A Touch of Blass
Bill Blass rose to iconic status dressing first ladies such as Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Jackie Kennedy, as well as Hollywood starlets and socialites like Candice Bergen and Brooke Astor. His clients returned to his line time and again for his wearable designs that easily took women from day to night. The New York Times once reported that Blass “took American sportswear to its highest level…giving it a clean, modern, impeccable style…He, probably more than any designer, knew his customer and understood her.”
Since the designer sold his company in the late ’90s and his death in 2002, the company has struggled to find the right creative director to lead its comeback. In early 2010, the label turned to Jeffrey Monteiro, a relative unknown in the fashion industry. Recognized by established designers such as Derek Lam for his chic, low-key, and realistic approach to design, Monteiro was selected from a pool of more than 100 designers to set the company’s creative vision. “The challenge,” says Monteiro, “is to take something that has such weight and such nostalgia and make it fresh.”
On a recent visit to The Lake Forest Shop in Lake Forest, Monteiro gave Sheridan Road a private showing of his fall collection and explained the importance of being “classic” in a modern world.
Sheridan Road: In the reviews of your fall collection, the resounding theme was that you made a “statement” this season in comparison to last year’s more quiet spring show. Do you think they captured your collection accurately?
Jeffrey Monteiro: I do. When we presented our spring collection, it was the first time Fashion Week had been held at Lincoln Center. We started off quietly, getting our brand back on the fashion calendar, reintroducing the line because we hadn’t been around for about 2 1/2 years—almost six seasons had gone by. We were literally starting a new company, rebuilding our team, getting a new showroom done—taking small steps along the way to get our footing right before we made a big presentation.
This year, we presented our fall collection quietly again—away from Lincoln Center in a setting that felt very much like Mr. Blass. It was at The Monkey Bar, an old New York institution. There’s an energy there that’s very much in line with the fall collection and the Bill Blass spirit.
SR: Your influence was clear in the fall collection, while still being very true to Bill Blass.
JM: For me, it’s always remembering that Mr. Blass was very much about the woman—who she was and what she came to the line for—so we work to make sure those elements are always there. We must have that woman accounted for. But we also want to see who else we can bring along in the process. It’s mixing that essence of what was with something new.
SR: As your design signature continues to evolve, what things are you planning to introduce to the Bill Blass brand?
JM: I feel that the fall collection was very much about cleansing the palette. It was a very strict color palette, very clean lines. The designs were clean and simple, while being sophisticated and strong. That is what Mr. Blass’ collections were all about. Now I want to build on those things and make the collection stronger and stronger and stronger. I want to do this by being bolder and having a lot more fun. Perhaps by playing with color more. But this year I had to get the color palette organized to explain “This is what we do.” Now we can build from there.
SR: Is there such thing as the “Bill Blass woman”?
JM: There’s a sophisticated timelessness about her. Women are emboldened by that. She finds strength in being classic. And that’s something we think about when we’re creating a collection: Where is she going and how often will she come back to it?
SR: Looking at this little black dress, what was the thought process in designing it?
JM: This dress is made out of that really beautiful Italian matte crepe jersey. I wanted this dress to feel as if you were putting on a tee shirt. You don’t even have to think about it. Then you accessorize in your own way. The right shoes. The right bag. The right makeup. This dress is clean and simple with a flash of sexiness. Fashion should be easy and effortless.