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.


“It is difficult to follow a successful and established designer,” Patneaude said. “There is no shortage of design talent out there, but for someone to take on a brand where the business was driven by such a personality — I wish them luck in finding someone who is a true talent and has great charisma. It’s hard for a younger designer to have that authority.”

Bergdorf Goodman, which has carried the Blass collections for decades and is a key connection between the house and its prominent clientele, has seen a drop-off in the business since Blass retired, said Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director.

“When you are relaunching a brand like Bill Blass, you have to keep the existing customer base and attract a new one at the same time, and you have to have a long-term goal in place,” Burke said. “It’s not something that is going to happen in three, four or even five seasons. And you don’t just go back to the well; you have to be innovative. Lars is extremely talented, but you have to realize it’s a new era. You can’t go back and live in Bill Blass’ skin. It’s just not going to happen.”

Burke compared Bill Blass instead to Oscar de la Renta, a contemporary that remains independent and successful because the designer has strived to attract a new, younger customer while continuing to cater to his established fans.

“The way we can tell this is working is that an established customer is buying his suits, while the new one is coming in and buying three blouses or one signature jacket,” he said. “No one wants to forsake the existing business, but when you think of the gambles that have paid off today, you realize that you have to be willing to take those risks.”

Nilsson certainly had the support of stores and the press. Jaqui Lividini, senior vice president of fashion merchandising and communications for Saks Fifth Avenue, which has continued to report strong sales of the Blass collection, said there are several important components to making the continuation of a brand successful, namely investment and the talent to balance the history of the house with a look toward the future. “I thought Lars did strike that balance,” she said. Several magazine editors, including Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Glenda Bailey from Harper’s Bazaar, were also extremely supportive of the designer.

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