From Mom’s Sewing Room to NYC’s Fashion Scene, How Scott Miller Made it in Menswear
October 30, 2023 — As a young child growing up in Beaverton, Oregon, Scott Miller staved off boredom by using his mother’s sewing scraps to fashion outfits for a snack he found in the kitchen — peanuts in their shells.
There was no question, Miller was fated to be in fashion, and he eventually became the Vice President of Design at Perry Ellis International. It was a dream he never gave up on that led him to design for major men’s clothing brands, like Cole Haan.
This semester, Miller became a full-time professional lecturer in Marist’s fashion program, swapping the Hippodrome building on the Avenue of the Americas in New York City for the Steel Plant on Beck Place in Poughkeepsie. To become faculty in his department, industry experience is a requirement, and Miller’s career advice aligns with his own personal discovery:
“Be open, try things, and see where it leads you,” said Miller, who teaches knitwear, visual merchandising, textile science, and more.
Scott Miller poses in the Creative Resource Center surrounded by fabric samples. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.
A Big Move Into New York City’s Fashion World
In 2000, Miller took a risk. He moved from the West Coast to New York City and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), earning his associate’s degree in fashion design within one year.
FIT’s program led to an internship at Tuleh, an emerging women’s designer fashion company in the city, which opened the doors to G-III. The global apparel group owns and has licensees for major brands, including Nine West, DKNY, and Tommy Hilfiger. Although Miller thought he preferred to design womenswear, the CEO of G-III noticed the designer’s personal style and successful collections and steered him toward menswear.
Scott Miller’s design concept for an American Sportswear line he developed as the Vice President of Design at Perry Ellis.
“I had this complete a-ha moment,” Miller said about changing genres. From 2001 to 2009, he worked his way up at G-III, starting at Nine West, private label brands, and then Cole Haan as a top designer. In 2009, he joined Perry Ellis, a global men’s fashion company, rising through the ranks as a senior designer, director of design, and finally in 2015, as the vice president of design.
Nurturing creativity, Miller’s early years
From learning to sew and mastering knitting, a big part of Miller’s fashion destiny began during his adolescent years.
“My mother could knit with her eyes closed and feet up on the dashboard in the car,” Miller said. In his teens, he got into costume design for high school theater and turned to books once he surpassed his mother’s skills.
On left: Miller holds peanuts to demonstrate the clothes he made for them as a child. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College. On right: Myrna Miller with her son, Scott, who she taught how to sew and inspired his fashion career. Photo courtesy of Scott Miller.
After high school, he enrolled at Western Washington University, where the fashion program was phased out during his first year. Undeterred, he majored in studio arts, with a focus on fiber arts and sculpture, often relating the classwork back to clothing, the body, and food.
With his college degree in hand, Miller’s job search in 1994 could not have come at a worse time.
“I graduated with an art degree in the middle of an economic depression,” he said. After a few odd jobs — including as a hair salon clerk — he found himself back in costume production for a professional theater, opera, and ballet in Seattle. The work was engaging, but his dream gnawed at him, which led to his cross-country move and FIT degree.
Pandemic Hits Fashion World
Around early 2019, after decades in fashion, fatigue had set in, prompting Miller to think about a career change. Before he made a move, the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City hard, and by that October, as the city experienced a mass exodus, Miller’s role at Perry Ellis was eliminated.
Now living full-time in what was his second home in the Catskills, with his husband, pottery artist Nathan Gwirtz, Miller applied to Marist. And the rest is history.
Scott Miller instructs a student during a textile science class in the Steel Plant. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.
“I was managing and mentoring people as a design leader, so teaching made sense to me,” he said. Although he set out to help students, Miller has found his own self-growth as a member of a community-based LGBTQ+ acapella chorus and taking up lap swimming in the McCann pool.
“I’ve started to live a fuller life,” he said.