William Ralph Blass (June 22, 1922 – June 12, 2002) was an American fashion designer, born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was the recipient of many fashion awards, including seven Coty Awards and the Fashion Institute of Technology's Lifetime Achievement Award (1999).
|Born||William Ralph Blass|
June 22, 1922
Fort Wayne, Indiana
|Died||June 12, 2002 (aged 79)|
New Preston, Connecticut
|Education||Parsons School of Design|
|Label(s)||Bill Blass Limited|
|Awards||Coty Award seven times; Fashion Institute of Technology Lifetime Achievement Award, 1999|
Blass was the only son of Ralph Aldrich Blass, a traveling hardware salesman, who committed suicide when his son was five years old, and his wife, the former Ethyl Easter (died February 27, 1951, age 57), a dressmaker. He had one sister, Virginia Mae (born 1920).
In his autobiography, Blass wrote that the margins in his school books were filled with sketches of Hollywood-inspired fashions instead of notes. At fifteen, he began sewing and selling evening gowns for $25 each to a New York manufacturer. At seventeen, he had saved up enough money to move to Manhattan and study fashion, and, at eighteen, he was the first male to win Mademoiselle's Design for Living award. He spent his salary of $30 a week on clothing, shoes, and elegant meals.
In 1942, Blass enlisted in the Army. He was assigned to the 603rd Camouflage Battalion with a group of writers, artists, sound engineers, theater technicians, and other creative professionals. Their mission was to fool the German Army into believing the Allies were positioned in fake locations. They did this by using recordings, dummy tanks, and other false materials. He served in this unit at several major operations including the Battle of the Bulge, the Rhine River crossing, Sicily, the Normandy breakout, and North Africa.
Blass began his New York fashion career in 1945. He was a protégé of Baron de Gunzburg. In 1970, after two decades of success in menswear and womenswear, he bought Maurice Rentner Ltd., which he had joined in 1959, and renamed it Bill Blass Limited.
Over the next 30 years he expanded his line to include swimwear, furs, luggage, perfume, and chocolate. In 1967, he was the first American couture fashion designer to start a men’s wear line. That part of his business grew to offer everything from ties, socks and belts to suits and evening clothes. It was made by 18 licensees.
Like many designers, his women’s couture collections lost money but served to promote other parts of his business. By the mid-1990s, his ready to wear business grossed about $9 million annually and his 97 licensing agreements had retail sales of more than $700 million a year.
Beginning in 1976, and continuing until 1992, Blass lent his talents to the Ford Motor Company for an edition of their Continental Mark series of automobiles. In 1976, he shared model configurations with Emilio Pucci, Hubert de Givenchy, and Cartier. Each year, as goes true fashion, the interior and exterior color combinations would be updated. One of the most popular was the 1979 edition honoring a nautical theme, as did the Blass logo of the time. Small anchors were incorporated into the exterior accent striping and interior accents within the Blass "back-to-back B" design theme. The 1979 through 1983 Mark series Blass models were available with a "carriage roof" giving a convertible top look to the cars. After 1983, the Bill Blass edition became a color option with rear quarter window model designations and a few features that were options on the standard model.
Over the years, Blass won three Coty American Fashion Critics Awards. He won the 1968 Coty for men’s wear. The Council of Fashion Designers of American awarded Blass their Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and was the group’s first winner of their Humanitarian Leadership Award in 1996. He was also named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame List.
In 1994, Blass gave $10 million to the New York Public Library. In recognition of the gift, the Public Catalogue Room of the Central Research Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street was named the Bill Blass Public Catalogue Room.
In 1999, Blass sold Bill Blass Limited for $50 million to Michael Groveman and retired to his home in New Preston, Connecticut. Blass was diagnosed with oral/tongue cancer in 2000, not long after he began writing his memoir. His cancer later developed into throat cancer, resulting in his death on June 12, 2002, ten days away from his 80th birthday.
Blass collected art and was a connoisseur of antiquities and in his will bequeathed half of his $52 million estate, as well as several important ancient sculptures, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"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."
"The secret of living is not staying too long. I have learned when to leave the party."