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~ Bill Blass ~

How does a young man from Indiana become an urbane man-about-town?  In the case of Bill Blass, by design. 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.

A 1966 Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner pattern

A mid 1960s Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner 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 US 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. Interestingly enough, the car ads helped make Blass a household name, even though he did not know how to drive!

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.

As times changed, so did Bill Blass, but he 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 died in 2002.

To really understand Bill Blass, you must read his autobiography, Bare Blass, which was published soon after he died.

Blass, Bill, Bare Blass, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

Lambert, Eleanor, World of Fashion. New York: R.R.Bowker Company, 1976.

McDowell, Colin, McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1985.

Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1980, 1988.

 

A 1980s Blass Gown

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