NEW YORK — Bill Blass’ rags-to-riches story and tremendous influence on American fashion provided plenty of fodder for editors and writers over the years, and they remembered him fondly on Thursday.
This story first appeared in the June 14, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“We were certainly friends and I admired him, enjoyed him and respected him,” said Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue.
“He came from another time, but he was of our time. He was such a gentleman and had such appreciation for the good things in life. He was wicked and funny and gossipy at the same time. We’d go to lunch, and he never wanted to talk about fashion. He’d talk about theater and books and magazines. He loved to read. We both loved [the English weekly magazine] The Spectator.
“He was very supportive in a philanthropic way in things I was involved in.”
As for his contribution to fashion, Wintour said, “He was very true to himself. He’d let Goth, or punk, or grunge pass him by. He wanted to make his ladies look chic and sexy and stylish. His ladies wore the clothes; the clothes didn’t wear them. The stylish women who wore his clothes are a living tribute to Bill’s incredible talent.”
Glenda Bailey, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, said, “He was a gentleman known for his generosity, and a good sport who brought a great elegance to sportswear. As Diana Vreeland said, `Many people with style come from Indiana.”‘
Another Hoosier, Amy Spindler, style editor of the New York Times Magazine, recalled the first time she met Blass: “I told him I was from Indiana and he said, “When did you leave?”‘
She said he didn’t care to share stories about Indiana, but only wanted to know when she left. Blass left at 17, Spindler at 18. “We’ve all been kept very grounded by our Indiana backgrounds,” said Spindler.
William Norwich, entertaining editor of the New York Times Magazine, said Blass imparted some sage advice back in 1985: `Fashion is easy, it can be bought, but style is mysterious and impossible to attain if it isn’t genuine. Keep your eye on the genuine; it’s rare.’
“From frocks to friendship, that’s great advice,” said Norwich.
Norwich recalled a shoot he did with Blass at his Connecticut home in the summer of 1997 with photographer Pascal Chevalier for the November issue of House & Garden. And, as always, Blass was willing to do almost anything.
“The idea was not a full story of the place, but one great picture that was a defining moment there. So we were walking around looking for the `defining moment’ and he said, `How about I climb to the top of one of those trees?’ He was very proud of his trees, having landscaped the place himself. We didn’t think he was serious until a ladder was produced, and up he went. At least 35 or 40 feet. In 1997, age 75. I was terrified on his behalf but he had a ball.
“`I haven’t climbed a tree in years,’ he said. `Well, at least not literally.’ When it was time to come down the reality of tree climbing presented itself. Getting up is one thing, coming down is another. Much, much harder. There was a distance of a foot, at least, where all that was between Bill Blass and the top rung of the ladder was luck and Connecticut air. We all held our breath. I was praying.
“Grace in action: Bill managed this feat like a duke stepping from a Daimler, his dog waiting for him on terra firma. `Who’s next?’ Bill asked.
“No one. We were exhausted just from watching and retreated to the terrace for lunch.”