How Designer Chris Benz Is Making Bill Blass Cool Again
Back in its heyday during the '80s and early '90s, Bill Blass was nearly a billion dollar company as it shaped the American fashion landscape. Cut to 1999, when Blass retired and sold the label—a label that was eventually left behind and forgotten as the industry continued to evolve. And now, after a few unsuccessful attempts to revive the brand under a number of head designers, Bill Blass has found a leader in Chris Benz to give it the lift it needs.
At first glance, it's hard to believe it's the same brand at all. The business model alone is remarkably different: It's exclusively e-commerce (though talks of brick-and-mortar stores are swirling) and it won't follow the fashion production calendars like the rest of the industry, during which brands show a collection six months before they hit stores. Basically, what you see is what you can buy.
"We're working as a start-up. We had an opportunity to hire the coolest young design talent," Benz tells us at the collection preview. "Bill Blass was always conscious of fashion as a young business. A young perspective is what drove his business when he ran it, so it was important to have that same perspective now."
And Benz's debut lineup, which will be available online as early as Monday, Nov. 2, is certainly something that most women will want to "add to cart." It's brimming with a riot of rich shades, incredible textures, and a carefree contemporary attitude that Benz feels sure is missing in the marketplace.
"We didn't cobble together a collection that feels old and new—it can get confusing," Benz says, confessing that he didn't have time to go through the millions of sketches, samples, and looks that make up the huge Bill Blass archive. "But it was actually a blessing, because we were able to tease out exactly what the brand philosophy is—it's casual-cool American sportswear that's colorful and distinctive."
But that's not to say he neglected the Bill Blass heritage entirely. As a nod to '70s, the decade in which the company was founded, he dipped into nostalgic-feeling hues, like mustard, slate blue, and sienna, and crafted modern-day interpretations of some of the era's greatest hits, such as tuxedo suits and shirtdresses. More of the label's DNA can be seen in the rugby stripes, ruffle detailing, and "petal-y" details—"there's a sweetness to Bill Blass clothes," Benz says. Amid all of that is Benz's own design philosophy, which revolves around idiosyncratic color combos and an attitude that's both approachable and polished.
"I wanted to wipe the slate clean," Benz says. "Our approach with the brand was to have a clear point of view, and I think that's what will resonate with consumers." Essentially, this is the ultimate fashion comeback story. Scroll through to see more looks from Benz's debut Bill Blass collection and head to billblass.com Nov. 2 to shop them.