Bill Blass

On this date in 1922, fashion designer William Ralph Blass was born in Fort Wayne, Ind. His mother was a dressmaker and his father was a traveling hardware salesman, who committed suicide when Bill was five years old. Always interested in art, at the age of 15, Blass began selling evening gowns of his own design for $25 each to a dress manufacturer in New York. When he was 17, he moved to Manhattan in order to study fashion and, at 18, was the first male to win Mademoiselle's Design for Living award. At 20, Blass enlisted in the army and was assigned, along with writers, artists, theater people and other creative types, to a special camouflage unit whose mission was to trick the German army into focusing on false locations to find the Allies. At the end of the war, Blass returned to New York, becoming a protege of Baron de Gunzburg, an influential fashion editor at Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. During the 1950s, Blass worked for Anna Miller & Co., designing what was to become his signature style of clothing. In 1959, when Anna and her brother, Maurice Rentner, merged companies, Blass became head designer, then vice-president of Maurice Rentner, Inc., and, in 1970, changed the name of the company to Bill Blass, Ltd. Blass designed expensive, beautifully cut and tailored clothing, noted for its classic style and creative use of patterns and textures. He was also the first American designer, from the high fashion end of the industry, to design for men. Among other honors, Blass was awarded several Coty Awards, which are regarded as the Oscar of the clothing industry and, in 1999, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Fashion Institute of Technology. Highly respected within the fashion industry, and in public life, he was described as someone not only with talent, but with the personal class and style of the clothes he designed. Involved in community work throughout his life, he was awarded several public service awards and was a trustee of the New York Public Library. His memoir, Bare Blass, is said to reveal a true American story: a person moving from the back room of the clothing industry to become one of the names defining that world. D. 2002.

Bill Blass: I have a firm belief in such things as, you know, the water, the Earth, the trees and sky. And I'm wondering, it is increasingly difficult to find those elements in nature, because it's nature I believe in rather than some spiritual thing.

SFWeekly: You're not a religious man?

BB: No. And I do suppose that science has taken, to a large extent and for a number of people, has taken the place of religion.

SFW: What do you mean by that?

BB: That one can have more belief in scientific cures or scientific miracles than you do in God miracles. It's inevitable that we will eventually diffuse into nothingness . . . ”

—Sept. 1, 1999 issue of the San Francisco alternative newspaper, SF Weekly

Compiled by Jane Esbensen

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