Mount Mary University Digital Collections

Bill Blass

Bill Blass
Source: MRS. Couture
Bill Blass was born William Ralph Blass on June 22, 1922, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. After his father committed suicide when he was 5, his mother supported their family as a dressmaker. As a child Blass enjoyed going to the movies and filled schoolbook margins with Hollywood-inspired fashion doodles. He began selling sketches of evening gowns to a New York manufacturer when he was 15, and after graduating from high school at 17 he moved to New York City to study fashion and work at the David Crystal sportswear house as a sketch artist.  
During World War II Blass served in the 603rd Camouflage Battalion. After the war, he returned to New York and worked briefly for Anne Klein and then as an assistant designer at Anna Miller and Company. When Anna Miller’s brother Maurice Rentner combined her firm with his own, Blass became head designer, producing items under the label “Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner” by 1960. In 1970 Blass bought Maurice Rentner Limited and renamed it Bill Blass Limited, and he continued to find success in fashion design for almost thirty more years.
Blass had a major impact on American style by focusing on comfort and wearability. He designed beautiful evening dresses but also developed a casual, modern style that appealed to women across the country. Combining simple styles with luxurious materials helped him glamorize sportswear and promote a casual elegance. While he originally created women’s clothing, in 1967 he successfully branched out into designing menswear couture, and in the following decades he licensed numerous other products as well, including perfumes, bed linens, sunglasses, and many more. 
This effective creation of a brand was also a significant aspect of his legacy. In previous eras, designers were often an anonymous part of the fashion world, but Blass modeled and advertised his own clothes, licensed his name to fashion accessories, and socialized widely in the New York fashion world. He won lifelong clients among socialites, journalists, politicians’ wives, and others, which solidified and continued the success of his brand. 
Blass was honored with numerous awards, including the Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987, the Humanitarian Leadership award in 1996, and several Coty American Fashion Critics’ Awards. He made significant charitable contributions to organizations including the New York Public Library and, as an early supporter of AIDS programs, the AIDS care center at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. In 1999 Blass sold Bill Blass Limited and retired while the company continued under new ownership. He died in 2002 of oral cancer.  
Check out Bill Blass’s autobiography Bare Blass at Haggerty Library to learn more! 
The garments below are divided into three sections, "Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner designs" (designs by Blass for Maurice Rentner Limited), "Bill Blass designs" (designs by Blass for Bill Blass Limited), and "Bill Blass Limited designs" (designs by others for Bill Blass Limited after Blass sold the company).
Bill Blass for Maurice Rentner designs
Bill Blass designs
Bill Blass Limited designs