NEW YORK — Bill Blass certainly didn’t hold anything back in his new book, “Bare Blass,” which is expected to be published in October by HarperCollins.
This story first appeared in the June 14, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Edited by Cathy Horyn, fashion critic for the New York Times, the book is 80 percent memoir and 20 percent oral history. “He was lucky in his life to have this window to talk about his life. He had great times,” said Horyn on Thursday.
Horyn, who took a leave of absence from the Times last year to collaborate with Blass, said she conducted some of her best interviews for the book between March 2001 and August 2001. She would visit Blass in Connecticut and sit with him on his patio — “he loved getting a suntan” — for three to four hours at a time.
“He was in great form and great shape and recovering from the radiation and treatments [for his throat cancer]. He wanted to talk. It was an exhilarating moment in his life. He had to let people into his life. His reach was so wide.”
Horyn saw Blass for the last time last Friday, when she visited him at his home in Connecticut.
“He knew what was going on and was very funny. We had some questions about an anecdote in the book and it had been changed to make it `p.c.’ I told him we want to keep the anecdote and tone it down. He said, `Just keep it the way it is! What’s the big deal?”‘
By the time the book was finished earlier this year, Blass was more preoccupied with his health, said Horyn. However, he had read two of the proofs. “He had some great editing suggestions. He had a really good ear. He was a huge reader.”
Up until the end, Blass was still giving advice on the book’s photographs — of which there are 80. “His visual sense all along was terrific,” she said. He made suggestions on the color of the cover — it’s beige — with a 1940 photograph of Blass before the war.
WWD obtained an uncorrected proof of “Bare Blass,” in which the designer candidly reveals his most intimate thoughts about the fashion industry, his sexuality, other designers, his World War II Army days, friends, love affairs, the ladies he dressed and his bout with cancer. Chapter titles include “Men,” “Women” “Learning How to Lie,” “On the Road,” and “Fade Out to Black.”
In “Men,” Blass discusses his sexuality, which historically was a taboo subject for him. “There have been only a few men in my life with whom I have felt very close. Certainly Ed Guild was one, and I am aware that some of my later friendships — with Tim Healy, for instance, the Jesuit priest who was head of the New York Public Library for an all-too-brief period in the late Eighties and early Nineties — were attempts to experience that same quality of trust and companionship.”
Blass writes, “I’ve had one or two love affairs in my life. I’m 80 years old for God’s sake — don’t you imagine something might have happened? But considering that I’ve never lived with another person, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that I have a problem with confinement.”
But his decorum comes through even in this chapter. “Although I have never made any attempt to conceal my sexuality, neither have I ever wanted to flaunt it. Moreover, to have lived in a long-term relationship with a man would have been to categorize myself too narrowly. Because, in so many cases, I’ve been attracted to women….But I never wanted marriage to a woman any more than I wanted an openly gay relationship with a man….”
In another chapter, entitled “On the Road,” Blass describes the big fashion show at Versailles where several American designers, including Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein and Blass, were expected to participate. Heading back to Paris after a rehearsal, Halston announced he was pulling out of the show. Blass quotes him as saying, “Mr. Halston is leaving, and when Mr. Halston leaves, everyone will go with him.” Blass wrote that Halston had started referring to himself “in the imperial third.”
“Dreading another scene, and now embarrassed for him, I got him into my car, where, oblivious, he continued to exult in a blue streak of “Mr. Halston…” Finally, in one of the few times in my life when I’ve broken my rule not to get involved in a fight, I turned to him and said, “Ah, will you shut up.”
Horyn noted that Blass was approached by Random House to do a biography 10 years ago, but was too immersed in his business and gave them back the advance. “[But] it never left his thinking,” she said. “I always believed the guy coming out of Indiana is a great, great story.” She said Blass came up with the book’s title, “Bare Blass” from the get-go.
Several of Blass’s war buddies opened up their diaries to her, and she spoke to such friends as Nan Kempner, Annette de la Renta, Mica Ertegun, John Richardson, Oscar de la Renta, John B. Fairchild and Lynn Wyatt.
“I learned a ton of things about the Forties, Fifties and Sixties. The book gives a sense of New York life in the Fifties and Sixties.”
At the end of the book, the designer reveals what he thinks his one claim to immortality should be: Bill Blass Meatloaf — and gives the complete recipe.