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2009 March 31

A New Man at Bill Blass

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(NEW YORK) It's been a very good year for Richard Chai, following his well-received Fall women's collection and the Spring 2009 launch of his men's line, which was celebrated last Thursday at Barneys New York. Now, it appears the designer's star will rise even higher. Several industry sources have indicated that he is in talks with the new owner of Bill Blass, Peacock International Holdings, about the creative director position at the house. "I'm afraid we can't comment at the moment," said a Chai spokesperson of the rumors. "We can't comment on who we're interviewing for the position," Peacock's executive vice president of licensing and sales Scott Patti told The Daily. He did, however, confirm that the announcement of a new creative director will be made in a month or so.

Chai, an industry veteran with a loyal following that caters to both downtown and uptown clientele, began his career launching the Marc by Marc Jacobs collection. He then moved on to TSE before launching his eponymous collection in 2004. Chai won the Ecco Domani award in 2005, and in 2008, he was named one of the ten finalists in the running for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. Chai proved his mass appeal by designing a capsule collection for Target's Go! International brand last fall.

Bill Blass Couture abruptly closed on December 19, when parent company Nexcen Holdings (which acquired the Bill Blass brand in February 2007) let go 80% of its 34 employees. Ten days later, Nexcen sold the remainder of the label (which continues to operate about 20 licenses) to Peacock International Holdings for approximately 10 million dollars. The Wall Street Journal reported that Peacock is angling to relaunch the Bill Blass collection in the next 9-12 months, following a 6-month embargo period that was a term of their contract with Nexcen. "Michael Vollbracht was terrific--they were all pretty good, but there was some conflict that (they seemed to have) with the company," Patti told the Journal at the time. "You need somebody with a vision that really ties in to the Bill Blass DNA--and you need consistency, someone who will be in place beyond a year or two."

Chai appears to fit that bill, given that he is known for the brand of classic, luxurious American sportswear that Blass pioneered. He also enjoys tremendous popularity with retailers and editors, including Vogue's Anna Wintour and Barneys New York's Julie Gilhart, which will be critical to infuse the Blass brand with energy and buzz during these exceptional economic times. Expect to see Bill Blass back on the runway in September.
ASHLEY BAKER




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