Between a truly volatile economic climate, a seriously empowered youth culture in America, and the relentless pace of progress, this year has seen some truly epic passing-of-the-torch moments. The death of Yves Saint Laurent, the closing of several magazines, and most recently, the demise of Bill Blass. For anyone even remotely interested in the inner workings of a major fashion company, and more specifically how a seemingly successful clothing company can come apart, Eric Wilson picks apart the brand's downfall brick by brick in a recent piece for The New York Times.
Most people outside the industry don't understand that a brand is much bigger than its namesake. While Coco Chanel was a legend, the label right now would be nothing without the grueling amount of work Karl Lagerfeld performs every year and his utter devotion to the collections and aesthetic. While Dior and YSL have also managed an after-life in the shadow of their founding fathers, Wilson is quick to point out that "the real trouble at Bill Blass started the moment Blass himself walked out the door without an heir apparent." Blass himself was a celebrity—hanging out with Nan Kempner, Brooke Astor, and a coterie of other New York luminaries—and the lack of an obvious successor with his kind of charisma certainly didn't help matters.
But Wilson continues to elaborate on a number of other factors that caused the label's downturn. According to the article, "There is no shortage of explanations for the label’s demise. There was an aging clientele, a management that seemed to take a freewheeling approach to the brand and its failure to find a successor who could match the Blass persona." Pretty much everyone knew it was over once NexCen (the parent company) said the company was low on cash last spring and then star talent Peter Som left in October and was not replaced. Ultimately the Blass saga shows that no label is impervious to collapse, and in fact it may be the ones with the most history that are the first to suffer.