In 2007, Anelle Miller was appointed the Director of The Society of Illustrators (SOI). Historically assembled in 1901 by prominent artists of that time (with visiting guests including Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie) the Society’s vocation has remained to promote and exhibit the art of illustration. This, in turn, has provided the public with all sorts of events: exhibitions, sketch nights, lecture series, historical catalogs of work and all replete with a decorous congregational dining hall in which to enjoy such experiences.
Entering the 20th century, the Society still served more as a men’s club and well-kept neighborhood secret that only few acknowledged. Thus, a former SVP of Estee Lauder and part-time weight-lifting champion may have not been the initial choice to usher in SOI’s mission into the 20th century. But, like any visionary or makeover specialist, Anelle Miller has liberated SOI from its outdated masculine reputation transforming its presence into a celebration of all things and people illustrative.
Fashion Reverie sat down with Anelle Miller to discuss her story and how her passion for illustration eventually brought her back to her roots and first love.
Fashion Reverie: Anelle Miller, there is something special about you. Tell me about your background?
Anelle Miller: I was born and raised in Queens, so I am a New York girl. My education really started in high school, when I started to commute into Manhattan. I went to the high school of Art and Design to study fashion illustration. Later, I got a scholarship to Parsons School of Design where I continued my studies of fashion illustration.
Most of my professional career—which has been an extraordinary career—was spent at Estee Lauder. Later, I ended up studying art and creative direction as opposed to focusing solely on illustration. I started at Estee Lauder as an Assistant Art Director and worked my way up over 28 years where I was able to help create the cosmetic brand Origins, with William Lauder and an incredible team of people. I headed the entire creative team for Origins and later became Senior Vice President and helped to launch the brand around the world.
FR: When did Orgins originate?
Anelle Miller: 1990
FR: What made you want to create something at that time that was organic?
Anelle Miller: That idea came from Leonard Lauder. He wanted to create this concept that was an alternative to traditional cosmetics. Where the packaging was recyclable, the product was made from essential oils, so Origins was the last division that was created internally at Estee Lauder.
FR: Going back to your childhood, what made you want to be a fashion illustrator and not a fashion designer?
Anelle Miller: I was an always an artist. I was drawing at a very young and my parents were supportive and sent me to art lessons and they always knew that there something artistically special. I got into fashion because I loved clothes and my father was in the shoe business, so we were always surrounded by tons of shoes. My mom also loved clothes and collected jewelry.
FR: So did you see yourself when entering college as a future fashion illustrator with a career of attending couture shows in Europe and sketching the designs?
Anelle Miller: I really didn’t know what I wanted to do and at the time I was focusing on fashion illustration, which was such a tumultuous period for fashion illustration. It was in the late 70’s, when fashion photography was taking over—so, there was less of a demand for fashion illustrators. In the early 70’s it was all about Antonio Lopez, George Stavrinos and all these amazing people, which I thought I was going to be following in the footsteps of, but then realized I needed to make a change in my career if I wanted to be lucrative.
FR: You knew that at Parsons?
Anelle Miller: I did know that at Parsons towards the end and that’s when I decided to move towards art direction, but I always came to the Society of Illustrators for sketch night even when I was at Parsons. To this day, I still attend Sketch Night.
FR: So art direction was birthed from fashion illustration. How do the two correlate?
Anelle Miller: It was about type design and graphic design—page design and I was able to take the creative part of me and shift it into another space. Yet, when I was fortunate to get the Estee Lauder position I was surrounded by cosmetics and beauty and that was so much a part of my fashion illustration background, so I felt very at home being in that environment—and then also learning how to run a business, create a business-through Origins.
FR: When did you transition out of Estee Lauder?
Anelle Miller: I transitioned out in 2005, about 9 years ago. I wanted to again make a change. I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do. I needed to be more creative and surround myself with creativity. I started two companies on my own. One company did creative marketing for nonprofits. I was still consulting with Estee Lauder working on the archives for Origins and then started another company called Original Women that focused on female artisans around the world. I did that for two years and then I got a call from a headhunter who wanted to know what I was doing and where I was. She mentioned there was a top position at the Society of Illustrators and of course, I was beside myself, because I had been coming here to draw for 30 years.
FR: SOI, before you was a boys club; you came to drink brandy out of a sifter and everything seemed smoky and warlike. They also hired a woman; so, what made Chairman Richard Berenson change his mind.
AM: I think they were all ready for a change. Now, I have been here seven years.
FR: Tell me about some of the big projects that you have helped cultivate at SOI?
Anelle Miller: Well, the biggest project was working to get young people and diversity in the Society. People didn’t necessarily feel comfortable coming to the club and specifically young people and I knew the only way to continue the legacy was to embrace the young people and embrace diversity, which has happened in a big way.
FR: So you’ve introduced people to a New York historical institution, which many never knew existed. How do you meet these new people?
Anelle Miller: It is word of mouth, a matter of networking, putting on different kinds of exhibits and lectures, events with new and different people, like having the Line of Fashion exhibition with Robert Richards, who also brought in a whole other audience and diversifying in that way. Always bringing new and different people is the key.
FR: So, ‘Sketch Night’ which is a huge part of the clubs diversity is what exactly?
Anelle Miller: Sketch Night is every Tuesday and Thursday, 6 to 9:30. However, on Thursday night we have themed nights and we bring unbelievable diverse people to pose—and the dynamic is changing and the fall lineup is really amazing.
FR: So an original New York girl brings the real New York into the SOI?
Anelle Miller: (laughs) Yes, I guess so.
For more information on the Society of Illustrators go to societyillustrators.org.
—Kelly L. Mills