Michael Vollbracht took us far from the maddening crowds of the Bryant Park Tents, and the hectic schedule of New York Fashion for that matter…to launch his first solo ready-to-wear collection since ending his stint as creative director of Bill Blass (1999- 2002). While the talented ‘Renaissance Man’, who has made a name for himself as a fashion designer (he won the coveted Coty Award in 1980), author, painter, and illustrator, selected the famed Wally Findlay Gallery as the venue of choice for 3 showings yesterday, that did not mean the collection was to be filled with art-to-wear. In fact, the only exuberantly hand painted item (a signed vintage Michael Vollbracht scarf), was not shown on the runway, but worn by one of the guests, over her suit.
Instead, the elegant paintings on exhibition mirrored the colors and mood of the 24 piece collection (which will be available exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue) and proved to be a celebration of “the power of the flower”. As Michael’s program notes said, “if you look closely, you will see them woven into cotton damask jackets or embroidered on silk gingham skirts. There are flowers called “Paola” and “Wilton”. Some are jeweled, and one is a jewel and some too faint to notice. Some in the collection are at the breast, one in the hair, some at the waist – all from the heart”.
Not only was this obviously a labor of love but it happened to be a fitting tribute Michael’s good friend, the late Bill Blass (MV not only designed for the house of Blass but he spent a lot of time with Bill at his Connecticut country home, pouring through archives and collaborating with Cathy Horyn on his memoir, “Bare Blass”, which was completed two weeks before his 80th birthday and six days before his death on June 7, 2002). In a sense, it was it was the most ‘Bill Blass’ collections he has done.
Not only did lifelong Bill Blass friend and celebrated client Nancy Kissinger, show up, so did Harold Davis (the veteran fixture at the house of Blass for many years), and iconic All American model Karen Bjornson, who not only modeled for Mr. Blass, but was a fixture on Michael’s runway when he designed for the label (fyi…she was clad in a Michael Vollbracht for Bill Blass python jacket and looked amazing). Other fashion notables who attended the presentation were designer Carolina Herrera (looking chic in spectator black and white), Coco Kopelman (wife of Ari, CEO of Chanel), and Jamee Gregory.
While there were hints of the exotic (India and the Far East) throughout the line (as there have been through many others during Fashion Week), the influence of Bill Blass could be found within the low keyed colors, the quiet, often subtle details, the all American, Connecticut inspired, napologetically waspy spirit (some of pieces were given names like “Wilton” cotton “Connecticut” jacket; “Donna Reed” shirtdress and non aggressive, often low heeled or sporty shoes were used), the offhanded mixing of day and night, and especially, the use of grey flannel (a traditional Blass ‘signature) which not only turned up as a knee length coat embroidered with black chrysanthemums which was shown over a gold silk cutaway shirt, but in the finale: a one of a kind “Button” wedding coat with beige silk plaid lining worn with a matching wrap blouse and grey wool flannel trousers.