Designer News. Fashion Emergency. Bill Blass Designer Michael Vollbracht Quits. Says Fashion Is Fading. Second City Style Fashion Blog

Fountain of 30

June 4, 2007 • Fashion

Ph2007053102485

Photo credit: Bebeto Matthews for the Washington Post

Is the fashion world entering a crisis mode? Is the fashion designer dead? As Robin Givhan reports for the Post, Bill Blass lead designer Michael Vollbracht is calling it quits. And as Givhan notes, it’s the THIRD time since Blass retired in 1999 that the house has been without a lead designer– which is a problem and perhaps indicative of a change in the industry that doesn’t bode well for designers. As Vollbracht laments with fellow industry designer James Galanos, " fashion ignores older women. It has been
hijacked by omnipotent stylists who have a say in celebrity wardrobes,
fashion shoots and even runway shows.
"The stylist has more power
than I do," he says. At Bill Blass, "we’re sending thousands of dollars
in FedExes to Halle Berry and Catherine Zeta-Jones," only to have the
clothes go unworn. "We’re all sending this [stuff] out there. That’s
the thing I didn’t understand, the power of the stylist."

Everyone
in the industry is obsessed with celebrities, he says, and every brand
is desperate to create a hot new handbag that can feed the bottom line
for a year or two.

And he’s done. Sadly, the 59-year old veteran says he had no plans to work in the fashion industry ever again, which is sad and pathetic moment.

Is it already time to mourn the designer? Is the "designer" dead?— Joanne Molina for Second City Style

Fashion

Taking Off From the Runway Business: For Blass Designer, the Industry Wore Thin

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 1, 2007;  Page C01

 

For the third time since its namesake
retired in 1999, the venerable American fashion house of Bill Blass
doesn’t have a lead designer. Its most recent creative director,
Michael Vollbracht, had a moment of Paddy Chayefsky clarity and
resigned late last week.

Vollbracht had been in Los Angeles to
attend a dinner with designer James Galanos — a man admired for his
talent, envied for his ability to work outside the Seventh Avenue
system and remembered for dressing former first lady Nancy Reagan. He
and Galanos talked about how the fashion industry has evolved into a
business focused more on accessories and perceptions of glamour than on
clothes. They lamented how it devalues designers who want to dress
women — not girls — in frocks that make them feel pretty rather than
cool or edgy or subversive.

In Vollbracht’s view, fashion ignores older women. It has been
hijacked by omnipotent stylists who have a say in celebrity wardrobes,
fashion shoots and even runway shows.

"The stylist has more power
than I do," he says. At Bill Blass, "we’re sending thousands of dollars
in FedExes to Halle Berry and Catherine Zeta-Jones," only to have the
clothes go unworn. "We’re all sending this [stuff] out there. That’s
the thing I didn’t understand, the power of the stylist."

Everyone
in the industry is obsessed with celebrities, he says, and every brand
is desperate to create a hot new handbag that can feed the bottom line
for a year or two.

And then there’s the media talk about the
politics of fashion and the meaning of fashion. That’s a distraction, a
tangent. All women want "is something they can wear and look pretty and
look young," Vollbracht says.

After his conversation with
Galanos, Vollbracht, who regularly traveled the country for trunk shows
and was never one to bite his tongue, got on a plane to San Francisco
and thought: "I’ve got to do something else."

So he quit.

"I
blame the industry. I don’t blame Bill Blass. . . . Everyone at Blass
has been very nice," says Vollbracht, 59. "I didn’t know the rules.
You’ve got to be with the right stylist, the right models, the right
mafia — when all it just comes down to is . . . clothes."

He has no plans to work in the fashion industry again. Ever.

Vollbracht
arrived at Bill Blass in 2003, after Lars Nilsson, who had been lead
designer since 2001, was fired. Nilsson had succeeded Steven Slowik,
who’d lasted only about one year before he was fired. (Blass died in
2002.)

Vollbracht was an old friend of Blass’s and came out of
retirement to take the job. After about 10 years of fizzy success under
his own label from the late ’70s through the ’80s, he’d closed his
business, moved to Florida and focused on illustration. In 2000,
Rizzoli published "Nothing Sacred," a collection of his illustrations
of designers and style icons.

He came back because he was asked
by the company, not because he felt he had something to prove. His
predecessors had used the legacy of the brand for inspiration while
emphasizing their own vision and aggressively courting a younger
customer. Vollbracht believed the classic Blass sensibility —
menswear-based tailoring mixed with sassy Scotch-and-soda femininity —
was still relevant and only needed tweaking. He was happy to keep a low
profile, content to bolster the Blass name instead of his own. He
wanted to woo young customers, but he made it clear that he was not
planning to desert the older ones.

Vollbracht emphasized that
philosophy in his first collection, for spring 2004. He showed it on
veteran models — women in their 40s and older. It was a fine opening
gambit. Over four years, he dressed women as diverse as singer Janet
Jackson and first lady Laura Bush, who wore one of his red skirt suits
to the Heart Truth fashion show in February. Actress Angelina Jolie
wore his red jersey dress on the cover of the January issue of Vogue.

But
Vollbracht’s runway collections often lacked sex appeal. The clothes
could be matronly. It became clear Vollbracht had a mature, reserved
sensibility that was not in sync with an industry that held up the
disheveled, kewpie-doll Olsen twins as tastemakers.

"I had
someone come up to me and say, ‘You do such beautiful clothes.’ Another
woman patted my hand and said, ‘Don’t take that as a compliment.’ "

Before
coming to Blass, Vollbracht had been away from the fashion industry for
15 years. A lot had changed and little of it, Vollbracht says, for the
good. He left the first time before the rise of the size 0 model,
before the use of teen idols as trendsetters for luxury goods, before
fashion became a segment on "Access Hollywood," before InStyle magazine
existed.

During his tenure at Bill Blass, he says, "I had women
who loved these clothes." But that was not enough. Vollbracht may have
been the wrong designer for Bill Blass, but in many ways, he is right
about the industry.

Facebook Comments

Tags:

Leave a Reply