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Personal Style
Vogue Magaine(July 95)

PERSONAL STYLE

SISTER ACT

With one happily married to a Getty heir and the other two set to wed princes this year, the Miller sisters could be the heroines of an Edith Wharton novel. But as WILLIAM NORWICH discovers, Pia, Marie-Chantal, and Alexandra prefer crystals to diamonds and are far more new age than Old Society.

A phone rings, and the three Miller sisters dive into an assortment of Hermes bags in search of their cellulars. This familial reflex evidences so much grace that it becomes immediately clear that this is one terrific sister act.

But then all kinds of bells are ringing for the Miller sisters these days. This year the middle and baby sisters, Marie-Chantal, 26, and Alexandra, 22, are each marrying princes (the eldest, Pia, 28, is already married to American royalty-Christopher Getty, the grandson of tycoon J.Paul Getty).

Marie-Chantal will wed Crown Prince Pavlos, the eldest son of Greece's exiled King Constantine II and Queen Anne-Marie, in London on July 1 before 1,400 guests- Queen Elizabeth is expected to attend-in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sophia. Thereafter MC, as Marie-Chantal is called, will be related by marriage to all the royal families in Europe and could, depending on politics, find herself the queen of Greece someday.

Then sometime this autumn Alexandra will marry her childhood sweetheart, Alexandre von Furstenberg, the son of Prince Egon von Furstenberg and designer Diane Von Furstenberg. And as for Alex, as Alexandra is known, well, the von Furstenbergs, with their Agnelli money, aren't chopped liver.

"I know, I know, it's ridiculous," laughs MC, shrugging c'est la vie-style. She is referring to the unison answering of phones, certainly not to the upcoming weddings. The nuptials are serious business, but mot quite for the reasons you might think. It isn't, as the press has been suggesting, because the Miller siblings are some sort of latter-day Cushing sisters, who numbered a Roosevelt, an Astor, a Whitney, and a newcomer named Paley among their spouses.

"I don't really know about the Cushings," MC says. For tea at the Carlyle hotel in New York City, she is wearing a pale green suit she calls "my little Heather Locklear suit; I had it copied in Hong Kong." "All I can say is, really?" offers Pia. "I'm not trying to do anything except have a stable relationship."

The comparisons began in earnest this spring when Pia, MC, and Alex found themselves named to the International Best-Dressed list, cited for their "individualist, yet traditionally glamorous personal style." The sisters were flattered, but you get the sense, especially from Pia, that they will beware of such sudden flattery. (He who says sharks do not pool in stylish schools has never been bitten!)

The Millers sisters, like the Cushings, do share traditional values that encompass the importance of husbands and family and fine silks and silver. But the Cushings, from a genteel yet not exactly rich background, were perceived as marrying for property; the Millers needn't worry.

Their father, the Boston-born, Cornell-educated Robert W.Miller, currently has an investment company in Hong Kong; almost 30 years ago he cofounded Duty Free Shoppers, said to be the largest duty-free retailer in the world. Last fall Miller bought Lord Peel's 32,000-acre hinting estate in northern England for almost $124 million to add to their roster of homes in Gstaad, Hong Kong, Paris, London, and New York. Their Renzo Mongiardino-decorated townhouse on the East Side is considered the jewel in the crown of private, multimillion-dollar Manhattan residences.

It has been said that the Miller sisters are following a great American tradition that inspired novels by Edith Wharton and Henry James and whose most famous real-life example was the marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborough: the marriages of American heiresses with money to titled foreigners without. But those marriages, real or fictional, were arranged; the Miller sisters struck their matches quite spontaneously. MC introduced Alex to Alex von Furstenberg in the elevator of the Carlyle hotel when they were mere teenagers; she met her own prince at a party in New Orleans.

"We're marrying to have more family," explains MC.

"To keep being family," says Alex.

"More babies," adds Pia.

If, as everyone says, the Miller sisters are loaded with style, they thank their mother, Chantal, an Ecuadorian beauty who, like her daughters, married in her early 20s. They describe her taste as conservative with a penchant for Valentino; her grooming is impeccable. "Never bite your nails; don't get fat" is some of the advice Pia remembers their mother giving them at an early age.

"She dresses in lovely tailored suits and beautiful shoes and little accessories; Mother has the most beautiful manicured nails," recalls MC. "From the minute I turned fourteen I started getting my nails manicured." MC and Alex will live at home until their weddings, and their mother is quite capable of criticizing their fashion choices. "But she deals with it," says MC. "Dad, too," adds Alex, "will complain if something is too tight, I just say,' Oh, Dad, you're only young once. Just use what you have.'"

Nowadays one is likely to find MC in a Valentino suit, often borrowed from her mother since they are exactly the same size, or Alex in something by Donna Karan or Ralph Lauren, one of those slinky, long, Hollywood-siren confections she wore to her engagement party not long ago. But the sisters all recall defying the edicts of fashion.
"We rebelled against labels," MC says. (She began collecting T-shirts as a teenager and now has several hundred as much a souvenir diary as they are practical garments.) Pia describes the style of both her sisters as "chic and classic." They in turn say Pia is "Italian sportif; very jacket-and-pants."

While Alex finds MC's style tends toward the classics, MC says Alex is the most likely "to try a new trend. Like, two years ago she was completely grunge." "Not the sloppy grunge," clarifies Alex, "but the chic grunge." "The lovely Marc Jacobs dress with the Birkenstock shoes," MC adds. "Don't say that! I never wore Birkenstocks," Alex exclaims. "People will get the wrong impression. If I wore grunge, well, you might say I did because I follow Vogue."

Raised in Hong Kong before going off to schools in Paris and Switzerland, the girls wore "little smock dresses" as children and then jeans and sweaters as teenagers. Alex's favorite piece of clothing is her "first pair of 501 jeans, which I got when I was eleven." (Pia's choice is a pair of black high-heeled sandals by Manolo Blahnik; MC's vote is still out.)

"But even when we wore jeans they were always nice because we were in Paris," explains MC, "where you don't have to dress up but you are groomed." When sisters came to the States to attend college, they found the opposite. In America, says MC, "the whole campus thing is so easy. You just roll out of bed and you go to classes. So why press your shirt? Just crumple it up."

A phone rings again; the sisters sway to answer. (It is Alexandre for Alex.) None of the sisters likes big jewels, although their engagement rings hardly need financial assistance. "A beautiful handbag, to me, is jewelry," says Alex. Nonetheless, they are appalled by the men they have heard about in New York who buy their fiancees zircons at Ciro's and then wrap them in Tiffany boxes. "Can you imagine?" they wonder in chorus. As for beauty routines, the sisters swear by lots of bottled water and seasonal treatments at Janet Sartin, except for Pia, who these days favors the Decleor products from France. The sisters won't wear fur, but hesitate to endorse the antifur movement because they all fancy fine leather shoes. They think they will wait until they are "40 or 50" to wear couture. The entire Miller family, including Mother and Dad, sleep in man-tailored pajamas made especially for them in Hong Kong, and they argue about who takes up the most space in the cedar closet built for them in the basement of the New York house. It appears Alex is the culprit.

"She has racks and racks of shoes, and super-platforms, too, which take up five times the space of a normal shoe," MC exclaims. "Yes, my dad always complains," sighs Alex. "The difference between us is I will shop for something expensive but just buy one thing, say, a nice little blue suit from Valentino," explains MC. "Whereas Alex will buy 150 shirts and 150 cardigans for $200, thinking she's pulled off a great bargain. But they sit there and just accumulate and accumulate."

Alex also has a "massive bathing-suit collection from Bali, Brazil, and from France. I love bathing suits." In fact, she briefly wanted to become a bathing-suit designer. "I started with a few little sketches, but...." "But she found out it is easier to shop for bathing suits than to design them," jokes MC.

When Pia and Christopher Getty were married three summers ago in Bali, they wore traditional Balinese costumes and then went the more formal route for their Catholic wedding later on. Both MC and Alex have chosen Valentino to make their wedding dresses. Being appropriately superstitious, they are careful not to say too much about their dresses.

That may not stop Valentino, however, who this very day was quoted at length in the International Herald Tribune talking about how fairytale wedding gowns are enjoying a comeback. "Spain's royal wedding in March-the first for nine decades-and the society event of the summer when Prince Paul of Greece marries Marie-Chantal Miller in London have given the new luster to the tarnished image of the royal wedding," wrote Suzy Menkes. "I am very formal-for an important wedding a young girl should be entirely traditional and entirely romantic," declared Valentino. Valentino has promised MC she will tombe dans les pommes, which translated means "fall over with joy," when she dons her wedding dress. He couldn't be referring to her Metroliner-length train, could he?

After their honeymoon at an undisclosed destination, Prince Pavlos and Princess MC will reside in New York or in nearby Greenwich, Connecticut. Alex and Alexandre will settle in Los Angeles. (Pia and Christopher Getty will continue to live in Manhattan.) Everyone will be together for Christmas at the Millers' in New York.

"That was my own type of prenuptial agreement," laughs MC. "Pavlos had to agree to spend Christmas with my family, because it means so much to me." But apparently a Miller family Christmas isn't quite the gift-giving extravaganza you might imagine. Last Christmas the sisters exchanged healing crystals; MC even gave one to her mother. "But, you know, you have to be into crystals to wear a crystal," she says with a laugh.

When MC and Prince Pavlos became engaged, Mrs. Miller gave her future son-in-law a silver lighter in the shape of a frog. "You see," explains MC, "my inscription in one of my yearbooks said, 'She'll kiss a prince and turn into a frog.'" ("I got 'trendiest' in my yearbook," adds Alex.) "So I kissed a prince. But am I turning into a frog? I don't know," MC says and laughs.