The Closing of Bill Blass

By now you have probably heard that Bill Blass closed its doors about two weeks ago.  The company who owned it has been looking for a buyer, but things had gotten so bad that they cancelled the Spring 2009 show, and a month later, the designer, Peter Som quit.  The owners are still looking for a buyer, but then, I’m looking for couture frocks in the Goodwill clearance center.  Both are possible, but not likely.

To be completely honest, the label has been in trouble since Blass sold it in 1999.  This is a case in which the designer’s personality and relationships with his clientele was an important part of the label’s mystique.  Blass knew the ladies for whom he designed, the socialites and sophisticated New Yorkers of his generation.

As a boy in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Bill Blass began sketching glamorous fashions in the mode of those he was seeing come out of 1930s Hollywood.  After finishing high school, he made his way to New York in 1940, first attending design school, and then working at David Crystal as a sketcher.

Upon returning from WWII, and after a brief stint at Anne Klein (who fired him after a year because he had “good manners but no talent.”), Blass ended up working as a design assistant at Anna Miller in 1949.  He also hired Missy Weston, a girl with social connections, to be his model.  Through her, he attended parties, meeting the people he hoped to dress.  In time, he became a part of this social scene, giving him great insight to the way sophisticated New York women needed to dress.

Throughout the 1950s, Blass worked at Anna Miller, developing the glamorous style for which he would be best known.  In 1959, Anna Miller merged with the company her brother had founded, Maurice Rentner, and Blass became the head designer.   In 1962 Blass became the vice-president of Maurice Rentner.  Blass bought the company in 1967, and in 1970, the company’s name was changed to Bill Blass, Ltd.

By this time Blass was a major designer, and he was in big demand at NYC parties, as he put it, “as an extra man who had two legs and a dinner jacket.” He was also expanding his business, first with a lower-priced line, Blassport, in 1972, followed by dozens of licenses for everything from bedsheets to the interior of the Lincoln Continental.

Blass continued to dress women in glamorous styles, even in the unglamorous early 1970s.  In 1975 he even brought back the cocktail dress, which had all but disappeared from the fashion scene.  In the 1980s, he became one of First Lady Nancy Reagan’s favorites, and in keeping with the times, designed luxurious clothes from ornate fabrics using bright colors.  Blass  produced clothes full of glamour and luxury to the end of his career, designing for the women he understood so well.  After suffering a stroke, he sold Bill Blass, Ltd., and retired from designing.  He was 77 years old, and many of his loyal clients were well over the age of 50.

So how do you replace a designer who was so closely linked with a certain lifestyle and clientele?  It was an impossible task, and after Blass sold the company, it never regained the status it had enjoyed under him.

It had been reported that the Blass archives were being sold at bargain prices, but it now appears that his records and many other important items are being sent to Indiana University in Bloomington.  If you want to really know Blass, you must read his autobiography, Bare Blass.  It’s one of the best designer stories ever.


Posted by Barbara Boyce:

He will be sadly missed for sure! Thanks for such a terrific history on this great designer! Super job! 

Thursday, January 15th 2009 @ 8:58 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Thanks Barbara. Your kind comments are great appreciated! 

Thursday, January 15th 2009 @ 9:18 AM

Posted by kimberly:

As a teenager in the late 80s & early 90s, I had the biggest crush on BB. He was so gorgeous as an older man (no one looked better with a cigarette dangling on his lips). They’d show him on Style with Elsa Klensch, and in the grownup magazines that I read (House & Garden, Architectural Digest). 

I remember the ads for his perfumes, he’d list his favorite qualities in women, and I always wanted to be that kind of woman (like dogs that are bigger than cats, will go to the movies by herself, etc.)

Tuesday, January 27th 2009 @ 11:27 AM

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One response to “The Closing of Bill Blass

  1. Pingback: Les dessous de la Bataille de Versailles, le concours de mode qu'on voit dans la série «Halston» |

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