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Bill Blass Couture Closes

Bill Blass Couture closed Friday and laid off all of its 60-plus employees without any severance.

Bill Blass Couture closed Friday and laid off all of its 60-plus employees without any severance.

This story first appeared in the December 22, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Staffers spent most of Friday packing up and saying goodbye. Hardest hit were the more than 20 sewers and workers who first punched the clock when the company’s namesake called the shots for decades, including some who were with Blass on his opening day in 1970.

“It’s been a crying-fest up here,” said one employee. “I never wanted to go through something like this again.”

Management at parent company NexCen Brands Inc. spread the word last week, but did not commit to severance. Some were told they may be eligible down the road, a Bill Blass staffer said.

A few former Bill Blass staffers speculated Sunday that any severance may be contingent on the sale of the Bill Blass brand and its ready-to-wear component. NexCen is said to be negotiating a deal to sell Bill Blass to Peacock, a company that specializes in men’s neckties, and is eager to finalize one by the end of the year, due to financial incentives established by an undisclosed bank.

NexCen executives declined comment Sunday. However, last week they confirmed talks were under way with more than one non-financial company.

Rather than hope for the best, the displaced Bill Blass workers planned to collect unemployment immediately, according to sources at the company.

Highlighting how strapped the company is, sources noted that NexCen plans to sell the no-longer-needed office furniture in Bill Blass’ Seventh Avenue showroom.

With his debonair style and steadfast support from well-heeled friends and longtime clients, Blass built the company into a multilicensed enterprise, with $500 million in annual sales in the late Eighties and early Nineties. That is a far cry from recent sales, which were said to be $500,000.