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Bill Blass Dismisses Women’s Design Staff

The team was let go last week after learning that the company’s Sept. 11 show at the Union League Club in New York had been canceled.

NEW YORK — Now that designer Jeffrey Monteiro and the rest of the staff behind Bill Blass’ women’s collection have been dismissed, the label’s future is once again in flux.

The team was let go last week after learning that the company’s Sept. 11 show here at the Union League Club had been canceled. Peacock International Holdings, which bought the American sportswear brand in 2008, broke the news to staff members Thursday in its Fifth Avenue offices. Scott Patti, president of the Bill Blass Group, first dismissed Monteiro, who in turn spoke with his staff. Patti later spoke with employees one-by-one, and told them they were “free to go,” according to one former Blass employee. There was no explanation or mention of severance packages, the former staffer said.

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Patti on Monday deferred comment to a spokesman for the brand.

“We are going to take a break this season and not show the women’s collection. We are very happy with the editorial and all of the licenses are in place,” the spokesman said. “We are going to reevaluate and make an announcement in the near term.”

Fall deliveries of the Bill Blass women’s collection will not be affected and the label has not decided whether a spring line will be produced, according to the spokesman.

With 90 percent of the spring 2013 collection completed and about $250,000 worth of Italian fabrics in the company’s Fifth Avenue offices, staffers were surprised by the decision to cancel the show. Stylist George Cortina, whose day job is fashion director for Japanese Vogue, had already been paid in full, one source said. The venue, the Union League Club, had also been secured, as had the production company and Paul Wilmot Communications, the former staffer said.

Monteiro, who stopped creating his own signature label last year, had earned approving reviews in recent seasons. The Bill Blass women’s collection was sold in about 25 stores internationally, with the addition of Lord & Taylor being a recent coup. But production costs proved to be problematic, according to the former staffer. A few months ago, rather than invest in buying more fabric to fulfill increased orders, the company opted to work with what was already in-house and to only produce the styles that were being made for Lord & Taylor, the displaced worker said. As a result, a number of stores decided to cancel their orders. In addition, an outside consultant was hired in May to review the business.

Bill Blass Ltd. has seen significant turmoil over the past decade. Three years before Blass’ death in 2002, he sold Bill Blass Ltd. for $50 million to Michael Groveman in 1999. Steve Slowik was the first designer to succeed Blass before being let go. Next in line was the Swedish designer Lars Nilsson, who handled design from 2001 through part of 2003, before being fired the day after his show. Michael Vollbracht, who had known Blass, succeeded him but left in 2007. Around that time, the company was acquired by NexCen Brands through a $54.6 million cash and stock acquisition. Peter Som was named designer of the women’s collection in the summer of 2007, but he headed for the door the following year when the women’s label was last suspended.