Refreshingly frank about his creative director role at Bill Blass, Chris Benz aired some of the challenges ahead of label’s November launch online.
During a one-man talk Wednesday for the Fashion Group International at Space 530, Benz — who is a graudate of The New School’s Parsons School of Design, former intern at Marc Jacobs and J. Crew-trained — said he was not looking for a job when Bill Blass came calling. Having retreated from the fashion industry after running his own label for five years, Benz said he was contently renovating his Brooklyn brownstone when Blass president and chief operating officer Stuart Goldblatt offered him a job. “I thought, ‘Ugh, Bill Blass — this is exactly what I don’t want to do in fashion.'” Benz told an 100-person crowd that included his new boss. “I think I shared the retailers’ and the press’ perspective of what the brand had become in the decades, since Mr. Blass sold the company and passed away.”
The way Benz sees it, “What was once a $700 million juggernaut in American sportswear became sort of a heavy-handed, beaten-down brand over the years.”
Now drawing on 30-plus years’ worth of work and the designer’s archives of 2,500 samples, as well as fabric swatches, sketches, video footage and audio recordings, Benz aims to relay Blass’ casual sophistication that also “respects the consumer who doesn’t necessarily know how to tie her sailor shirt around her waist in the proper way or throw on a layer of necklaces. We’re translating that style confidante [reputation] that Mr. Blass always had while at the helm of his brand for today’s consumers via Instagram and other social media, videos, guides, street photography — all those things that people are hungry for in fashion — not just great product.”
Bridge-priced sportswear, handbags, shoes and fashion jewelry will be sold online this fall. Fashion shows, wholesale and dinner parties are a few of the ideas under consideration. While Benz joked about Blass “coming to him in a dream,” he said he often wonders how the late designer might address the needs of working women today. Noting that the online launch allows the company to not be tied to any fashion schedule, Benz said in the Eighties the ever-pragmatic Blass criticized off-kilter seasonal deliveries and didn’t believe in shipping furs in summer.
“Bill Blass said his ideal woman was one who was never fussy, because you can’t ride a bicycle in a ballgown,” Benz said. “The Bill Blass attitude was very much about the way women wore the clothes.”
Afterward, longtime Blass model Alva Chinn reenforced that notion recalling their time together. “He used to say, ‘So what do you think Little Al? Does it work or doesn’t it?’ In between puffs, which was so bad for him, he would look you up and down, because he really cared about the whole look and how you felt in the clothes,” Chinn said. “I’m so grateful to have modeled at a time when you could actually express how you felt when you walked on the runway in the clothes. You felt differently in each outfit and that’s kind of the point, as opposed to the mummy walk now. It could be a conveyor belt in a dry cleaner’s the way the girls have no feeling about anything.”