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After several ill-fated attempts to revive it, Bill Blass, one of America’s most legendary fashion brands, is back. And with more than a trace of its trademark panache intact.
Under the direction of designer Chris Benz, the brand relaunched Nov. 1 in a thoroughly modern way — as a nimble e-commerce retailer not beholden to the rigid seasonal cycles of fashion weeks and department store deliveries.
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The brand’s direct-to-shopper setup — which boils down to showcasing everything currently for sale on one long, scrollable web page — means its merchandise lineup can be ever-fluid. Benz can drop a cute new handbag or scarf onto the site at any moment.
But the most exciting aspect of the Blass reboot is Benz’s very modern vision for the brand, which in the 1970s and ‘80s was a hardcore favorite of ladies who lunch, including Nancy Reagan, Nan Kempner and Lynn Wyatt.
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Benz, who quietly shuttered his 5-year-old namesake collection in 2012, deployed a handful of signature Blass elements in the collection, but he was careful to create a line that did not overtly reference fashion eras gone by.
“We had to do a big jump,” in the timeline of the brand, said Benz. “We could not have any ladies-who-lunch looks, or anything that was related to the other incarnations of the brand. We looked at some things from the 70s, but we weren’t looking at the later years.”
Benz, who’s well-practiced in creating colorful clothes for stylish-but-pragmatic women, said he considers the collection a middle ground between fashion’s current poles: “dark and serious” and “whimsical.” (Even the word “whimsical” makes him squirm — “I feel like a lot of brands trade on being whimsical these days,” he adds.)
Meanwhile, the Bill Blass aesthetic “is confident and matter-of-fact,” he says. “It’s very American, but it’s casual elegance. People want to feel and look beautiful but without looking girly-girl.”
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It’s true that the collection, which sits price-wise in between contemporary and designer (nothing exceeds $1,000 and most dresses are in the upper $300s), is full of Bill Blass-inspired tiny ruffles and bright, saturated colors. But it evokes confidence, not childishness.
The front of a cream cashmere “tee” comes splashed with what’s meant to look like black or neon-pink paint. High, chunk-heeled leather loafers are simple in design and embellishment free, but feel anything but blasé. A chic black silk shift gets timeless tuxedo ruffles and a neck bow, while a shrunken, stylishly rumpled linen blazer is offered in seven colors.
Bags include a suede messengers and plain, zip-top leather pouches. A cute square structured purse with top handles could have been prim, were it not for its luggage-like nylon strap — its description apropos of Benz’s mission at Bill Blass: “Ladies who lunch? Try babes who brunch.”
The designer says he envisioned the collection as appealing to women “who have an irreverent, independent spirit,” and cites Parker Posey, Alison Pill and Maggie Gyllenhaal as celebs he would love to see in the brand.
“It’s for that girl who’s not traditional in her beauty, but has a very distinct personality … she’s wearing flats and carrying two bags at the same time,” he said. “That’s the reality of how we live now.”
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