NEW YORK — Michael Vollbracht's days of designing for Bill Blass are over after a somewhat bumpy four-year run.
In a telephone interview Friday, the label's designer and creative director said he resigned the day before. Relations between Vollbracht and Blass management were known to have been stormy for a long time.
A statement released Friday by Blass' parent company, NexCen Brands Inc., confirmed the resignation. Michael Groveman, president and chief executive officer of Bill Blass Ltd., said, "As we position the company to move in a new direction, we appreciate the valuable contributions Michael Vollbracht has made to the Blass team since joining us. His creative interests have led him down a different path, and we wish him well in his pursuits."
A search is under way for Vollbracht's successor, according to Groveman. "Blass prides itself in cultivating some of the finest design talent the industry has to offer, and we're excited about the rising stars among the Blass design team."
Vollbracht said in the statement, "I have appreciated the opportunity to carry on the tradition of Bill Blass, a man I admire more than I can say....I hope that I have made an important contribution to the company, and I look forward to seeing its continued success and growth in the years to come."
While Vollbracht's February runway show received a more favorable review than in seasons past, some believed he never quite found his footing at Blass. In March 2003, Vollbracht arrived on the heels of Lars Nilsson's swift dismissal — the latter was fired the day after presenting his spring ready-to-wear collection. On Friday, Vollbracht said he had had "a wonderful ride," but "it was time to move elsewhere. I don't want to go anywhere except in my garden and anywhere that makes me happy."
Asked if he planned to stay in fashion, Vollbracht, an accomplished illustrator and artist who has had various exhibitions, said, "I doubt I will. It's not something I'm thinking about. I have a home here and one in Florida, so I have a pretty nice life."
The largely uneven reviews of Vollbracht's collections for the house may have played into his exit, as well as the fact that Bill Blass Inc. was sold in December following a two-year search. That month, NexCen Brands inked a $54.6 million cash and stock deal to acquire Bill Blass Holding Co. Inc.The acquisition included two Blass-owned subsidiaries, Bill Blass Licensing Co. Inc. and Bill Blass International LLC. The company also entered into a licensing agreement for men's and women's denim with Designer Licensing Holdings LLC, which also acquired a 10 percent minority interest in the company's Bill Blass trademark subsidiary. The company has licensing deals for tabletop, linens and bedding, with other home categories to follow. The goal is to make Blass a full lifestyle brand.
During his tenure, Vollbracht tried to breathe some life into the Blass label by creating flirtier pieces for younger shoppers without alienating the brand's older, core customers. While Vollbracht suited up First Lady Laura Bush, he also wooed celebrities like Janet Jackson and Jessica Lange.
Like the late Blass, Vollbracht hails from the Midwest — in his case from Shawnee Mission, Kan. After graduating from Parsons School of Design in 1969, Vollbracht won the school's prestigious Norman Norrell Award, and when Norrell was not available to present it, Blass stepped in. After graduation, Vollbracht worked as an illustrator for Geoffrey Beene sketching Lynda Bird Johnson's wedding wardrobe. He beat out Beene's then-assistant, Issey Miyake, to design the junior collection, Beene Bazaar. He joined Donald Brooks in 1971 before going out on his own in 1978 without any financial backing. His second collection earned a Coty Award. But in 1989, Vollbracht left Manhattan to live full-time in Florida.
Vollbracht came back to New York to work with Blass on the retrospective that opened at Indiana University in 2003 and the related catalogue. He spent two years with the designer looking at archives, prior to Blass' death in June 2002. In a 2003 interview, Vollbracht said, "I am going to bring something to this house that is fresh, while maintaining what is at the essence of the house. Working with Bill, I got to know the heritage of the house really well. I got it. He kept telling me, 'This is not the Michael Vollbracht show.'"
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