Byline: David Moin

HOUSTON — Bill Blass may not be ready to retire, but the 75-year-old designer says it’s about time he found a chief executive officer to run Bill Blass Ltd.
“I’ve never had a chief executive officer before,” Blass said Thursday, while attending the opening of Saks Fifth Avenue at the Galleria here.
“I’m looking for one to coordinate the entire operation.”
Blass has been acting as ceo, though without carrying the title. Gail Levenstein, vice president and director of licensing, is Blass’s highest ranking executive.
A ceo could help expand the Blass label to new categories and licensing arrangements, and maximize the company’s value in the event Blass ever decided to sell. A ceo would also free up Blass to do more designing. Levy-Kerson is handling the search.
Asked if he was considering selling the firm, Blass suggested nothing was on the horizon. “One might consider it, but I’m having fun with the business at the moment.”
Asked about retiring, a rumor that crops up about Blass every few years, he replied, “A couple of years ago I considered retiring. I’m not anymore.”
Blass remains one of the industry’s most recognizable designers. He continues to draw crowds at store appearances year after year and is particularly successful on the trunk show circuit.
This fall is no exception. A recent trunk show at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York reaped $1.2 million in orders — a record for the designer. A subsequent trunk show at Saks in Philadelphia racked up $600,000, while at Neiman’s, Blass did $350,000 in Houston and $200,000 in Dallas. His collection, with a price range of $1,300 to $13,000, takes in $20 million to $25 million at retail.
A pioneer in licensing, Blass has accumulated over 40 licensees, covering most women’s and men’s apparel and accessories and generating some $700 million at retail. However, market sources say there is room for growth, both on the licensing front and with his designer and bridge collections. And he recently started designing furniture.

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