It’s been a rocky road for the Bill Blass Group LLC since the designer sold the business in 1999. But its current owners, Peter and Bill Kim, are determined to change that.
After spending the past few years cleaning up the trademarks and jettisoning dozens of licenses, Peacock this week named Stuart M. Goldblatt to the newly created position of president and chief operating officer. Goldblatt, who left Macy’s Merchandising Group as executive vice president of merchandising for private brands in March, will be charged with — yet again — reinventing the label for a relaunch in spring 2016.
“This brand needs to be reimagined and moved into the 21st century,” Goldblatt said at Bill Blass’ Flatiron District offices.
Three years before his death in 2002, Blass sold his company to Michael Groveman and since that time, the label has seen more than its share of turmoil and turnover. Over the years, the brand has plowed through several designers, starting with Steve Slowik, the first to succeed Blass, followed by Lars Nilsson, who handled the collection from 2001 through part of 2003 and was fired the day after his women’s runway show. Next up was Michael Vollbracht, who left in 2007, to be succeeded by Peter Som, who was named designer of the women’s collection in summer 2007. Som headed for the door the following year when the women’s label was last suspended. Michael Bastian was creative director of men’s wear for a short time, and the last women’s designer was Jeffrey Monteiro, whose final collection for the brand — from fall 2012 — is still hanging in the showroom. He was dismissed two years ago.
In addition to a revolving door of designers, the brand has gone through a number of owners since Blass sold the business to Groveman for $50 million. NexCen Brands bought the label in 2007 for $54.6 million in cash and stock and sold it to the Kims for $10 million the next year.
“We believe that now is the right time to develop a strategy for the future,” said Bill Kim, chief executive officer of Bill Blass Group LLC. Bill Kim also owns Peacock International Holdings, a men’s dress shirt and neckwear company. “We have spent considerable time and energy ensuring that our intellectual property and trademarks were under our control globally. We also spent considerable time assessing our licensees and making sure we had a platform to grow. We believe with our intellectual property and trademarks strong, we will be able to fully execute a global plan for a 21st-century brand.”
At its peak in the late Eighties and early Nineties, Blass had annual sales of $500 million from his women’s ready-to-wear business and multiple licenses. By 2008, sales had dropped to $500,000, according to sources.
Even though the business has floundered over the past decade, Goldblatt insists it has a future.
The goal is to “celebrate the legacy and heritage” of the Bill Blass name, but “not get stuck in history,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of work, energy, strategy and insight.”
Step one is to start a dialogue with Blass customers to see exactly what niche the label should fill in the market. Goldblatt said a creative director will be named to oversee the men’s and women’s collections, but one thing is for sure — there are no plans to hold a runway show anytime soon. Goldblatt said one of the problems over the past few years has been that a women’s collection was shown on the runway but the clothes were unavailable or unreachable to most consumers. “Mr. Blass wanted everybody to wear his clothes.”
The creative director will have access to an archive at the New York office that includes about 1,000 original dresses, sketches, videos of fashion shows, photographs of celebrities and notables dressed in Blass apparel, and more — all painstakingly catalogued. “It’s a treasure trove,” Goldblatt said.
He believes the biggest opportunity today is in women’s ready-to-wear and better men’s wear, along with select licenses “at price points significantly above fast fashion,” he said.
Blass was among the first to embrace the licensing model, and over the years the Bill Blass name has been on everything from fragrance and children’s wear to textiles, dolls and automobiles. Today, only three licenses remain: men’s tailored clothing, eyewear and luggage.
“By February, we should have a strategy in place,” Goldblatt said. “We’ll be building a team and working to understand the opportunity for the next three, five and 10 years. It’s a crawl, walk, run strategy with the goal to build this into a big brand globally.” He said all the trademarks and intellectual property have been registered domestically and internationally, so “they gave me a clean house.”
Goldblatt expects that a direct-to-consumer model will be employed first, followed by a wholesale strategy that will be controlled closely by the company. The target customer is yet to be determined, but Goldblatt said it will most likely be someone between 30 and 50 years old. “This is not a Millennial brand.”
Goldblatt is a 35-year retail veteran whose career path includes Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and Carson Pirie Scott in addition to Macy’s. And most of his background has been in men’s wear. “It’s a new experience for me, but the board has confidence in me and has no preconceived notions. I’m starting with a clean canvas,” he said.