Peter Som has reportedly resigned as creative director at Bill Blass, a year to the day since he joined the company.
This story first appeared in the July 25, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Bill Blass’ decision to scrap the September fashion show in Bryant Park, due to financial woes, was said to be the last straw for Som, according to industry sources.
The designer label has been on the selling block for months, prompted in part by angry shareholders at its cash-strapped parent company NexCen Brands Inc. Bill Blass executives have been trying to persuade Som to delay his departure for fear the negative publicity would be detrimental to any potential financial suitors.
Som had been attempting to update the label with what he called “simple and effortless clothes that embody luxury — just like the photographs of Slim Aarons.” The women’s collection is believed to be a $15 million wholesale business, and licensing generates an estimated $250 million at retail. Throughout Som’s yearlong run at Blass, he has continued to design his own signature collection.
Reports of Som’s departure first appeared on fashionista.com.
Bill Blass executives did not return calls for comment.
Michael Bastian, who designs the men’s collection, said he has no plans to follow Som’s lead. “I’m sticking it out until they figure it out. I really love the potential of the brand.”
After resigning earlier this week, Som has reportedly been meeting with Bill Blass management to try to negotiate getting out of his contract. As of Thursday night, that was something that had yet to be achieved.
“They’re not letting him go,” said one source.
But without any runway show planned for Bryant Park, Som’s outlook is said to be, “Why should I be here?”
A statement released Thursday from NexCen and Som said, “Due to the restructuring of the Bill Blass brand, NexCen and Bill Blass creative director Peter Som have decided to forgo a runway show during this interim period and are now considering presenting a collection to retailers this season.” Officials couldn’t be reached for comment on Som’s departure.
All this turmoil has arisen at a time when NexCen is said to be nearing a sale of the designer house. Bankers and buyers eyeing the Blass brand have pegged a purchase price range of $26 million to $28 million. Still, the high-end price of $28 million is just more than half of the $54.6 million paid by NexCen in cash and stock for the brand in December 2006.
Windsong Brands LLC and Hilco Consumer Capital, which are said to have a joint bid and exclusivity agreement with NexCen for Waverly, another NexCen label, are also looking at Blass. Arnold Simon’s Designer Licensing Holdings, the Blass jeanswear licensee and owner of 10 percent of the Blass trademark, is also reportedly interested, as are the Iconix Brand Group and Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. Simon’s initial $24 million bid was rejected by NexCen and last week, brand management supposedly rejected a higher bid from a private equity firm. That party was not immediately known, but equity firms with strategic platforms in place have been circling the brand, according to sources.
At Bill Blass, Som succeeded Michael Vollbracht, who is said to have stormed out last year after one too many run-ins with management. Vollbracht joined the company in 2003, replacing Lars Nilsson, another designer who made a hasty retreat. Steven Slowik was the first designer to try to fill the shoes of the company’s namesake, who retired in 1999.
Blass, who died in 2002, started his company in 1970 and developed an ardent following among well-heeled women, many of whom were his friends. With Som on board, the company aimed to at last reclaim a more stylish and youthful following. But in recent months, any progress has been plagued by NexCen Brands’ financial woes.