For Thomas Miller: In Memory
(photograph by Marc Feil)
Late yesterday evening a friend reached out to me with the news that another friend of ours, Thomas Miller, who for decades and until his death worked as right-hand to designer Anna Sui, passed away. I have posted about Thomas before in naming mentors and friends who have really helped me shape a life of which I am proud and truly happy. He means so much to me I can’t even fully process this news, I’m just sick right now. I’m devastated and heartbroken for his family, for his partner Marc, for Anna and everyone at Anna Sui Corp., and for all of Thomas’s friends. I send them all my love now and always.
To say Thomas was my friend, or even that he was like family, is an understatement. Thomas Miller, like those librarians I write about in my book Fashioning Lives, saved my life. It’s that simple. When I was a young Black queer kid suffering so much isolation, hatred, and dehumanization that I was depressed, felt worthless, and on the verge of giving up, fashion was my happy place. I made a resume and sent it to the offices of my fave fashion label Anna Sui Corp., and a man named Thomas invited me to an interview. I was 16. As much as I wanted to work at Anna Sui, I also just needed a place to feel safe, to be unapologetic about how much I loved art, fashion, and music of all genres. I just wanted to have a few hours in a day between being harassed at school and depressed at home, to feel free. Thomas gave me that space.
And he went above and beyond simply being someone who supervised my internship. A while after I had been working there he would invite me to join him and his friends on trips to lunch, museums, galleries, and broadway shows. The first musical I ever saw was “Rent” and it was because of Thomas. The first fashion exhibition I ever saw was an Arnold Scaasi show that Thomas invited me to tag along to. The first time I went to an art exhibition was a Keith Haring retrospective that Thomas and I went to. The first time I ate Mexican food, which is one of my faves, was at a restaurant Thomas and his friend Jen took me too for brunch on a snowy NYC morning. Thomas knew how much I LOVE Naomi Campbell, so one time when she was in the studio for a fitting, she came over to me and said hello and she knew my name and she said “thank you for helping Thomas and Anna” and gave me a kiss on the cheek, a hug, and her autograph with a sweet note on a copy of the invitation to season’s collection. When she left I went to his cubicle and he said, with a mischievous grin on his face, “So, did you get to meet Naomi?” He had totally hooked that all up.
And I would always work later than I was supposed to or come earlier, and he never made me feel like having some teenager hanging around the office asking questions and talking ALL THE TIME was a nuisance. And when he and the other staff worked on weekends during New York Fashion Week or some other big project, they’d be there all the time. And I would just show up and he’d just let me be there and find something for me to do. I always thought he knew that I needed to be there and was taking pity upon me, but just a few years ago when I said that to him he said he doesn’t remember me as being anything other than a smart, confident, funny, and determined teenager so he didn’t see it that way at all.
Thomas Miller was part of my becoming. He gave me the space to be the person I always wanted to be, and I can honestly say that if I didn’t meet him when I did my life would have gone in a totally different direction, and I either would be miserable or, frankly, not here. And that’s true. As I went off to college and then grad school we talked less often, but reconnected when I was done with school. Whenever I was in NYC we’d go to museums as always. Thomas loved ballet and a few years ago my partner and I went with him to see ballet at Lincoln Center. We had balcony seats. I remember watching him lean over to see the dancers and his eyes lighting up marveling at the performances. I am afraid of heights. Like really afraid. And so I was sitting really still and just nodding with approval whenever he looked over to say something was great. Suddenly he realized how stiff I was and totally counting the minutes until I could get off that damn balcony, and we laughed out loud during the show.
Another time we went to a bar with his partner Marc and he insisted on buying me a drink - a can of Sofia Coppola champagne in a can - because he thought it was hilarious that there was canned champagne, and more importantly, that my bourgeois self would drink champagne from a can. I humored him and we had big laughs about it. He loved pictures and took one of me drinking it, laughing roariously the whole time.
In fact I have and will treasure all these pictures he took of me. My faves are the champagne pic and also one on the rooftop of the New Museum after we saw a Chris Ofili show a few years back. Seeing myself through Thomas’s eyes is always beautiful.
I am grateful to have known Thomas. To have had my life touched by him. To have counted him among my family and friends. I know that he knew how much I loved him and valued him, I told him so. I’m gonna miss his physical presence here on earth but I know he is now among my ancestral court and that his love, friendship, mentorship, and wisdom is always available to me. If you are reading this, please send some light and love to Thomas on the rest of his soul’s journey, and please also keep all his loved ones in your prayers. With gratitude, and love, Eric.