Say Bill Blass, and you think of a certain, historic moment in American fashion. That’s if you’re being kind. If you’re feeling uncharitable, you think of an overly licensed brand that, two years ago, was thought to have lost its way. That was before young critical darling Chris Benz joined the company on a turnaround plan that seemed ahead of its time.
Today, Bill Blass does close to no advertising, doesn’t adhere to the fashion calendar and does everything on e-commerce. And perhaps most interestingly is that Benz — its creative director, who joined us on this week’s Glossy Podcast — doesn’t even think of himself as a “serious fashion person.” “The thing is, I see fashion as a career that I love,” he said. “I’ve never taken it as seriously as some people do.”
Edited highlights below.
Designer burnout is real.
Benz has been trying to book a long-awaited vacation to Japan for a year now. But working with no fashion calendar and a sped-up production schedule means it just doesn’t happen. “I remember working at Marc Jacobs and scheduling myself on two-seasons-a-year. It was a meditation,” he said. Bill Blass, on the other hand, follows the quarterly corporate schedule and maintains an “open-to-buy” method that means everything is basically available year-round. “I used to feel like taking a week off after fashion week. Now it’s all more fluid.”
Designers have to have multiple jobs.
When Benz joined Bill Blass, it was an overly licensed brand that had experienced its fair share of ups and downs. To give things a reboot, Benz got a new logo, redid (and redid again) the website and changed up the entire schedule. Benz said designers today have to wear multiple hats: that of designer, of business development manager and even of website developer.
“My first request was that I should be able to control the entire website from my phone,” he said. “In the past 10 years or so, tech has changed how people interact with fashion. We have to be ahead of it. We’re selling fantastic product to a hungry audience that wants a great dress on a Thursday to wear on a Friday. ”
But advertising is where he draws a line.
Benz is unlike most designers in regard to his comfort level with digital and readiness to try new things, but he’s still careful about digital advertising. Bill Blass doesn’t really advertise, and Benz has yet to adopt the popular practice of using Instagram stars or “influencers” to try and show off his products. “I think a lot of fashion advertising is about spray and pray,” he said.
But if he was forced to advertise? “I think there will always be a place for a printed page,” he said. “Something feels real about it. A lot of digital advertising I find personally off-putting for the product. It doesn’t work.”