One of the greatest fashion designers of the twentieth century, Bill Blass is often considered the first American designer of women clothes to have designed menswear. His clothes were famous among the most prominent women of his time, for their fabric, patterns, perfect tailoring and dazzling color combinations. Jacqueline Kennedy, Happy Rockefeller, and Marilyn Monroe, were among his regular customers. Designing apparel was not his only forte; he also came up with his whole range of perfumes, luggage and chocolates to expand his venture. Not only this, he was even contacted by many automobile companies, such as Ford, to design their cars! For his impeccable designs, be it casuals, sportswear, rainwear, accessories, and evening wear, he was awarded the Coty awards, one of the most respected fashions awards, several times. Even a decade after his death, his designs and ideas are still extremely popular among the fashionistas of today. Blass began designing in the early 1940s, which according to the fashion world were its ‘unglamorous years’. He sort of revolutionized the fashion of that time, by bringing back the cocktail dresses which were long forgotten. The apparel he designed became a rage among the high-society women and soon enough they became trend-setters. Learn more about this artistic personality in the article below.
Childhood & Early Life
Blass was born to Ralph Aldrich Blass, an itinerant salesman and Ethyl Easter Keyser, a seamstress. He was just five when his father committed suicide.
From a very young age, he showed a considerable interest in fashion and would often draw sketches of dresses worn by the actors and models (the way they appeared in the movies or in magazines) of his day.
As he grew up he began stitching and selling his own designs of evening gowns to some dress manufacturers based in New York.
In 1939, when he was 17, he left Midwest for New York where he was enrolled to the Parsons School of Design to study fashion designing.
After his graduation he worked for David Crystal, a Sportswear manufacturer, as a sketcher.
In 1942, during the World War II, he was recruited by the army and was assigned to a group called ‘The Ghost Army’ which consisted of creative people such as writers, artists, theatre workers, etc. who would mislead the German Army.
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In 1945, the war ended and Blass began his career in fashion designing by joining Anna Miller and Cio. By the time the head of the company Mrs. Miller retired in 1959, he had become its chief designer.
As the chief designer of Anna Miller and Cio, which was renamed as Maurice Rentner Ltd. following a union, he came up with a number of highly successful designs which helped him establish himself in the fashion industry.
After amassing immense fame as well as fortune, he bought the Maurice Rentner Ltd. in 1970 and changed its name to Bill Blass Limited. For the next three decades he launched a stunning collection of fashion wear for women.
His collection was seen at the most prestigious fashion events and was worn by the famous women like Nancy Davis Reagan, the wife of the former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Famous journalist Barbara Walters and singer-songwriter Barbra Streisand also wore his collection.
During the course of time his brand expanded and also dealt in swimwear, furs, luggage, perfume, and chocolate. By 1998, his company had an annual turnover of $700-million
He retired from business in 1999 after selling his company to Michael Groveman.
From 1976 to 1992, Ford Motor Company took Blass’s services to design the interiors and the exteriors of its limited edition the ‘Continental Mark’ series. His most famous design was the "carriage roof" top of the Mark series cars which rendered the look of a convertible.
Awards & Achievements
Blass was the proud winner of the Coty American Fashion Critics' Awards seven times. He won the award for the first time in 1961 and in 1983 he received his last Coty award.
In 1999, the Fashion Institute of Technology, a State University of New York school of art, business, design, and technology, honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his immense contribution to the fashion industry.
Personal Life & Legacy
Blass was diagnosed with oral cancer in 2000, which later developed into throat cancer.
He died at the age of 79 at New Preston, Connecticut.
He also wrote a memoir ‘Bare Blass’ which he completed six days before his death.
This fashion designer from America, who designed a special series of cars for Ford Motor Company, did not know how to drive.