Bill Blass born 22 June 1922 (d. 2002)
William Ralph 'Bill' Blass was an American fashion designer, born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is known for his tailoring and his innovative combinations of textures and patterns. He is the recipient of many fashion awards, including seven Coty Awards and the Fashion Institute of Technology's Lifetime Achievement Award (1999).
Bill Blass was the son of a dressmaker and a travelling hardware salesman. His father committed suicide when Bill was five, and afterwards Bill found refuge in the arts.
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, selling evening gowns for $25 each to a New York manufacturer. At 17 he had saved up enough money to move to Manhattan and study fashion. He excelled in his fashion studies immediately and at 18 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, theatre 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.
Blass began his New York fashion career in 1946. He was a protégé of Baron de Gunzburg - an influential fashion editor at Vogue and Harper's. 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. By 1998, his company had grown to a $700-million-a-year business.
Blass’s designs are best known for being wearable. In a time when other designers were designing clothes which were known more for being a work of art, Blass was designing clothing which even everyday women could wear day or night.
In New York, Blass is also remembered as a generous and influential supporter of AIDS treatment services since the late 1980s and was a major donor to Gay Men's Health Crisis at a time when prominent people were silent about AIDS.
In 1999 Blass sold Bill Blass Limited for $50 million 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 memoirs. His cancer later became throat cancer and caused Blass's death in 2002. He died six days after completing his memoir, Bare Blass.
Blass was a connoisseur of antiquities, and his will bequeathed half his $52 million estate, as well as several important ancient sculptures, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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