Birthplace: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics "Winnie" Award, 1961, 1963, 1970 Gold Coast Award, Chicago, 1965 National Cotton Council Award, New York, 1966 Coty American Fashion Critics, Menswear Award, 1968 Neiman Marcus Award, Dallas, 1969
Coty American Fashion Critics, Hall of Fame Award, 1970 Coty American Fashion Critics, Special Citations, 1971, 1982, 1983 Point Council Award, 1971 Martha Award, New York, 1974
Honorary Doctorate, Rhode Island School of Design, 1977 Ayres Look Award, 1978
Gentlemen's Quarterly Manstyle Award, New York, 1979
Cutty Sark Hall of Fame Award, 1979
Council of Fashion Designers of America Award, 1986
William Ralph Blass, a Midwestern native, knew at an early age exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up. As a child, Blass's favorite pasttime was going to the movies where he could escape the desolation of the Great Depression by immersing himself in the glamor and sophistication of Hollywood starlets. Blass attended the Parsons School of Design in New York City after high school, where he often sold his drawings to Seventh Avenue designers.
The first job Blass landed after college was as a sketch artist for New York sportswear designer David Crystal in 1940. Blass's fashion career was delayed by the onset of World War II; Blass served as a sergeant in the United States Army from 1941 to 1944. When his term of service was over, Blass took a position as a designer at Anna Miller and Company, Ltd., which later merged with Maurice Rentner in 1958. By the mid-1960s Blass had positioned himself as the head designer, vice president, and partner of the company. In 1968 Blass bought out the other partners and renamed the company Bill Blass, Inc.
Blass's signature style was all about sophistication. He gathered inspiration from museums, books, opera, and the ballet. His love for sketching enabled him to translate this inspiration into designs which captured the essence of the American woman. He mixed texture, color, and pattern to create refined looks. Blass's eye for detail was carried throughout his collections. Blass launched several different lines including Blassport in 1972 (currently Bill Blass Sport), House of Blass in 1971, Bill Blass Jeans in 1997, and Bill Blass Dress, Bill Blass Evening, and Bill Blass USA in 1995 to provide women with clothing for all facets of their lives. Blass's products are merchandised in the finest retail department stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, Burdines, and Lord and Taylor, and in various specialty stores across the United States. In 1996 Blass opened his first freestanding store in Singapore through the Singapore distribution company FB Benjamin Fashions.
Blass, referred to as the "Genius of Licensing," holds over forty agreements that total over three million dollars in revenue. One of his most unusual licensing agreements occurred in the 1960s when he briefly licensed his name to chocolates. Blass maintains licensing agreements with several different companies, while at the same time maintaining control over the product design. Blass's current licensing agreements include Augustus Clothiers for Bill Blass USA; Pennsylvania House for furniture; Spring Industries, Inc., for the Bill Blass Home collection; Five Star for fragrance lines; Rose Cloak and Suit Company for coats; He-Ro Group for Bill Blass Knit Dress and Bill Blass Evening; Mallory and Church Corporation for hosiery; Krementz and Company for jewelry; Basha Scarves for women's scarves; OAS Industries for Bill Blass Swimwear; and Zaralo for suits.
After years of doing what he knows best, the American designer announced his retirement in 1999 after he suffered a minor stroke at the age of seventy-six. Blass still plays a creative role in the company, but he turned over the management responsibilities to the Resource Club. Blass will always be remembered for the sophisticated fashions he created for woman. Woman such as Barbara Bush, Angelica Huston, Nancy Reagan, Mary Tyler Moore, and Barbara Streisand all turned to Blass when they needed graceful, timeless fashions. His reputation for designing classical clothing earned him the title of "Dean of American Fashion Designers."
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