The only thing a Duke student will stand in line for, other than a seat at a Blue Devils basketball game, is for an interview appointment as a candidate for the Neiman-Marcus training program.
In fact last semester, students had started lining up by 6 a.m. to sign up with the Neiman interviewers. Only half of those who wanted appointments could get them.
This week, after stopping mistakenly at a nearby university, two Neiman-Marcus staff members conducted interviews. Coincidentally, the president of the Texas-based, 12-store specialty chain showed up on campus for a day-long symposium on fashion and retailing. Also taking part was Perry Ellis, a Coty Award-winning designer from New York.
"Ten years ago there probably would not have been more than 10 Duke students interested in this kind of symposium, Miller told more than 250 students who attended the afternoon session in the new Searle Center of the Mudd Library. The session followed a classroom discussion in the Duke School of Business in the morning.
"Ten years ago not many college graduates went into any aspect of fashion or retailing," he said.
Miller pegs the current appeal to the "Bloomingdale perception of retailing as show business," the increase in starting salaries and fast career advancement.
No longer is the fashion emphasis strictly on the top designers in Paris and New York, but more "to a look at fashion as a lifestyle expression."
"The lifestyle focus is what fashion is about today," Miller said.
In the last eight years, Miller said, a star cast system has also developed where Marvin Traub (Bloomies' president), designer Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis and others have become media stars.
"Stakes have gotten higher, too," said Miller. Ten years ago the entering salary in retailing was $6,000 and the professtion was not highly regarded. "Most worked six days a week, 10 hours a day, probably started out sorting hosiery, shirts or ties to a back stockroom and waiting on customers."
Although the salary has nearly doubled now, Miller admitted the long work hours are still a part of the job for beginners and even himself as a store president.
Ellis, who started in the fashion business on the training program at Miller Rhoads and has had his own label for four years, says his designs always start with the fabric, mostly European imports. "Certain fabrics cry out to be jackets, other pants," he believes.
What clinches the sale, he said, is when the clothes shown are interesting, stimulating and new looking. "They must start by being something that you don't already own," Ellis told the students. "Money is dear to us all, and if you are going to put it up front, you really should be in love with what you are buying."
Among Ellis' current top sellers are handknit sweaters priced from $90 to $250, made for him by 125 women who work in their apartments on New York's West Side.
As a student modeled a yellow silk sweater with a $200 price tag, Ellis explained, "Silk yarn is like gold today. And what I know that you don't know is that there are enough silkworms in that sweater to make 40 silk charmeuse (satin) blouses."
Perry also designs furs and is developing a menswear collection and a fragrance line. He was asked by a student why he wasn't making designer jeans.
"I think Levi jeans are great," said the designer. "I just don't see why anyone should pay $6 or $8 more just to have a designer label on the tush-y."