Bill Blass: Timeless American Style
by Amelia Gray
Born in 1922 in Fort Wayne, IN, to a part-time dressmaker and traveling hardware salesman, Bill Blass didn't always have success at his fingertips.
Fashion was a part of Blass' life from a young age. At fifteen, he was selling sketches of evening gowns for $25 each to a dressmaker in New York. At the time, it was difficult to find accredited, respected local design schools, and he left Fort Wayne in 1939 to attend fashion design school in New York, NY.
Sketches of a Career
Blass, a quick study, thrived in school. At 18, Blass was the first man to win Mademoiselle's Design for Living Award. He found work as a sketch artist before enlisting in the Army in 1942 and serving in a classified Camouflage Battalion. His design training came in handy, as his missions involved designing decoys to give the impression of troop activity.
When he returned to New York, Blass took more small jobs and worked his way up to top design houses before eventually forming his own brand, Bill Blass Limited. Any fashion designer who had to work their way to the top will confirm that the road from small jobs to an international design house is long. Perseverance and stubbornness are just as much requirements of the job as are creativity and design skill.
Preserving Timeless Style
With Bill Blass' death in 2002 came the retrospectives. Fashion design school students as well as the general public in Indiana had a rare opportunity to view gowns worn by first lady Nancy Reagan and Aretha Franklin at "Bill Blass: An American Designer," an exhibit at Indiana University's Art Museum. The exhibit also includes sketches from his career and a catalogue featuring childhood drawings, sketches, and more than 250 of Blass' most important designs.
Bill Blass' story is a lesson to aspiring fashion designers. When he was fired by designer Anne Klein, who called him "talentless," he didn't shrink from the spotlight, but instead found new work and continued to improve. Today, Blass leaves a legacy of elegant design and timeless style. "A certain nonchalance is always a constant in American clothes," he said. "Having the confidence to mix things up is very American."
About the Author
Amelia Gray is a teacher and freelance writer in San Marcos, TX. Amelia earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from Arizona State University.