By  on December 18, 2008

Having fended off closing its doors for months, Bill Blass Couture appears to be ready to face the inevitable.

Industry observers expect the operation to be shuttered by Jan. 1, barring a last-minute sale of the firm.

Executives at NexCen Brands Inc. are said to have narrowed the field of potential buyers for the Bill Blass brand and its ready-to-wear component. Perhaps a sign of the times: none of the existing interested parties are financial buyers.

However, if and when a deal is agreed upon, a new owner could choose to bring back Bill Blass Couture.

NexCen managing director Craig Hoffman said Wednesday, “Bill Blass is facing the same challenges as other consumer and retail companies in the current weak macroenvironment. Given the climate, we are reviewing all aspects of our business to determine the best way to protect the Bill Blass business and brand for the long term.”

The beleaguered economy certainly has not helped NexCen executives’ negotiating power. Earlier this month, the asking price was said to be in the $20 million range, though some industry observers speculated it could go for considerably less — perhaps even a bargain-basement price for the once-venerable brand.

Bill Blass has been plagued with problems in recent months. Creative director Peter Som exited in October, after months of speculation that he and the label were parting ways. His departure and the lingering sale prompted some stores to take a pass on spring orders.

In addition, last month Bill Blass New York, the direct-sales apparel firm, ceased taking orders and is liquidating. Earlier this year, that business generated an estimated $1 million in revenues, according to sources.

Some 30 staffers are believed to be still employed in Bill Blass’ Seventh Avenue showroom. While no official announcement has been made about the company’s fate, several employees have been actively seeking full-time employment elsewhere for at least a month.

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