As a classical ballerina in Japan, Nanako Miller was all about dance. It wasn’t until the director of the junior company she danced for told everyone 17 and older they’d be making their own costumes during the offseason that Miller learned to sew.
“We all hated it. All we wanted to do was ballet,” Miller admits.
But she quickly recognized just how stylish those costumes were compared to those from other ballet companies. They had color. They had flair. She added to that when asked to run errands in search of the right trimming, beading and other materials that gave the costumes pizazz. Miller didn’t realize how good her eye was until the director took her aside to compliment her on her choices. That was a lightbulb moment that ignited Miller’s career as an artist and fashion designer even if she didn’t see it at the time.
Today Miller who calls her brand Nanako is a renowned fiber artist whose signature is lightweight women’s clothing that’s comfortable to wear yet stylish. Chic. Dramatic. Fun. Deep pockets are on many of the dresses and pants. Big zippers are on some of the coats. Miller embraces parachute fabric to make pants and tunics that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion.
“People think of parachute for bags, but it’s very wearable,” she says.
Nanako has been a regular at Rose Squared Art shows since 2015 and you’ll find the booth at the Anderson Park show on Sept. 17-18.
“In Japan we wear things that are very loose and creative,” she said. “If you want, you can put a belt on top of it. Armholes are big and if you want, you can wear a t-shirt underneath. My way is Japanese fashion but in an American version.”
Initially when Miller came to this country, it was to pursue ballet after earning an undergraduate degree in dance in London. She worked for a pair of companies in New York City, and during the summer offseason, needed to find a way to make money. She began working in sales and design, taking her back to those days in Japan when she learned to sew.
“I knew I couldn’t dance forever,” she says. “It’s like I got pulled in by the forces of nature to the fashion industry. I forgot how much fun I had with the color and the flow.”
While initially she made ballet costumes only, Miller evolved into creating her own line in 2005. Miller operated two retail stories in New York for a spell but realized she could reach a broader audience by traveling to shows and through online sales. She worked her way from hometown street fairs to art shows up and down the East Coast and into Chicago.
Miller got even more creative during the pandemic by starting weekly web shows that are all archived on her site. The videos got such a great response that the web shows are now in their third season.
“I wondered who would watch,” she says. “So many people did.”
Miller loves meeting customers and suggesting combinations for outfits. She especially cherishes the Rose Squared art shows, noting, “The parks themselves are gorgeous. You’re basically walking along this beautiful park and on the side there’s art. They’re so spacious and so relaxing. It’s a great time.”