Bill’s Life

Bill Blass was one of the first designers to use his brand to build a business enterprise.

Bill Blass was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana on June 22, 1922. He grew up in a house on South Calhoun, across from South Side High School with an older sister, Virginia. Bill lost his father to suicide when he was 5 and endured family poverty during the Depression. In his autobiography Bare Blass, Bill wrote, “My mother supported us with money she earned by dressmaking which she did with decent success in a spare room in our house on South Calhoun Street.” In that house, Bill occupied himself by drawing. “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,” wrote Bill. As a young boy he spent hours reading fashion magazines and going to the local movie house with friends, noting the costumes that actresses wore. He took the trolley across town to art classes to sharpen his sketching skills. While attending South Side he was an entrepreneur. When he was fifteen, he began selling sketches of evening dresses for $25 to Kalmour, a manufacturer in New York. He earned enough from this work to help pay for fashion school in New York. He served as the decorating chairman for the sophomore and junior banquets, demonstrating his sense of style. He graduated from South Side in 1940. At 17 his dream came true when he left Fort Wayne for New York to pursue his goal of becoming an American fashion icon.

“In retrospect, I can see how certain influences of my childhood and youth entered my unconsciousness and remained there, like a fine fog, while I steered unaware, and apparently grinning, toward the only city I ever have ever wanted to live in (New York) to do the only thing I have ever wanted to do (fashion),” wrote Bill in Bare Blass.

In 1996, Bill received the South Side High School Distinguished Alumni award for his exceptional military and fashion achievements. Bill never forgot his hometown roots. In 1971, 25 years after he had left, Bill returned to Fort Wayne for a sold-out fashion show that included his collection at the time – a return to the looks of the 1940s. He was amazed at the growth of Fort Wayne and remarked about the beauty of the Summit Club now known as the PNC Center.

Blass’ signature simple yet striking designs are clearly tied to his upbringing in the relaxed and conservative Midwest.

Simplicity is the soul of modern elegance.



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