashion, their careers and what they see happening down here.
Nina Garcia: A New Project
By Gisel Habibnejad
Wearing a sophisticated black dress, styled straight hair and covetable yet simple accessories, Nina Garcia is red carpet ready for the Underground Lauderdale Fashion Weekend.
She’s got her poses down pat like she’s been doing this for years, and she has—about a decade.
In particular, she’s excited to be co‑hosting Nicole Miller’s spring fashion show in Fort Lauderdale. “I think if you close your eyes and try to think about what Nicole Miller stands for, you would think of a beautiful print,” she says. “South Florida and Fort Lauderdale love prints and color.
“It’s the resort-wear, the sun, the weather, the proximity to Latin America—all those influences relate to Nicole’s aesthetic.
“I think Fort Lauderdale’s fashion scene is growing—absolutely. And it’s events like this that are going to propel the creative and the designers to really come forward.”
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Marie Claire creative director through her prominent magazine career or maybe you’ve read one of her books. However, most would probably recognize her from a little show called Project Runway.
It wouldn’t be fair to attribute all her success to the Peabody Award-winning show though; she had already worked her way up the fashion ladder when she found television stardom.
Her style was not influenced by supermodels or movie stars, but instead came from home. Traveling the world alongside her stylish mom, she gained a worldly view of something very few people do—a fresh take on fashion.
At 15, she moved to Massachusetts from her hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia. The culture shock was intense. Everything from the way she dressed to her way of thinking was challenged.
From the beginning, Garcia saw her culture and heritage as an asset. “I think my Latino culture has equipped me with a different point of view than the rest of my counterparts,” she told the Huffington Post, “and seeing things from a different angle has helped me a lot.”
She studied at Boston University and the Fashion Institute of Technology before landing an internship under Marc Jacobs at Perry Ellis with the intention of becoming a designer. One of Perry Ellis’ most memorable collections was a nostalgic ’90s line that made waves on the runways. Garcia was part of this exciting time and recalls its impact on her as a young hopeful trying to find her place in the field.
It was here where she was introduced to the world of editors and curators. She had her aha moment when she realized she could pursue a career in fashion magazines. In 1995, she began what would become more than a decade-long tenure at Elle magazine where she rose to editor-at-large. Her years in fashion journalism have, she says, coincided with interesting movements in both fashion and journalism.
“I think that the role of the magazines has really changed,” she says. “We’ve always been curators. There’s an explosion of information now; more than ever you need the curators and the point of view.”
It was during her time at Elle that she stepped into the limelight under the guidance of her publisher to become a judge of a new Bravo TV competition series named Project Runway.
She had always kept a low profile and was skeptical at first. At the time, she had no idea the amount of success the show would receive.
Now in its 15th season, the show has only grown in popularity since its debut in 2004 while launching the career of designers such as Christian Siriano. The concept is simple - aspiring fashion designers compete for the grand prize of $100,000 to put towards their fashion line.
The show allowed Garcia to showcase her keen eye for fashion to a wider audience. Before she knew it, shows like Today and The View were inviting her on as a guest to talk fashion. Living rooms across the nation were getting to know Garcia and liking what they heard.
Aside from her editorial jobs and TV presence, Garcia has written four books. (And, Fort Lauderdale Magazine can reveal, a fifth one is on the way.) While her books center around fashion, she also emphasizes the importance of confidence. “Embrace your flaws,” she says. “Embrace what you were given. Some of those flaws can be turned into wonderful assets.” After all, the best accessory is confidence.
Nicole Miller: Invention & Reinvention
By Natasha Yvette Lucas
The photographers are in place, the seats are filled and hundreds of fashion gurus are anxiously watching the dimly lit runway entrance. As the fashion show begins, bloggers, fashion influencers and TV personalities simultaneously raise their phones to snap photos and record videos of the New York-style runway show. Models walk down the runway showcasing flamboyant designs with exotic, multi-colored beads, intricate geometric patterns, ruffles and fringes.
One model is styled in a black knee-length, off-the-shoulder embellished dress with Panamanian molas and embroidery designs all over. Another model sports a beaded mesh top and a floral-embroidered black leather skirt.
After the models strut in the final walk-through, New York-based fashion designer Nicole Miller walks out, waving to audience applause for her spring collection.
It was a quintessential New York fashion moment – happening in Fort Lauderdale. Miller brought the show to Fort Lauderdale at April’s inaugural Underground Lauderdale Fashion Weekend in FATVillage. That event was meant to be the first of many for what organizers say will be an annual event that, among other things, showcases Fort Lauderdale’s burgeoning fashion scene. In that context, getting Miller was a coup.
The 65-year-old designer and businesswoman – who lives in New York with her husband, banker and information technology/national security expert Kim Taipale, and has a college-aged son, Palmer – has been in the fashion industry for more than 30 years. She has boutiques in cities across the United States and is sold in high-end department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. Her collections have been featured in Vogue, Elle and WWD amongst others. She’s a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and serves on its board of directors.
Miller’s spring collection was inspired by vintage molas – the traditional colorful patterns worn by the Kuna women of Colombia and Panama – combined with a contemporary influence that incorporated tailored dresses, off-the-shoulder blouses and leather, just to name a few.
“It’s very colorful and there are a lot of different options. There’s a lot of cool blouses; a lot of embroidery, but I think it will really work well down here because it’s so cheerful,” Miller says.
“I went to an art gallery—my friend was having an African art show. In the back room I found all of these Panamanian molas and I was like, ‘Oh my God, what are these things, they are so beautiful.’”
From the beginning stages of a collection to the day of the fashion show, Miller is in complete control.
“I’m very involved in every step of the way. I’m in every fitting and I still do every fitting myself with the models. And with hair and makeup—it’s funny because I always have my own ideas and I don’t listen to anybody. I kind of go, ‘This is what I want and this is what we’re going to do.’”
The designer says that finding the inspiration for her spring collection was “fairly easy” and it was simply walking into an idea, which has happened with quite a few of her collections. It doesn’t always happen that way, though.
“For some seasons, it’s a struggle,” she says. “I’m looking at movies—old movies, going to galleries, doing different things trying to get excited about something and sometimes I’m like, ‘I’m just not excited about anything and I have to find something.’” But eventually “something clicks” and when Miller has a concept, that’s when the collection starts.
Miller’s designs are known for their modern, ageless aesthetic and silhouettes that are artfully draped to achieve a unique look acclaimed for its feminine, sexy and refined appearance. You may have seen many of her designs worn by celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Brooke Shields, Eva Longoria, LeAnn Rimes, Blake Lively, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé.
“I had no idea that Beyoncé was going to wear my dress,” Miller says, referring to the green off-the-shoulder jersey gown Beyoncé wore at Harvey Weinstein’s Oscars pre-party earlier this year. “She went and got it on her own, so that made me happy because we work with stylists and a lot of times we loan certain celebrity things for special events.
“I love seeing somebody wearing my clothes … especially when I didn’t realize they owned it. Somebody came in [my office] one day and said, ‘Angelina Jolie is in the paper wearing your dress.’ I was like, ‘How did she get my dress? I didn’t know she had my dress.’”
As her stature has grown, Miller has inspired other brands and designers to imitate her trendsetting styles.
“I would have an idea that was different or I would make something that was not in the market,” Miller says. “I had a lot of early success with things that got copied. People were always copying me, so I would have to move on to the next thing.”
She stays up-to-date with the latest trends because she has a young staff that is current with fashion and pop culture. “I think fashion is a very fickle business,” she says. “So you just have to always re-invent yourself and make sure they stay interested in you.”
Fashion Fun in Fort Lauderdale
Underground Lauderdale Fashion Weekend organizers have vowed to make the event a regular part of the local scene after a successful debut earlier this year. Locals as well as fashion influencers, bloggers and celebrities attended the highly anticipated weekend.
At the center of it all was Nicole Miller’s runway show hosted by Nina Garcia. In addition, over a dozen rising fashion designers were showcased, a fashion marketplace was set up and various parties filled up the nightlife. The weekend kicked off with a reception at the Ritz-Carlton’s Burlock Coast and closed with a party hosted by “Queen of the Night” Susanne Bartsch. Most events took place in FATVillage.
As details of the next Underground Lauderdale Fashion Weekend are released, keep informed at undergroundlauderdalefashionweekend.com.