NEW YORK — The Bill Blass hatchet struck again last week —this time aimed at the late designer’s longtime muse, Yvonne Miller, who was let go on Thursday after 17 years at the house.
According to Deborah Hughes, an external spokeswoman for the company, Miller’s position had been eliminated in a restructuring of the public relations department. Inside the Blass offices, that news was viewed with some antipathy, as the restructuring was seen as a result of the hiring of an outside public relations agency and the implication that it had usurped her role.
Miller has worn several hats at the company during her employment there. She started as a fit model and eventually became a fairly regular companion to Blass, exemplary of the tall, witty and loyal women who regularly bought his clothes. She began taking on public relations duties over time and eventually became the primary spokeswoman for the firm.
She came to understand Blass’ taste level so well that following his retirement, Miller designed the house’s next collection for fall 2000, before Steven Slowik was named as his first replacement, and continued to have a hand in fabric selection and designs of some recent categories presented in the company’s showroom.
Her termination, and the firing of a patternmaker and a shipping manager in the past month, is the latest intrigue in a series of cruelly timed firings, accusations of backstabbing and seething jealousies at the company since Blass retired after his September 1999 runway show and following his death in June 2002. Miller has on occasion been wrapped up in the dealings. When Lars Nilsson was fired in February, the day after a poorly received runway show, word leaked out that Miller had been involved in a secret plan to replace him with Michael Vollbracht and had been designing her own collection for the season, which was shown to retailers privately in place of the Nilsson line.
Now, insiders said, it was a power struggle between Vollbracht, Miller and Hughes that pushed Miller out of the company.
Miller had encouraged the selection of Vollbracht, who had his own collection in the Eighties and recently curated an exhibit on Bill Blass, as the third designer behind the brand since Blass retired. He succeeded Slowik, who was fired after a rough debut, and Nilsson, who was hired by Slowik, then promoted and then fired. But she soon argued with Vollbracht over design and credit for her work and was said to have become frustrated when he hired his friend, Hughes, to do p.r. for the house.
Miller could not be reached for comment on Friday, and Michael Groveman, chief executive officer of Bill Blass, did not return calls.