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What Went Wrong With Blass?

Lars Nilsson’s dismissal from the Blass collection a day after his runway show, came as a surprise to many editors.

If it is Vollbracht, he faces the same hurdle as his predecessors: stepping into the shadow of the out-sized personality of Bill Blass. Some believe it makes the job of succeeding him a nearly impossible task.

“There is still a very clear idea of what Bill Blass stands for,” said designer Anna Sui. “When you look at Balenciaga, a long time had passed before Nicolas came in. It was at least a generation, or even two, so there was not such a set impression. It seems that they are trying to fit something into the Bill Blass mold without allowing that time lapse to happen.”

That was clearly a problem when Slowik approached the line after Blass retired in 2000 — handpicked by the man himself. Slowik put together a collection that attempted to work within the house’s established vocabulary, but also stretched into new territory that ultimately frightened Blass’ longtime clientele. Nilsson’s collections for the house were slowly drawing them back, but the company said that sales hadn’t met expectations, leading to the decision to eliminate the design team on Wednesday.

Evaluating the move on Thursday, some buyers were not entirely surprised, but others were under the impression that Nilsson was hitting his stride and that he ultimately had a chance to create a collection that would do what Blass himself had wanted: to continue to meet the needs of his established and faithful customers, while also attracting a new breed of women. Many of those who had stopped coming to the Bill Blass runway shows after Slowik’s presentation had returned to Nilsson’s on Tuesday.

But their verdicts were not always universal as Nilsson’s Nordic roots sometimes came through in his more elaborate designs, turning off a core group of Blass’ customers who favored his traditional cuts. That was likely one of the most significant factors leading to the sudden turn of events.

But retailers were curious as to the motivation behind the sudden move, are anxious to hear the company’s plans and are looking for Bill Blass to deliver a solid replacement. Nordstrom hasn’t carried the Blass collection for several years, said Sue Patneaude, the retailer’s vice president of designer apparel, adding it would take a sense of stability and a clear perspective on the collection to make it a viable business.

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