Frock Shock

The deed took place during the Michael Kors show. By Anna Sui, the rumors had started, and by Matthew Williamson, they’d been confirmed. Lars Nilsson, creative director at Bill Blass, and fashion’s Mr. Nice, had been “let go,” together with his design director, Hervé Pierre Braillard, less than a day after their Tuesday show. Security frog-marched the two men from the Blass offices. “He left with just his Hermès agenda,” Pierre says, clearly still in shock. “Like we were crazy.”

The fashion community was also shocked. “It was the OK Corral gone amok!” cries Vogue’s André Leon Talley, who quickly squirreled Nilsson off for a “termination lunch” at the Royalton. “There was no sense of the horse whisperer; they were trying to break a beautiful colt!” Jaqui Lividini, a senior vice-president at Saks Fifth Avenue, said she was returning from the Kors show when she spotted Pierre outside his office, clutching a shopping bag and trying to hail a cab. “He told me, and I just couldn’t understand.”

The reason, apparently, lies in disappointing sales, though Lividini recalls lucrative trunk shows: “It was very commercial and really in keeping with what the Blass customer is looking for.”

Nilsson was the second designer to succeed Blass, who finally retired in 2000; the first was Steven Slowik, whose designs were dismissed as disasters. Not only did he alienate Blass’s faithful Park Avenue clientele, but he failed to attract new clients. When Nilsson took over, the label appeared to be back on track. Blass’s ladies were all placing big orders again; in fact, the morning before his exit, Pierre was on the phone with Judy Peabody, a client since the seventies, planning her dress for an ABT benefit. And the younger set (Jennifer Creel, Lauren duPont) were ordering his $12,000 evening gowns for parties at the Frick. Some in the fashion world are even talking about nominating Nilsson for this year’s CFDA womenswear award.

“I was very surprised,” says Anna Wintour, an early champion. “I think he really understood the Blass aesthetic. If you believe in a designer, you stay the course. What’s so sad is that Bill was so fond of Lars and did believe in what he was doing.”

In fact, Blass, who died of cancer last year, told New York in December 2001, “I just hope he’ll be there as long as I was.”

Frock Shock