DALLAS — Bill Blass designer Michael Vollbracht was as comfortable as any Texan during his three-store stop in the Lone Star state for Neiman Marcus.
After all, his mother was a Dallas native who worked at Neiman’s at a time when all saleswomen had to wear black in the fall and navy in the spring.
“She would always tell us, ‘Remember, if you’re Texan, you’re better,’” Vollbracht recalled.
Relaxed and chatty, Vollbracht said he has fond memories of visiting his grandmother in Dallas and of promoting his flamboyant signature collection in Texas in the Seventies and Eighties.
“When I was first designing, Beverly Hills and Houston were our biggest customers,” he noted.
Texans have been important Bill Blass customers for even longer, and they responded to the flair that Vollbracht infused into the spring 2005 collection. The three trunk shows tallied $600,000 for Neiman Marcus — $100,000 at its Fort Worth store on Sept. 28, $200,000 at the Dallas store the following day and $300,000 in Houston on Sept. 30.
As models passed by in the Dallas store wearing items from the spring collection, Ginnie Hershey, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of couture at Neiman’s, praised the beauty of the collection.
Vollbracht has also adopted Blass’ practice of meeting the women who buy the clothes. In addition to his two stops in Texas, Vollbracht visited Indianapolis and Dubai within a two-week span.
Vollbracht seemed almost surprised at how much he is enjoying his return to the apparel business. “I hadn’t done this in 15 years,” he reflected. “I never was going to come back into this industry.”
The designer was embittered by the collapse of his signature business following the divorce of his investors, Johnny and Joanna Carson. “I decided to go away,” he said. Vollbracht secluded himself in Safety Harbor, Fla., “where they have shotguns on the back of pickup trucks,” and worked as an illustrator for The New Yorker, among other publications.
What lured him back to fashion was Blass’ personal request for help with a retrospective show at Indiana University and a related book. But Vollbracht still feels a bit at odds with the business he abandoned.
“I’m a middle-aged man coming back to an industry of children,” he said. “I’m 56. I’ve endured the slings and arrows of the press for using Karen Bjornson in my runway shows. I always liked women of a certain age. I think they are sexually stronger and have more to say. Those girls can walk. They told the models [for the Neiman’s show], ‘No pony walk. He doesn’t want that.’”
Yet the appeal of youth is not lost on Vollbracht, who proudly noted that he picked up three clients “in their 30s” in Fort Worth. Watching the runway show of his dresses and gowns, he turned his head and whispered, “It does look younger, doesn’t it?”