Peter Som and Bill Blass have agreed to part ways, ending the designer’s role as creative director of Bill Blass women’s wear.
This story first appeared in the October 28, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Som left when his contract expired a week and a half ago, industry sources said.
“This was an extremely difficult decision for me,” Som said. “At this time, however, I have chosen to focus on my own namesake collection and the development of the Peter Som brand.”
The departure wasn’t unexpected. There were rumblings in July that the designer was contemplating an exit. He continued working with NexCen Brands Inc., which owns Blass, to figure out how to proceed with the spring 2008 collection, which eventually was shown to retailers only.
The decision to scrap the September fashion show in Bryant Park was believed to be the last straw for Som, sources said. The designer was said to be upset because NexCen hasn’t been able to financially support the Collection business in the manner that Som had envisioned.
A source close to the situation said Som had a difficult time putting together a collection when key resources, such as fabric vendors and even embroiderers, hadn’t been paid. Other sources said delayed payments occurred in some cases even before the May disclosure by NexCen that it had to sell assets in order to generate enough cash to meet a $30 million loan payment as part of its acquisition of Great American Cookie.
Another problem for Som was that, while NexCen understood franchising and how to manage its quick-service restaurant holdings, the firm “knew very little about how to run a luxury brand, much less rebrand one,” said an industry source familiar to the NexCen operation.
“Peter Som’s design direction was instrumental in helping the Bill Blass brand stay relevant in the minds of consumers,” Bill Blass president Craig Hoffman said. “We thank him for his contributions and wish him success in the future.”
Regarding a possible sale of Bill Blass, sources familiar with the process acknowledged that it has taken longer than expected. That delay influenced Som’s decision, and has made some retailers that supported the brand passing on the spring 2009 collection because of uncertainty over ownership, said a source close to the Blass operation.
The firm has received a mix of interest from bidders, with a few interested in licensing and another interested in just the couture business, said a source familiar with the bidding process. Another source said there had been just a handful of bidders circling around Blass.
One mergers and acquisitions expert familiar with the process said, “The economic conditions are not helpful,” referring to the financial crisis on Wall Street. The source expected that a sale likely would take place before yearend.
NexCen has sold its Waverly Brands home furnishings operation to Iconix Brand Group Inc. for $26 million in cash, plus the assumption of future liabilities.
For now, Prabal Gurung, who has long served as Bill Blass’ second-ranking design director, will be working with the existing team for the fall 2009 collection, said another source.
Som succeeded Michael Vollbracht, who is said to have stormed out last year after one too many run-ins with management. Vollbracht joined the company in 2003, replacing Lars Nilsson, another designer who made a hasty retreat. Steven Slowik was the first designer to try to fill the shoes of the company’s namesake, who retired in 1999. Blass, who died in 2002, started his company in 1970.
The Blass women’s collection is believed to be a $15 million wholesale business, and licensing generates an estimated $250 million at retail, industry sources said.
Michael Bastian, creative director of the men’s wear collection at Blass, is staying on at the firm, sources said.