April 29, 1991 12:00 PM

NICOLE MILLER’S BIG BREAK AS A designer didn’t come from draping a glittering evening gown or stitching up a revealing swimsuit. Rather, she aced the interview. Miller beat out 170 candidates for a design job at the dress firm of P.J. Walsh 16 years ago by concisely summing up her goal: “When I walk out on the street, I want to see everybody wearing my clothes.”

These days Miller’s clients include real somebodies like Demi Moore, Meryl Streep and Linda Evans. Her Nicole Miller firm, established in 1982, racked up sales of $35 million last year. And when the 5’4″ redhead danced on the bar of Manhattan’s Punsch at her 40th-birthday party last month, the New Yorker was there to record the steps.

The notoriety is new for this designing woman—and it came not from women’s clothes but men’s ties. Last year her business partner Bud Konheim suggested that she turn some printed silk that she was using for women’s scarves into funky neckwear for men. Miller’s ties emblazoned with ticket stubs and confetti sold so well (at $60 apiece) that she now has more than five dozen novelty patterns in her line. Her current best-seller has what she calls a vice theme—cigarettes, dice, martinis and coffee. Like all her prints, she says, “That tie was inspired by my lifestyle.”

Miller, who is single, leads such a zippy existence, in fact, that she chronicles her travels on scarves and dresses, as well as ties. “I save everything from wherever I go—beer bottles, matches, theater programs,” she says. A trip to Jamaica resulted in a motif featuring palm trees, and a scuba class prompted a mermaid-and-diver print.

“I always had this thirst for excitement,” says Miller. Growing up in Lenox. Mass.. the middle child of a General Electric Company engineer and his French-born wife, Miller fought rural ennui by crocheting and knitting, skills that she learned from her grandmother. Sticking with her needles, she graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design before striking out for New York City.

She hit a few bumps along the way to glory. “We were having a bad season once, and Nordstrom’s canceled a personal appearance because they didn’t want more of her clothes,” says Konheim. “Most designers would have a tantrum over that, but Nicole just said, ‘I think I should get to work and do something they like.’ ”

Lately, she’s been right on target—or you could say, in the pocket, since pool balls happen to be one o her prints for fall. “Five years ago, I was very jealous because a lot of my friends were getting married and having children.” says Miller, who lives alone in a loft in Manhattan’s chic TriBeCa area. “But life is always a trade-off. This is one of the better times in my life.” Perhaps her next print could feature Peter Pan. “My last boyfriend used to always tell me, ‘Grow up,’ ” she says. “But I say, Why?”

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