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Friday, April 1, 2016

How Chris Benz Relaunched Bill Blass for the Digital Age

Bringing back the color! Designer Chris Benz had the tough task of relaunching the Bill Blass brand for the digital age. Working with e-commerce company Orchard Mile, they set a commendable example of how to update a heritage brand for a new generation.

Many name designers who have been brought on board to revamp an established label have fled their employers in the last few years. It is tremendously difficult to find the balance between paying tribute to the brand's history, yet figure what percentage of your own design esthetic to infuse. Also, you're often facing a board of non-creative who have very different ideas.

Orchard Mile founder Georgia says her company wants designers to be designers. Their direct-to-customer model allows them to be that. Designer Benz said that allowed him to create a better edited collection. When designing for wholesale, you're often pressured to create "filler" styles like the "classic black sweater" just to please a buyer who doesn't have the ability to visualize.

Benz described the new Bill Blass as the "cherry on top". The label is repositioning as a contemporary brand rather than designer. The contemporary customer is a jeans gal. The Bill Blass pieces are to be that special statement that piece or accent to the basics. This is the reason that you won't see a black purse or sweater or basic black dress here. 

So what DID Chris Benz pull from the legacy of Bill Blass? It's more in spirit than literal. The 1970s were a great time for the brand (and on trend now). He designed with some of the color palettes from the era. There were lots of fully sequined looks from the archives, so a few pieces have lighter sequin embroidery. I saw a heavy tiered feather jacket in the library. The new Bill Blass had a delicate tiered tulle topper in a similar silhouette.
The big treat was to explore the historic Bill Blass archives. He meticulously filed EVERYTHING. Here are a few of his fashion sketches that date back to World War 2 when he was enlisted as a member of the famous ghost army.

There were leather bound volumes of Vogue magazines dating back to the 1940s. File boxes of correspondence, like letters from Diana Vreeland or even old fabric purchase orders. Of course there were the clothes themselves. I spotted the famous beaded brown suit worn by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.

Orchard Mile's online platform allows designera to upload their entire collection since they dont carry inventory, rather than a limited offering a typical e-tailed would have. The showroom though, is a brightly lit space where people like myself can see the goods in person, see the inspiration board and instantly share my favorites on social media. Smart right?

I love seeing the Bill Blass being revived with  such a hot young upgrade. Let other heritage brands take a their cue.

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