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Chris Benz Talks Bill Blass Relaunch and Smart Dressing

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What is a great American brand in the most modern way?

That’s the question Chris Benz is hoping to answer with his first collection as creative director of storied fashion house Bill Blass when it debuts Nov. 1. “The goal is to give women fabulous product on an ongoing basis,” he said Wednesday as part of Fashionista’s monthly one-on-one panel series. “It’s about fulfilling the needs of the modern woman in a direct and matter-of-fact way.”

The Seattle-born designer admitted his initial hesitation at being approached by president and COO Stuart M. Goldblatt to take the reins of the 45-year-old brand, but said he quickly realized it was “an opportunity to do things in a completely new way.”

“I’ve watched interviews with Mr. Blass from the early ‘80s talking about how ridiculous the fashion calendar is—that was 30 years ago!” Benz said, noting that when he wound down his own label in 2013—after putting out close to 20 collections over five years—he was fed up with catering to a fashion cycle that required churning out hundreds of new products every four months, and was adamant his next foray wouldn’t be tied to that schedule.

“You [consumers] don’t care if it’s resort or spring. You just want to go on e-commerce and buy something cool for a party you’re going to on the weekend,” Benz laughed.

Since taking up his new post late last year, Benz has dived into the label’s vast archives and found plenty of inspiration for his re-imagined take on classic American sportswear. “The important thing, at least for me, that’s been something to come around to in order to move the brand forward is to be able to create one story,” he said. “It’s not about recreating specific designs because those only looked cool when they were made. It’s about teasing out the brand language—the feeling and attitude of the clothes—and thinking about it in a new way.”

It goes without saying that color will play a critical role in the relaunch: Benz (who for a time sported pink hair) and Blass were both known for embracing beautiful fabrics in bright colors. But where the latter’s legacy lay in dressing the social elite, Benz is taking a more inclusive approach to the line.

“We’ve taken out of the equation the ladies who lunch and socialites who at the time Bill Blass was designing were keystones of the brand, and we’re taking the philosophies of dressing the modern American woman and allowing her to fulfill her needs from a really exuberant design standpoint,” Benz said. “But what carries through is the idea of smart dressing and the individual woman. It was always about simple clothes, very beautiful fabrics, fabulous embellishments where appropriate, comfort, and it was really about the piece itself.”

While his lips remained tightly sealed on what styles, silhouettes and colors consumers can look forward to seeing when the line relaunches later this year, he did reveal that accessories, shoes and jewelry will all make an appearance, and technology will be incorporated into the collection from a materials standpoint.

The company is planning a big e-commerce push, too, and selling direct-to-consumer through trunk shows (which Blass was very fond of) has Benz excited. “Being a designer, one of the best things is having the ability to actually talk to the customers,” he said.

And because he wants the line to be accessible to the widest audience, the team is developing product over wide range of price categories, Benz said. “We want to build a wardrobe for our customers over 25 years, not expect them to spend their paycheck every four months.”

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