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.

Harry Bernard, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Colton Bernard Inc., said brands like Anne Klein, Givenchy, Halston and Bill Blass were made based on the personality, charisma and the talent of the designer, but the more successful continuations of brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton are cases where the incoming designer has a bigger personality, like Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford.

“Look at Louis Vuitton, it was part of the old, dusty, logoed luggage,” he said. “Marc Jacobs came in and gave it a point of view and he is an exciting person and created that enthusiasm for a brand and now LV is the cash cow. Gucci and LVMH are all about giving people a sense of status. The others have not yet developed their imagery at the same level — the personality and packaging is not there.”

Marc Gobe, president of Desgrippes Gobe, a brand consulting firm, similarly said a problem at companies like Blass and Givenchy is that they have tried instead to focus too much on pleasing both the old and new, instead of making a clear choice to go in one distinct direction.

“It takes a really great innovative and charismatic designer to replace another great, charismatic designer,” Gobe said. “What has been missing is the ability to bring into the fold another great visionary designer that understands today’s women. You do not have creative leadership there to make a statement to the world. Gucci did it with Ford, Dior with Galliano and Louis Vuitton with Marc Jacobs. The others have not brought that level of creativity into their brands and they do not have a great understanding of what made the brand great in the first place.”

In the case of Blass, it was the ladies to whom he catered. Many of them, while trying to support his memory, couldn’t in the end find what they really wanted.

“Bill Blass always represented a quintessential American style,” said Jamee Gregory, a longtime customer. “He was terrific and always did mens’ wear fabrics that were tailored and precise. It was a look I really loved…his cashmere twin sets, and jazzy skirts. Designers wanted to change it and make it modern, but in a certain way, it lost its Blassness. Lars and Hervé [Pierre Braillard, design director] are so talented, but you wish whomever they choose this time won’t wish to reinvent the wheel, and at least use the wonderful fabrics and shapes that women like so much.”

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