The Mark of Zunino

Stepping out from Nolan Miller’s shadow, the Fashion Week El Paseo marquee designer puts his own stamp on fashion



Jewelry from Nolan Miller collection. Emerald and diamond earrings by Mark Zunino.

Photography by Rose Cefalu/Racermediainc.com
Creative direction: Michael Piombo
Styling: Rene Horsch
Makeup: Kristina Cardwell/kristinamakeup.com
Hair: Travisean Haynes/eamgmt.com
Models: Joslyn Fink/nextmodels and Darriene Arnold
Photo Assistants: Neeyaz Zolfaghari and Dustin Hattier

Traditional wisdom says that you don’t get very far in life while sitting and waiting for the phone to ring. But for designer Mark Zunino, a phone call is exactly what began his path to becoming famed costume designer Nolan Miller’s right-hand man and, today, one of the last great couture-style clothiers in the United States.

In 1984, Zunino was studying advertising and marketing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, having switched emphasis from the architecture program that originally brought him to the school. “It was more creative and more fun [than architecture],” he says, noting that graphic illustration classes revved his artistic engine. He completed the required fashion illustration course without much thought — until a year later, when the phone rang.

“It was my teacher calling, looking for a design assistant,” Zunino recalls. “Fashion wasn’t my emphasis, but the job was for Nolan Miller and Aaron Spelling. And I wanted to meet them, so of course I went.”

The job they had in mind for him was in the wardrobe department of Dynasty, Spelling’s epic 1980s primetime soap about the money, glitz, and excess that came with being in the oil business. Miller’s fashion creations for the show produced a sartorial era defined by mile-high padded shoulders and enough sequin gowns to fill an Ice Capades, cabaret show, and circus combined. More curious bystander than aspiring fashion designer, Zunino knew he wanted to be part of it.

“It was a bizarre reality,” Zunino says of his Dynasty days, when he helped outfit Joan Collins, Heather Locklear, and Linda Evans in Miller’s shiny objects.

He thought he’d stay a year. Then the phone rang, again.

“Nolan asked me to stay,” he says. “I wasn’t going to say no.”

But Zunino’s father still wanted to see his son in a more stable profession. So Zunino invited his family down from the Northern California town of Vacaville, where he spent most of his childhood, to see what he did at work. And it just so happened that Ann-Margret and Sophia Loren were on set that week.

“Yeah, Dad gave me his blessing,” Zunino says with a chuckle.

Once Dynasty ended its 11-year run in 1991, film and television budgets were shrinking, and Zunino was designing collections under his mentor’s name. Meanwhile, he really wanted to create custom, dazzling gowns for the Hollywood legends in Miller’s repertoire — which at the time included Lana Turner, Bette Davis, and Barbara Stanwyck — that had a younger edge and could lend a more progressive feel to the standardly sequined house of Miller.

The duo sometimes butted heads at how “progressive” these new designs should be. Not wanting to tarnish his reputation, Miller told Zunino to start adding his name to the labels on his pieces. So two racks sprouted up in Miller’s studio: one with Miller’s traditionally glitz-fueled, ’80s-style gowns and another with the sheer, form-fitting pieces that comprised the Nolan Miller by Mark Zunino line.

“Sophia Loren came in one day and went to my rack and picked up a sheer lace dress for an awards show,” Zunino recalls. “Then Nolan came in and Sophia goes, ‘How do I look?’” Miller scoffed at his longtime client for not choosing a piece from his rack, and Loren was confused.

“Do I not look sexy?” She asked the designer. “Do you not like my legs?” Of course, both questions were rhetorical. Though Miller played the part of sore loser, even he couldn’t dispute the splendor of the Italian bombshell’s legs in Zunino’s cocktail dress.

Zunino formally took over Miller’s company a decade ago. As he prepares to headline Fashion Week El Paseo this month, he also is busy helming The Mark of Style, his line of clothing and accessories for QVC, as well as Miller’s QVC costume jewelry line that he took over after Miller formally retired last July.

A new set of Hollywood superstars — Angelina Jolie included — has embraced Zunino’s custom couture. This fall, he will launch a line of wedding dresses, which will likely make their debut on the Fashion Week El Paseo runway.

Although this will be his first official bridal collection, Zunino has experience in the wedding game. “When Heather Locklear married Richie Sambora [in 1994], she was so unhappy with her wedding gown that she called me,” he says. “I had two days to make a dress for her, so I did a French lace halter dress with a bolero. That was the first time, I think, that I saw someone in such distress that we made so happy. That was a turning point for me.”

Comments to this website are moderated by staff. While all comments are welcome, we encourage all to be polite and please do use this system for advertising or business promotions. Any complaint towards a business or service should be directed directly to that business and not posted here. If anyone has a complaint that a comment is defamatory, please contact me at tmay@palmspringslife.com and I will take appropriate action promptly. Thank You

Add your comment:
Palm Springs Life

Related Articles

Lisa Vanderpump Achieves Star Status in Palm Springs

Lisa Vanderpump, one of the stars of the 'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills', will receive the 372nd star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars July 30.

Christopher Kennedy Design Store's Fall Opening Boosts South Palm Springs

Following the opening of the Hacienda Cantina & Beach Club in South Palm Springs, interior designer Christopher Kennedy will open a retail store and design studio just a block away.

Palm Springs Horoscope - July 2014

Entering Leo on July 16, Jupiter ramps up the social calendar. There will be more summer parties than last year — expect an overbooked schedule.

Star Power

The Palm Springs Walk of Stars honors philanthropic superhero Lynda Carter for shattering stereotypes and blazing new paths for generations of women.

Summer Reading

Slip one of these recent summer reading releases into your pool tote or carry-on – and get lost in literature.

Promotions + Contests

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

90 Days of Summer Romantic Palm Springs Getaway 2014

Experience the beauty, romance and excitement of the Palm Springs area when you enter to be the lucky winner of this romantic couple’s getaway
90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

90 DAYS OF SUMMER Instagram Contest 2014

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!

Each month, a first place winner will be selected to win a fabulous Palm Springs weekend!And, each month, three additional runners up will be selected to win a wonderful Palm Springs area Dining certificate!
2013/14 Best of the Best

2013/14 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Pets on Parade 2014 Photo Contest

Pets on Parade 2014 Photo Contest

Enter your “Cutest Pet” photo in the Pets on Parade 2014 Photo Contest. Online users will be able to like the Cutest Pet photos from six (6) categories.