There are a few names in the history of footwear that conjure up instant praise and awe. You may know a few – Pietro Yantorny, Roger Vivier, and I. Miller.
Differing from the first two, who were both couture footwear designers commanding the highest price for the most exclusive shoes, I. Miller designed and made shoes for performers, movie stars, but also the general public.
Sources vary concerning Israel Miller’s origin. He immigrated to the U.S. from Prussia in the late 1880s/early 1890s, with prior experience as a cutter and designer in Paris. In New York he worked with John Azzimonti, the leading maker of footwear for the stage, then eventually set up his own company in 1895. Business boomed and I.Miller & Sons was soon dressing the feet of Broadway dancers, opera singers, silent film stars, and socialites with their glamorous and trend-setting heels.
Throughout the first three decades of the 20th century, I.Miller grew to 228 stores across the country, the flagship store being the famous I’Miller building in New York City, decorated with the enduring images of Ethel Barrymore, Marilyn Miller, Mary Pickford, and Rosa Ponselle, four of Miller’s illustrious film clients.
I.Miller shoes were also carried in prominent shoe stores like Frank Werner Co. in San Francisco. Shoes found in these stores were stamped “I.Miller & Sons” on one insole, with the name of the shoe store and city on the other.
I find I’Miller shoes fascinating because I keep acquiring them, quite by accident. The I.Miller & Sons foil stamp on the insole is now a familiar sight accompanied by a warm feeling and connection with the past. Like I.Miller, American Duchess makes shoes for theater, opera, and film performers, and often in the same styles!
Two of my favorites came from two different friends, quite unrelated. One pair has the I.Miller stamp on the inside, was sold by Frank Werner Co. in San Francisco, and came out of a theater costume room. The second pair has no mark, so how do I know they’re I.Miller as well? Because the fabric is the very same pattern, and the last and heel shapes match! These two styles were made around the same time in the late 1920s/early 1930s, and somehow survived in pretty good condition, and have now arrived in the same collection. It boggles my mind!
The latest pair is older than the two metallic brocade shoes. These came to me from a local store that had been using them in a shop display. I didn’t know they were I.Miller when I convinced the shop owner to sell them to me, but was extra pleased to see that gilt stamp on the insole, along with a quality inspection stamp with the date 9-24-2? (the last digit is faded away). With the shape of the toe, last, and French heel, these shoes are early 20s, and belonged to who knows! A performer, a singer, a starlet, a bride?
Israel Miller died in August 1929, just three years after his famous New York flagship store was opened. He had grown the company to be one of the most successful shoe manufactories in U.S. history. The company continued after Israel Miller’s death, revitalizing its brand in the 1950s with the help of commercial illustrator Andy Warhol. The brand eventually ceased in the 1970s.
Maybe we’ll last for 75 years too. 🙂