Cover image for Bare Blass
Bare Blass
Blass, Bill.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [2002]

Physical Description:
181 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TT505.B537 A3 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Bill Blass is an American legend. From the moment he arrived in New York from his native Indiana, a kid of seventeen with good looks and charm, he was determined to be a success in fashion. Today Bill Blass is a brand as much as an enduring symbol of American taste and style, his clothes setting a standard of upper-class American cool that other designers would follow. Yet very few designers are so connected to their times, so rich in wit and experience, as to be able to tell their personal story with any authority. Bill Blass was at the intersection of American fashion and society for fifty years. He was the first designer to break out of the shabby backrooms of Seventh Avenue and be welcomed into the chic drawing rooms of New York; the first to put his name on a variety of products, including automobiles, and thereby expand his influence; and the first to travel extensively across this country, meeting and dressing women who were taste-makers in their towns. All that, and his friendships with such personalities as Cary Grant, Slim Keith, Nancy Reagan, Diana Vreeland, and, of course, the socialites he famously dressed, give him a unique perspective on American life and glamour. With refreshing, unapologetic candor, and with more than eighty rarely seen photographs, Bare Blass reveals a complex human being whose character was hugely shaped by his Depression-era childhood and by his riveting experiences as a member of a secret army unit during the Second World War. It is a coming-of-age story, but more than that, Bare Blass is the story of an American original.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The memoirs of a man who has been at the forefront of American fashion for half a century.

Publisher's Weekly Review

New York Times fashion critic Horyn teamed up with quintessential American designer Blass to write this memoir in 1999. They finished it just weeks before his death on June 12 of this year. Nonlinear in format-Blass skips from telling of a 1949 prize he won for designing a gingham dress with a patent leather belt, to a 1971 fashion show in Fort Wayne, Ind., and then back to his role serving in the armed forces during WWII-the book has the feel of a scrapbook of memories, which is indeed delightful when one considers the colorful life Blass led. Originally from the Midwest, he moved to New York at age 17 and eventually became one of fashion's biggest names. Written in the first person and peppered with snapshots of Blass with Pat Buckley, Nancy Kissinger, Nancy Reagan, Gloria Vanderbilt and others, Blass's memoir is at once a tribute to the designer and, as he writes, "a typical American success story." (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Then and Now Childhood bores the hell out of me. I think it bored me even as a child, although I am certainly aware that had it not been for the joylessness, colorlessness, and fatherlessness of my smalltown Indiana childhood, I might not have gone anywhere. People today speak about the character-building qualities of the miserable childhood, but I can tell you from experience: There is nothing like the dull, unattractive childhood to give a bedazzled boy the right push. Of course, the beauty of my upbringing was in its plainness. And there was this consoling feature: Everyone we knew in Fort Wayne, and everyone they knew, were in the same plain boat. As a consequence of having little money ourselves and no social standing above my mother's widowed respectability - and even here we might have stood to gain some ground if my father had died instantly and unambiguously in a highway crash rather than by a self-inflicted gunshot in our front parlor - I learned, perhaps in that single isolating moment (I was five), how to occupy myself. In this stiff-upper-lip wholesomeness there was surely somewhere a budding genius for avoiding anything unpleasant or ugly (what else am I to make of a drawing I did at the age of six showing a butler serving drinks in a Manhattan penthouse, other than, perhaps, an advanced knowledge of where the better customers lodged?). But at that time, in a life-in general way, I was happy. And don't forget the world was a different place then. It didn't take much to amuse a kid, and everybody had troubles, on account of the Depression, so there was no point complaining about that. I used to spend hours up in my room, flopped on my bed, reading the latest Vogue or Delineator and marveling at the unapproachable glamour of "Lady in Emerald Hat, coiffure of ostrich." Fashion held such mystery then. On Saturdays, I and my friends would go down to the local movie house, with its aromas of sweat and cigarettes and drugstore perfume, and watch in gaudy silence as Marlene Dietrich breezed through sixteen costume changes in The Garden of Allah . Even food had wondrous possibilities. I remember once being at the cottage we had on a lake, about sixty miles from Fort Wayne, and after a quick evaluation of our supplies, settling on sandwiches made of cold leftover mashed potatoes, with lavish swirls of Miracle Whip (this was before we knew about Hellmann's) and lots of black pepper on the soft white bread. You can't imagine how delicious those sandwiches tasted. There would be other meals as wonderful and bad, like the spur-of-the moment dishes we made in the army during the Second World War when a fresh egg was available. But I think that day at the lake was the first time I realized that the taste of food depends not just on the ingredients, but also on where you are at the time, and how hungry you are. I was lucky in one respect. My type of looks, which were the opposite of the type that appealed to me, were wholesomely innocuous to fit into several local categories, sissy to jock, while belonging to none. This may strike you as a bit of very un-American foot-dragging toward the inevitable main event - sex, and sex with whom ? - and given the expectation today that every memoir writer will conduct himself with the thoroughness of a House Committee on Un-American Activities investigation, telling all, I suppose I am ducking (for the moment) the question of sexual category, though, even then, I didn't believe in them. Sexual encounters between men were far more prevalent among my classmates at Southside High School than encounters with women, in part because so few of the girls were willing to do it with their boyfriends, and because homosexuality, being so forbidden, was so tempting to accomplish. I recall a Sunday-school teacher gathering a group of us boys around for what we assumed would be another grim lesson about the Apostles and him saying rather jovially, "Let's do something different for a change. You guys know what a circle jerk is?" Some of us did and some of us didn't. Needless to say, none of us saw a religious tie-in. But I doubt that the teacher, or the kindly men posing as father figures or even the more sweetly observant boys that I knew, most of them destined for marriage, considered themselves homosexuals. As for myself, I was much more interested in joining worlds that before the war would have been denied to a middle-class boy with only a high school education, and this meant, at the very least, getting out of Fort Wayne. Luckily, as I say, my looks, along with a sense of humor, helped me to straddle the different divides, and by the time I was nineteen, I had added, for good measure, the polish of a slight British accent - no doubt lifted from Frederick Austerlitz, a.k.a. Fred Astaire, another Midwesterner. Yet, curiously, it wasn't until I was in the army, living for the first time among men, that I experienced real happiness. And freedom. Also, I could draw. The beauty of being able to draw, or paint, from an early age is that you never feel trapped, least of all by your immediate circumstances. When I was fifteen, I began selling sketches of evening dresses, at $25 a pop, to a manufacturer in New York called Kalmour (long gone) that did a brisk business selling to women who plainly saw themselves, as I saw Dietrich and Swanson, entering a room and insolently flinging their wraps down on the couch. I didn't make much off the Kalmour people, but it was enough to help pay for fashion school in New York. A few years later, in Europe during the war, I managed to fill several of the small notebooks that we all carried - all of us being creative types assigned to a rather enigmatic outfit called the 603rd Camouflage Battalion - with miniature drawings of ladies hats, shoes, gloves, and dresses. I still have those notebooks. (Continues...) Excerpted from Bare Blass by Bill Blass Copyright © 2003 by Bill Blass Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.