Prerecorded and posted: November 4th, 2021
Rachel Elspeth Gross
Rachel Elspeth Gross 00:02
Hey everyone, it's here today with another episode of I can do that we have Adam here with us today to talk about his incredible collection of Nolan Miller designs. Hi, Adam. Thank you so much.
Adam Seirafi 00:14
Hi! Thank you for having me.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 00:16
Oh, no, I mean, we've interacted a lot online. Your stuff is incredible. You've got this giant collection. Can you kind of tell us about it for anybody who might not know who Nolan Miller is?
Adam Seirafi 00:28
Sure. Yes, I'd be happy to. So Nolan Miller was a pretty prolific and iconic designer, I would say a contemporary of Bob Mackie. But what's interesting is Bob Mackie such more of a household well known name, and Nolan Miller is a little less famous in terms of his moniker but his designs are extremely iconic and famous especially for a TV costume. So everyone knows of Gilligan's Island, the little sexy dresses ginger wore and Morticia Adam Webb dresses from the Addams Family, Ava Gabor's plush wardrobe from Manhattan when she's on the farm with her husband, iconic Charlie's Angels obviously dynasty was his most famous, the movie soap dish with Sally Field. A lot of high high profile lady's personal wardrobe, Elizabeth Taylor, all her passion perfume campaigns, the gowns are by Nolan. So he even though his name may not be household, his his designs are definitely household level of fame.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 01:32
Yeah, I think you kind of see him in you, you know what it is like?
Adam Seirafi 01:35
Jonathan Joseph 01:37
Yes, yeah. And he's got such a definitive signature. And I think part of what we tried to do here at Little Red Fashion is bring to light these lesser acknowledged lesser known stories through these designs.
Adam Seirafi 01:50
That's great. Yes, I think it's a shame. You know, his work was so prolific and so iconic. And he was so, you know, I mean, I really think obviously, I'm biased. But I really think that, you know, it's very innovative and unusual and kind of definitely going against the mold for a soap opera TV show drama to define a decade of fashion. That's unheard of, you know, fashion and soap opera are kind of opposite ends of the spectrum. You don't think that, you know, you don't think of soap opera and haute couture, but that's what ended up happening. And his Nolan's budget was extremely high. I forget the figure, but I think he had like, and this is 1980s money, like $15,000 per episode or something. And he always went over. So these gowns were very high end couture pieces, even though it was for a TV show soap opera. So that in itself, I think is pretty unique and interesting.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 02:45
it is especially like right now the past few years, we've had this like prestige show thing where, you know, all these streaming channels are making these crazily elaborate, beautifully funded projects. But you're right. I can't think of the statistic either, but it's I mean, he was given time to play when TV wasn't as important.
Adam Seirafi 03:01
Yes, yes. And he was really it was lucky for him. He was good friends with Aaron Spelling, who was obviously a juggernaut TV show producing they were friends since like the 60s when they both were young and struggling. Aaron wasn't Aaron Spelling it. He just was a regular young guy kind of make it as was Nolan. And you know, I think Nolan did, like cop shows for Aaron, like TJ hooker, I think was the name. And Charlie's Angels. You know, no one complained that Aaron kept saying these girls are cops you don't they can't be in ball gowns and furs all the time. They're detectives. So when he got dynasty he was very it was a dream come true for him because he was used to designing for you know, everyday women and he wanted to do over the top. So
Rachel Elspeth Gross 03:48
thank God he got the chance. So how did you get started? How did this become a thing for you?
Adam Seirafi 03:54
Well, I I kind of fell into the actually collecting the costumes by accident. I was looking for the design sketches. As a kid, I was always like the class artist and love to draw and sketch. And I I grew up in a family with a bunch of girls and my immediate family. Besides my dad was all girls. I had girl cousins, so they always it was I was always inundated with girl stuff. I look back and think isn't that funny? Why didn't they ever like say hey, what do you want to do for a change? But they didn't. So you know, there was Barbie stuff all the time. And you know, I remember just sounds like well, this is all that's around me. So I might as well look look at it. So I looked I remember looking at these Barbie catalogs as a little kid, and really loving the sketches Bob Mackie and Nolan did for their Barbie design because really glamorous, beautiful costumes for Barbie dresses for Barbie. And I would go home and draw my version of their sketch. So that's kind of how I first knew about Nolan as a little kid was through the Barbie. Barbie sketches he did for the Barbie gowns he designed And then as I got older, I thought, wow, it would be really cool to have these original sketches as a piece of art they're beautiful, one of the kind. And I thought about trying to curate those, but in my search for sketches, I kept finding the actual gown. Now I know it takes me liking a gown, what am I can do with it? Where am I gonna store it? These things are big and heavy, and can be damaged if you don't take good care of them. But I was like, you know, these gowns are really cool. I like fashion. They're way more valuable than a sketch they're increasing in value. And I mean, in fashion in you know, loving is an art form as well. So collecting the gowns. So was I, by the time I acquired my first sketch already had, like four dynasty gowns.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 05:46
Okay, wow. I mean,
Jonathan Joseph 05:49
Rachel Elspeth Gross 05:50
yes, anytime you you find something and you fall in love with it, or you become infatuated the topic of subject. I mean, Jonathan and I have been asking people for foundations all year, we have spent, because that's what happens. You find something you like it? Yeah. So hard to not like, Jonathan calls it the bug, right? That's the word.
Adam Seirafi 06:09
Jonathan Joseph 06:10
Yeah, I do.
Adam Seirafi 06:12
Its a fun hobby.
Jonathan Joseph 06:15
Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, our job here at Little Red is just to be able to give kids empowerment in that hobby. Whatever facet of it speaks to them. For you, it was the sketches. And then through that the gowns, or others, you know, sometimes it's this random bubble that I got at a thrift store for $3. And oh, my god, I love accessories. And I'm the next Iris Apfel, Uh you know who knows, and so you never know where it starts. And so, you know, I like to cast a wide net, when it comes to what constitutes fashion, the intersection of fashion dress costume, I think it's really important to explore. And I think in terms of empowering families of kids who might have an interest in any number of those things, and how they intersect, you know, talking to people like you who also share that passion and have been bitten by the bug and exactly how that journey has unfolded for you is so important. Because I think too often these stories go untold.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 07:10
You had some of these on exhibition relatively recently.
Adam Seirafi 07:13
Yes, I did. My first exhibition earlier this year in Dallas, Texas, I was just part of a larger 1980s Fashion exhibit, I think there was 60, something full gowns, costumes, outfits, fashion pieces on mannequins, and I had six pieces. And that was so fun. Um, and you know, and not that it's all about money, but it's nice to make money off of these amazing pieces. And it's, you know, mutually beneficial, share it, get more funding to preserve these items, find more items. Obviously, it was a joy to exhibit them and get to interact with guests. And, you know, a lot of people really enjoyed it, which was fun. But obviously, you know, turning this into a little side gig is very enjoyable to me as well. I never thought oh, I can make money off of this collection. I mean, I've had it. I've had this collection for now like 10 years. No, my year I finally had an exhibit and made a little money so it was it was very Win win all around.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 08:12
It's yeah, but it's like art or I bet it's like any other kind of creative commodity if it's a thing you know, people who love it and want it I'm sure you'd like much prefer to give it to a happy home.
Adam Seirafi 08:22
Rachel Elspeth Gross 08:23
Or something can happen in reverse you can get something somebody else is really care about you can
Adam Seirafi 08:27
right yes, yeah, definitely. For sure. It's been fun.
Jonathan Joseph 08:34
Whats your favorite part about the process that process for you out exhibiting you know, we've talked and done interviews with curatorial staff of various institutions. But it's interesting it would be interesting to hear from your perspective as someone who's a lot you know, donating the use of your collection transitioning from collector to then exhibitor What was that like for you?
Adam Seirafi 08:57
The I think the best part and I'm I'm a very like protective and like nervous and OCD. So I was like, oh my god they're gonna get damaged, I dressed and undressed all my mannequins, and they were velvet roped off, there was security at the exhibit. So it was very well done. The gentleman that orchestrated the exhibit, this was his third or fourth, he did like a 1920s exhibit a 1970s exhibit and this was the 1980s exhibit. And it was actually very scaled down because of COVID Like usually his exhibits are even grander than the one I got this painting. You know, the one I got to participate in was very grand in my opinion, but so I was lucky that we got to do it even with COVID with a budget cut. But my favorite part was just seeing them all together on these mannequins with beautiful lighting and spotlights. And you know, on the mirrored pedestals and because I have one mannequin that I used to photograph my collection but I've never had my piece several pieces all together in a beautiful display, so it was really fun to see them in their full glory. With that what all that cool exhibition, pedestals and all that kind of stuff.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 10:06
Yeah, they're kind of meant to be viewed in a group, right? Maybe not the exact lineup or whatever. But they're they had the same intention. They were made for the same purpose.
Adam Seirafi 10:13
Yes and the lighting was great, my lighting is always terrible. I just do it in the guest bedroom that one of my parents homes, and the lighting is not good. I need to invest in some professional lighting. But I like so to see them in beautiful bright spotlights, because everyone always says, Oh, why is the color different? This isn't the same one. This is fake, or oh, it's faded. None of my things are fake or faded. Just the lighting, TV lighting versus little guest bedroom lighting is very different. Isn't Elizabeth Elizabeth Taylor, in a guest bedroom with a ceiling fan light versus on the red carpet? It's very different lighting. So I need to invest in better lighting. So the color looks accurate to when the lady was wearing it.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 10:54
Oh, yeah. There's so neat, though. And one of the things that I really love about 80s fashion. And I think this idea is one of the reasons that fashion can really resonate with the kids or young people is that it can be so joyful. And I don't honestly know what could be more joyful than like a giant shoulder pad 9000 Secret camp at the beginning, but it's fun. It's playing. It's like loud, its joy.
Adam Seirafi 11:18
Right, I think a lot of people from all walks of life, it seemed from this exhibit. Just you know, first of all, we're all attracted. I mean, most people are attracted to visually beautiful and stimulating things. And obviously beauties in the eye of the beholder. But I think everyone can appreciate sparkle, and drama. And you know, like, you know, like the best opera. You know what I mean? The most beautiful painting, there's a little drama. Usually you don't I mean a little something a little over the top, not everyday mundane, gray straight lines, you know what I mean so I think most graphics can enjoy something a little jazzy and over the top and surreal in a way.
Jonathan Joseph 12:00
Yeah, I think costuming provides a unique platform for that. Whereas I think a lot of the general public, when they look at certain haute couture, they're like, when I wear that you hear that a lot of things like this, but when it's costuming when it's for production of some kind that removes that immediately. And they can just step right into the fantasy. And it's an imediate and there's an immediacy to it, I think is unique versus let's say haute couture where yes, it's theatrical and intense and beautiful and stunning, but maybe not as easily appreciated by, you know, general, the general public in the same way that I think costuming can be, and especially again, in 80s, which was just, you know, visually spectacular and stunning and amazing. And my inner Blanche Devereaux, is crazy. I can use a cat, right?
Adam Seirafi 12:43
Another great show, Golden Girls.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 12:47
So your work is you work as an architect, is that correct?
Adam Seirafi 12:50
Yes, I work as an interior architect and interior designer.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 12:54
So one of the things I mean, I don't know how much of my stuff you have read, right, but one of my I love fashion history. And there is this whole, like decades long, hundreds of years long history of people studying architecture, and then becoming fashion designers. And so I was wondering, do you see anything from like the archetype? Like perspective, looking at clothes like this is there,
Adam Seirafi 13:14
I think that's really interesting. I saw your blurb that you posted. And I never even correlated that I always thought I was such an oddball. I mean, anything artistic, and visual, and detail oriented, I think goes together. And you know, I'm Oh, I have I have interest. I mean, I had talent, but I have interest in a wide variety of art forms. So I think an artistic soul was an artistic soul, you know what I mean? You really appreciate all forms of art and creativity. But I do think that form you know, architectures form fashion is form and detail architecture and design is very detail oriented fashion, I feel from my minimal experience is very detail oriented. The form, details, structure.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 14:00
The movement too.
Adam Seirafi 14:01
Yeah, movement, exactly. Movement, you know, the human the human experience, both the fashion and architecture and design, it's very detailed oriented. So I do you think, you know, you give us a thought provoking question. I never really thought about it, ironically enough, but there is.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 14:18
Adam Seirafi 14:18
No, it's a good, it's good to think, think this way. There is a lot of overlap and correlation now that I think about it.
Jonathan Joseph 14:26
Oh, I mean, absolutely. I think you know, when you think of movements, like the Bauhaus movement, and the fact that a lot of those key of kindergarten by Friedrich Froebel, and spoke to foibles, gifts and those sorts of, you know, interaction of Platonic solids and exploring creative play in this certain way. A lot of them also wanted to fashion fashion architecture to me. I've always had a very strong overlap in the sense that they both deal with embodiment a building is embodied by individuals and has to serve their needs and the purpose and and all of these things that go in To design and fashion chairs, that fashion has to move with the body and be embodied in the same way that a building without people is merely a structure.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 15:12
Do you have a book? Do you have a Nolan Miller book or an 80s fashion book? Or is there anything you would know?
Adam Seirafi 15:18
You know, I, I would love to be involved in a book. I'm not a writer. There are not any books. I mean, Nolan featured in some fashion books that I found maybe like six pages, a little chapter, but there is not an official Nolan Miller fashion book. I wish there was. Maybe one day someone can spearhead that I would love to be involved and help out. i Yes, I think it's a shame that he he doesn't have one and he's gone. You know, he passed away. About eight, eight years ago, eight or nine years ago. I think there was a book in the works at one point, but it didn't ever manifest. And I think I don't know what the catalyst is. But I feel like for example, Bob Mackie was much more prolific at intentionally or not publicizing himself. He has probably lots of coffee table books. I think Nolan. Without asking Him this question. I think he and I heard from people that are close to him that I'm friends with. I think he just was kind of living for the day. He wasn't like taking naps. He didn't take himself too seriously. He wasn't trying to become famous. He didn't. He was featured in some TV shows. They asked him to play a fashion designer in like hotel and Charlie's Angels. I think he like didn't want to do it. And I just think it was I think he was definitely an artist versus a businessman. Whereas I would assume Bob Mackie and or his camp. He has some really good business analysts and PR people and people helping him become a household name and all these prolific books and publications. And in someone like Nolan one who designed you know, Charlie's Angels, Gilligan's Island, Addams family, Dynasty, you would think they would have a book but sadly, there's no you know, real publication about his work.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 17:07
Now, I've noticed that and I was one of the reasons I wanted to ask because I'm always looking for things and I mean, I guess if you're looking at the Bob Mackie version, he has Ray and then he has Rhett Butler, and they were a team right? Kind of got these three people working together you could see that you know, not as take anything away from anybody else. It's just interesting when someone does something that changes the whole preception of something on the planet and then they're just sort of gone it sad, very sad.
Adam Seirafi 17:34
Yes, definitely. For sure and I really you know, I because I admired his work for whatever reason I just connected to it. I love Bob Mackey's work. I love other you know, cinema costumes, not just TV show. But you know, I love I love. You know, one of my favorite costumes is the red velvet, Scarlett O'Hara Gone with the wind down, that's probably my most favorite costume. Well, Joan dynasty gown that is inspired by that gown. So I kind of like pickle shoulders. I kind of love by proxy, have a little taste of that. And I can I don't think I could ever afford something that huge and iconic. I mean, it's, it's, you know, in a very, very, very prestigious collection. But I just connected with Nolan Millers designs for some reason. And I am kind of a nice collector. Like I love all kinds of costume and in Hollywood movie costumes. But I don't really have any desire to branch out if something fell in my lap. I wouldn't say no. But it's important to me, for whatever reason, I have this kind of loyalty to Nolan, that I want people to know who he was and what he designed. Because I think, you know, his life's work is important. And it is there was something special about him. You know, I mean, there was something there was some genius behind him that that rare, you know, je ne sais quoi kind of thing that happens once once in a while that not everybody has to to elicit that level of fame and, and the beautiful art pieces that came through his mind and work. A lot of people crash and burn and a lot of people, maybe the breadth of ways the reach or what's the right way, the right way to say that is but yeah, to be successful. It's something for years and years and years and years and be able to sit in a room with 1000 sequins and not be like me. Lost it would be like treasure. It's it's a quality of work though, too. And one of the things Jonathan, you and I talk about this all the time that work is important, right? Doing work that you believe in, makes you feel better makes it easier to deal with the challenges out in the world. Work can be a release, it can be a safe space, it can be a place where you work stuff out, you know in the rest of your life. And what you just described makes me think exactly, that's probably what he was able to do was to get out anything, by making something and that's that's such a great goal for any of us kids as
Jonathan Joseph 19:26
well. I think I think what made him so prolific and so iconic is his ability to translate a definitive narrative for a Character our series in such a powerful way that transcends genre, you know, because if you take Dynasty, Gilligan's Island and the Addams Family, I mean, they're just completely generically different in every Yes. And yes, across all of them, he was able to translate the elements of his stylistic and visual vocabulary in a way that was transcendent, and in a way that each one of those shows was a massive cultural, you know, impact had massive cultural impact. And I think the through line is really what your collection and your work gets to Adam, which is what I think is so great, because being able to draw those through lines really helps, from a fan historical perspective, just move the field forward. I think that these untold stories, part of what makes Rachel's work so phenomenal, as well, is really being able to make these through lines more apparent, and why these types of conversations are so important, because, you know, the further we get from those things being contemporaneous, the more difficult it will be to cultivate anecdotal, you know, evidence and talk to people that knew Nolan or other figures. And so chronicling This is so vital, I think, to really keeping the field fresh, and really constantly exploring that sort of hermeneutics of fashion and costume.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 21:25
Yes. I'm very glad that you're doing it just like Jonathan. I think it's really cool. And I like it when people are doing stuff that matters to them, and also helps the world and everything else. Jonathan, do you have one last question? I've got one more and then probably gonna wrap up in a sec.
Jonathan Joseph 21:42
Yeah, why don't you lead us off? And then I'll close out?
Rachel Elspeth Gross 21:45
Alright, no problem. Okay, so thank you, first of all, for taking the time to be here. I think it's really neat what you're doing, it's great. If you had advice for a kid, maybe they wanted to collect something doesn't even have to be Nolan Miller gowns, what would you say to them? is a great place to get going or challenges overcome? Or?
Adam Seirafi 22:05
Well, I would say, I mean, maybe it's cliche, but I would say, you know, anything is possible, you know, do not assume that, oh, I'm young, or Oh, I am a or Oh, I am b anything is possible. I mean, I, I acquired my first Nolan Miller gown at like, a age dynasty gown at like, age 23, which, I mean, I was, I was barely alive when dynasty happened. I mean, that's not a, I mean, people usually surprised that I am the age that I am. And, you know, so I would just say it's, it's so overly used and redundant, but really, and truly just follow your dreams. The sky is the limit, I wish I could tell myself, my younger self believing yourself, like just believe in yourself. That's all you need, you know, doesn't matter if anyone else believes in you just believe in yourself. Because with that confidence and inner strength, you can do anything. And that includes finding old beaded gowns from the 1980s soap opera. So you know, I would say, specifically in fashion, I mean, really, networking is the way to go. And luckily, we're in the age of social media that really helped. I, you know, probably to the point of being obnoxious would cold, contact people on Facebook that were in any way involved in fashion, or other known costumes, or collections or museums. And I've made some great friends through that some some of these collectors are very generous and very kind. Some are not, but that's in any realm. And also, you know, advertising through my blog. Before I had Instagram, I had a blog site, which originally Google was in partnership with blogspot, I think and they were kind of advertising my stuff. Oh, come on Google image search. And they stopped Google stopped being partnered with Blogspot so now my stuff doesn't come up.So I need to relaunch a website. But Instagram you know is a great way I mean issued Instagrams a lot of older people aren't on Instagram. So it's a much younger crowd so at some you know, 70 year old person as Elizabeth Taylor gown in the closet, they're probably not going to find me on Instagram, they find me through my website. And that's happened. But I would I would just say you know, in a in a rambling trajectory of advice, you know, believing yourself anything is possible and just go out and do it and make it happen the only person that can make it happen is you and also utilizing social media to network and make valuable connections is valuable and and fruitful in any endeavor, but especially for sourcing curating, collecting.
Jonathan Joseph 24:49
Amazing and to close this out. Yeah, no, I couldn't have said that better myself. I definitely agree with all of that but I want to bring it I guess you call the sister point to that. It you have any advice for parents of budding collectors or the adults in their life? You know, what advice would you give them in terms of support, types of support or encouragement that you maybe needed or wanted or got, that you think should be paid forward is the type of way that you know, a budding collector can be supported by those around them?
Adam Seirafi 25:19
Yes. I'm so blessed to have great parents. Both my mom and my dad are, were very, very supportive of me, my mom especially has been very supportive of me, my whole life. I mean, I don't understand that like critical, nagging mother stereotype, because my mom is the exact opposite. And she has always watered that seed of creativity. She's very creative, too. But she and my dad is creative in his own way, as well. But my mom is always nurtured anything that I like anything that I was interested in, she would encourage it, she would participate, even if she probably wasn't interested. So I think obviously, in in deeper things, other than collecting deeper things, and superficial things, and everything in between, it's so important to just be there for your kids. Because you can be their number one cheerleader, and you can also be their first bully and first person to traumatize them not to make this take this to a darker place. But I think it's just so important to the love your kid, you have to support them, whether you agree with what they like and what they do, or you don't, unless it's hurting someone, you have to, love is support, you know, you can't have it both ways. So I would say just nurture your kids interest, they have a mind they have a brain, they know what they like, and just help them grow and nourish that, that passion they have.
Jonathan Joseph 26:46
Amazing, I absolutely agree. And that's why I'm here, I always say my job in founding Little Red was to sort of be a broker of conversations through fashion, and help kids who love fashion and young people that are interested in fashion, have tools that meet them on their level, but also provide resources to grownups who maybe aren't into fashion and have no clue about any of this stuff. But a way to be able to relate to their kid and support them in a way that is genuine and actually advantageous to their education. So I love that I couldn't have put it better myself. Thank you so much, Adam for joining us for this episode of I can do that part of our Little Red Village initiative because, as we say, every week it does take a village to raise the next generation of fashion lovers, leaders, and creatives, which is what we're doing here at Little Red Fashion. If you haven't yet, please sign up for our mailing list at www.littleredfashion.com head over to the shop and preorder your copy of the little red dress and check in with myself. My partner in crime Rachel Elspeth and our guests next week for the next installment of #ICanDoThat. Thank you so much, everyone.
Adam Seirafi 27:46