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Nicole Miller boutique in Manayunk to close at the end of August

Mary K. Dougherty will rent the space to business partner, Jillian Dunn, who wants to open a specialty boutique of her own.

Nicole Miller At the Bellevue photographed July 29, 2019.
Nicole Miller At the Bellevue photographed July 29, 2019.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Nicole Miller Philadelphia is closing.

Miller, the New York-based clothing designer known for her rocker chic womenswear, sold the majority of her business in February to Gordon Brothers, a Boston-based global advisory and investment firm.

Mary K. Dougherty, a Philadelphia-based entrepreneur, has had a license to operate free-standing Nicole Miller boutiques in the mid-Atlantic states since 1994. But in July, Gordon Brothers told Dougherty she could no longer operate under the Nicole Miller brand name.

Dougherty will close her Manayunk store at the end of August, becoming the latest womenswear boutique forced out of the Philly fashion scene. Joan Shepp and Sophy Curson, both in Center City, are among the handful that remain.

“We survived COVID, Hurricane Ida, and construction,” Dougherty said. “But this was a hurdle I couldn’t jump over. This was too much.”

Miller is a New York-based fashion designer, but to Philadelphia fashionistas, Dougherty and Miller are one and the same.

Dougherty started as a wholesale retailer, selling designer women’s wear to specialty boutiques in the mid-Atlantic. She met Miller in the 1980s. Excited by Miller’s rock-meets-feminine sensibilities, she entered into a licensing agreement with the Nicole Miller brand and opened the Manayunk store in 1994. The Nicole Miller boutique at the Bellevue followed three years later.

Dougherty spent close to three decades bringing New York fashion to Philadelphia. Dougherty dressed countless brides in Nicole Miller. She persuaded doyennes and divas to wear Nicole Miller to mayoral, gubernatorial, and presidential inaugural balls. For years, the jewel-toned and ruched Nicole Miller gowns were slinky go-tos for ladies who attended the Academy of Music’s annual ball and the Ball on the Square.

She influenced the spouses of Eagles, Sixers, Flyers and Phillies to wear Nicole Miller on Philly runways. Dougherty also worked with Miller to design uniforms for Sixers cheerleaders. Several collections of Philadelphia-themed neckties raised tens of thousands of dollars for local charities, including Mural Arts, Manna and Philabundance.

Dougherty brought dozens of Philadelphians to New York Fashion Week for Miller’s runway shows. She donated her personal archives to Drexel University’s Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection. In 2019, the university dedicated an exhibit, “A Philadelphia Store-y: 25 Years of Nicole Miller Philadelphia,” to Miller and Dougherty’s impact on the city’s fashion scene. Miller visited Philadelphia dozens of times for trunk shows and fundraisers hosted at Dougherty’s boutique.

“People try to pass over Philly like we aren’t important to fashion,” Dougherty said. “I wanted to bring that coolness to Philly fashion in a way that was glamorous and affordable.”

Facing a rent increase, Dougherty closed the store at the Bellevue in 2019. She owns the Manayunk building and plans to rent it to business partner Jillian Dunn, who wants to open her own specialty store under a new name.

Dougherty isn’t sure what her next chapter will be. Perhaps she will teach or help young designers and retailers start their own businesses. At the moment she’s liquidating her merchandise — everything is on sale at 50% to 75% off — making plans to renovate her building and, per the new owners’ orders, removing all evidence that Nicole Miller was ever there.