Saturday, December 6, 2008

Bill Blass Couture is Shuttered.

For several months I've written about the House that Blass built. Granted, many of my opinions in regards to the designers who have taken hold of the wheel were unlicensed for the job. That would have to include the president of the company, Michael Groveman. The most unfortunate thing that could have befallen such a venerable and landmark establishment was the appointment of Michael Groveman. His story is the dark tale of the effects of nepotism. Perhaps Dad could do it, but Junior couldn't.

Bill Blass will officially close up shop ( it already has) on Dec. 19, 2008 , unless they decide to go to press sooner. The company has disbanded the design studio and now are in the process of selling off machinery, supplies and fabrics in order to lessen the debts which still hang over them. It's a fire sale in it's most discreet form.

There was no White Knight to come to it's rescue. The parent company NexCen was unable to find a suitor for a house that was for sale at one point for as little as 10 million dollars, down from it's purchase price of 54 million. At one point it was offered for $1.00 if all debt, loans and all related baggage would be assumed. The Direct to Customer Collection ( a la Tupper Ware party presentations for Ladies who neither shop nor lunch) which was generating 1 million this past year was closed down a few weeks ago. That collection had it's own designer and was priced below designer and above bridge. Effectively, the Budget Blass collection. At least that collection was making headway. The part of the Blass body that was gangrenous was the Couture. Peter Som proved season after season , like Lars Nillson, Steven Slowick,Probal, the long suffering assistant designer, and Michael Vollbracht , perhaps the most wise if not most lackluster of creative designers, that the job of moving the collection forward and still maintaining it's solidly loyal customer base was beyond his meager talents.

Peter Som was over faced by that job. One must have a point of reference , a knowledge of the history of more than the house , but of the unique client who's needs it serves.This isn't a case of "being to the manor born", per se. This just means years of experience in life, an understanding of a specific culture and the frame within which it functions. That is what was so unique and successful about Bill Blass, the man. He may have been from Indiana, served in the military and had little or no money in the beginning. What he did have was an eagle's eye for the nuances of a world in which he strived to inhabit. He studied his clients before they were his to dress. He was a self created man , some would say affected, an ersatz gentleman...but he became and fully inhabited the person he chose to be. In doing so, he also became the go to guy for the society client who demanded a like minded Designer to answer their needs. He was a perfect fit and foil for his Ladies. This dogged determination on his part is a perfect example of this new book, The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell(also author of The Tipping Point). The idea is that laymen and scientists agree that for a person to become essentially expert in their field, it takes 10,000 hours of practice. That means that 10 years of steady work must happen before one can master a skill, truly master it. Blass spent those 10,000 hours working for other companies before opening his own. He had his schtick down by the time the Nan Kempners, Chessy Raynors, Pat Buckleys, Casey Ribicoffs, Nancy Kissingers,Louise Grunwalds,and so many others of his "Gals" walked through those doors. Peter Som and the rest of them, save Vollbracht, have not clocked those hours. They are amateurs, gold leaf plated arrivistes. I'd go so far as to say "ambitious actors". When the curtain comes up one needs to know more than just ones lines. It helps if one knows the play .

I always wondered why a design house as good as Blass would go the way of a lost penney. It was a viable business with a bright future. It kicked the butt of other competing houses like Herrera,and others not worth mentioning. Now there is only Oscar in 550 Seventh Ave. to carry that torch. Fine with me. He is a master and will not be unseated for years to come.

This reminds me of a cocktail party where I was standing next to Peter Som and his acolytes. They were giggling like little school girls about something . He was clearly the leader of the group , but everything that he uttered was pure chatty kathy ,cotton candy archness parading as cleverness. I walked away thinking that if that is the heart that beats in the body of that house, it will die in it's sleep. Well, It appears that that is exactly what has come to pass.
Bill Blass Couture has died while sleeping. Unfortunately, we all stood by and had to watch.

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