Royal Peasantry’s Daniella Miller has a responsibility to eco aesthetes
by Melanie McGee Bianchi . photography by Zaire Kacz
With her unblinking cat’s eyes, shawl of dark hair and husky voice, Daniella Miller emotes like some bewitching mix of Angelina Jolie and Angel Heart—era Lisa Bonet. But she might resent any maudlin A-list comparisons.
Her vision with Royal Peasantry Design House is too edgy for that. Simultaneously ancient and utopian, it embodies a dreamy but fierce mystique — think a restless tribal traveler power-napping in Shangri-La.
Miller has designed and sewed clothing since she was a child, but when she studied at the prestigious design school Parsons, in NYC, she majored in fine arts and philosophy, not fashion. An outgrowth of More Than Mammal, Inc., a company she started in 1998, Royal Peasantry bloomed from a grotto behind BoBo Gallery to its current atmospheric boutique on Lexington Avenue, opened in 2010.
With a cadre of student interns, professional seamstresses and paid apprentices, including noted leatherworker Tim Jeffery, Miller toils old-world style to achieve an epic ecological dream, diverting an incalculable amount of goods from the landfill. Fighting against what she calls the “vast devastation wrought by pop-culture fashion,” Miller makes sure every item of clothing and every accessory created by Royal Peasantry — and she and her crew are prolific — uses prime, preworn materials.
“It’s about raising awareness,” says the designer. Upcycled clothing isn’t breaking news in 2012, but this isn’t the expected crafty, patchwork chic. The look is gypsy street, Bohemian without a whiff of standard-issue hippie. Miller’s work includes commissioned gowns, sacred wear, whimsical slip dresses, plush hood-and-cape combos, and wild statement pieces — neck wraps trimmed with fierce, vertiginous spines, sculptural dresses appropriate only for the runway.
Whether flamboyant or practical, it’s all high design, chosen by professional dancers, used in theatrical fashion shows, noticed by companies that matter. A lot. Miller recently signed a deal with a top-end furniture purveyor in Hickory, N.C., for exclusive use of leather scraps (the full collaboration will be revealed in spring). This month, Royal Peasantry will publish its first “look book” — a richly artistic publication that Miller says will showcase the company’s “most intense, high-couture ensembles and wearable accessories.”
The narrative text will be an equally well-crafted component of the book. “It’s more of an essential guide to our company than an order form or a production schedule, which is what a look book traditionally is.”
Success-wise, Miller’s on a fast track. But the designer, who says she’s inspired by various historical aesthetics — Greek draping, ninja weaponry, paintings of the Old Masters — raves most about purpose and process, two aspects stitched tight to her goals. “We’re waking up the disposable culture,” she says, “where it’s all about want, want, want, and greed, greed, greed, about overproduction that pollutes and destroys. Everything breaks, nothing fits right.
“We’re slowing it all down and taking it back to what it used to be.”
Royal Peasantry celebrates the release of its look book with an all-day signing on September 22. A copy of the book is free with a $50 store purchase. Visit royalpeasantry.com or call 828-559-1835