Lars Nilsson Fired In Blass Bombshell; Vollbracht in Wings?

Lars Nilsson was dumped as designer of Bill Blass Wednesday, but the firm might already have a successor in the wings: designer Michael Vollbracht.

Lars Nilsson takes a bow at his final Blass show Tuesday

Lars Nilsson takes a bow at his final Blass show Tuesday.

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — It doesn’t pay to get a bad review at Bill Blass.

A day after Lars Nilsson showed his sixth collection for the house, he was unceremoniously dumped along with five other design employees because, the company said, "sales did not live up to expectations."

But the timing and circumstances of the dismissal were as unusual as that of Nilsson’s predecessor, Steven Slowik, who was fired in January 2001, three weeks before he was supposed to show his second collection.

What ’s more,retail sources said the company might already have a replacement in the works —designer Michael Vollbracht,an old pal of Blass himself who had his own fashion line in the Eighties.Vollbracht is also a former fashion illustrator who now works on art design for books.He played an integral part in last October ’s Blass retrospective in Bloomington,Ind.,as well as the publication of the related Abrams catalog, “Bill Blass:An American Designer.”

Nilsson,who was creative director, said he and Hervé Pierre Braillard, design director,were informed of the decision on Tuesday morning in a closed-door meeting with Michael Groveman and Haresh Tharani,the principals of Bill Blass Ltd.They were then ordered off the premises.

While their designs for the house were not universally praised and never quite clearly fit into the Blass legacy,the duo had built support among editors and retailers,as well as drawing back many of the old Blass customers and several new ones by sponsoring a number of charity events over the past year.

At the Blass show on Tuesday,clients who had left the Blass camp after Slowik came on board —such as Blaine Trump, Casey Ribicoff and Nina Griscom — were in the front row after being lured back to the fold.

“Editorially,it ’s been wonderful,”said Groveman,chief executive officer of the firm,in a phone interview.“But retail sales have been very disappointing.We have an obligation to our retail customers to deliver products that are more in the spirit of Bill Blass.”

But in an exclusive interview with WWD,Nilsson charged that Groveman had failed to set a clear mandate for what his vision of Bill Blass Ltd.should be since the death of its namesake designer and founder last year.He said he and Braillard were systematically excluded from company decisions or working with licensees.They also couldn ’t get an employment contract and were even banned from attending the opening of the Blass retrospective in Indiana.
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