BILL BLASS CLASS

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The beauty of being able to draw, or paint, from an early age is that you never feel trapped, least of all by your immediate circumstances.”

–Bill Blass

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From The New York Times

In early December 1999, the mood in the Bill Blass showroom at 550 Seventh Avenue was as gray as the film of dust on a potted plant that sat in the corner and always seemed to be dying.

Blass, arguably the most famous of all the American designers, had shown his farewell collection that September and sold the company a few weeks later.  He had been ill for some time, living with throat cancer for years — he was then 77 — and he didn’t seem much inclined to argue with the new owners about who would fill his oversize shoes.  They wanted a name.  So the future of Blass’s longtime assistants was far from certain.  Laura Montalban, one of two top designers, left to work for Oscar de la Renta; Blass called the other, Craig Natiello, who had been with him for a decade, into his office.

“You’re not going to like the people who bought the company,” Blass said.  He made a phone call, then told Mr. Natiello, who recalled the conversation in a recent interview, that there was a job waiting for him at Halston.  “Here is your out. Do you want it?”

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That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is class.  Keep a stiff upper lip, tell it straight, and repay loyalty with loyalty. This kind of character is an increasing rarity, unfortunately. Kudos, Mr. Blass.

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Born William Ralph Blass in Fort Wayne, Indiana to a part-time dressmaker and a traveling hardware salesman.  Blass’s father committed suicide when Blass was five.  At 15, Blass began selling sketches of evening gowns for $25 each to a New York manufacturer.  At 17 he left home to attend fashion school in New York.  Blass excelled and at 18 became the first man to win Mademoiselle’s Design for Living award.  He found work as a sketch artist with the sportswear house of David Crystal.

In 1942 Blass enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the 603rd Camouflage Battalion a classified division, its mission was to fool the Germans through the use of recordings, dummy tanks and other false materiel, into believing the Allies were positioned other than where they actually were.  Blass left the Army in 1945 and went back to New York, where he went to work for Anne Klein.  Klein fired Blass less than a year later, calling him talentless.  Next Blass started as an assistant designer at Anna Miller and Company, and later at the fashion house Maurice Rentner.  In 1970, Blass established Bill Blass Limited.  He was most noted for high-quality, high-priced clothing featuring a look of sporty sophistication and casual glamour.

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His classic style, which was less severe than that of many contemporaries, attracted a wide audience.  He won numerous fashion awards; his designs included sportswear, rainwear, accessories, and evening wear.  Beginning in the late 1960s, he also designed menswear. In December 1998, Blass suffered a minor stroke.  His company had grown to a $700-million-a-year concern. But after he presented his final collection to in September of 1999, the designer sold Bill Blass Limited for $50 million and retired.  In 2000, he was diagnosed with oral cancer, which later spread to his throat.  It proved terminal.

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His 2002 autobiography “Bare Blass” is definitely required reading.  What. A. Life.

Biography

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4 thoughts on “BILL BLASS CLASS

  1. I’m reading this book right now! I’ve befriended one of his former employees and I’m dying to hear some stories from her!

  2. Pingback: THE TSY FASHION FLASHBACK | AMERICAN MENSWEAR DESIGNER ICONS « The Selvedge Yard

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