"The affluent have a bit of an edge this season," said Bill Blass with a smile as he scanned the dressing room full of racks of clothes before his fall showing at the Hotel Pierre yesterday.
If may have been the understatement of the season. The Bless collection, like others being shown in this second week of New York designer shows, was clearly for women who feel guiltless about gilt, fearless about furs, and who understand the luxury of double-faced fabric that only a few houses in the world have the technique to produce.
If Nancy Reagan gave the fashion world red, he sable-set friends have given it sumptuousness. Fashion, the weapon of the dissatisfied in the '60s and the great social equalizer by the end of the '70s, has returned to separating those who have a lot of money to spend from those who don't. Blass' clothes are strictly for those who can afford the luxury of limousines. b"Looking rich is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by," says Blass, whose new fall collection will sell from $800 to $6,000. He knows from experience there are plenty of free spenders around who are his business faithfuls.
Many of them had front-row seats for his show. Nancy Kissinger, Lady Keith, Estee Lauder, Dinah Shore, Jerry Zipkin, Pat Buckley, Barbara Walters and Nancy Dickerson were among those who watched the Blass show, which will be repeated in Washington in September for the benefit of the Phillips Collection. (Blass, who has in the past created designs for Nancy Reagan, has sent several sketches to her to consider wearing should she go to the wedding of Britain's Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in July.)
Blass used the posh setting of the the Cotillion Room, a banquet room at the Pierre Hotel that he has used before, and had the most expensive set of all the New York designers -- a stainless-steel shell over the undulating screens that he has also used before. It cost $15,000 just to make this backdrop worthy of such a rich presentation. Add to that 25 models at $2,500 each a day plus lighting, trucking, music and renting the room for three shows yesterday, and the presentation alone adds up to more than $100,000. You could hardly spend less for a collection which, according to Tom Fallon, Blass' assistant, cost about $1 million to make.
Yet this was in fact Blass' smallest collection in a long time, only 72 pieces compared with more than 100 for last fall's collection. "With clothes so expensive, women will have to choose more carefully," said Blass, but the message of his clothes was clear in the gold-dipped fabric -- even daytime suits had shawls with gold threads, knitted or woven through, and gold borders and tassels, plus copper-toned leather blouses and scarves. For evening, shapes were often extravagant, including several styles done with butterfly-shaped sleeves borrowed from Gothic court costumes. In gold, of course.
"Designers feel that this is an era that people just don't give a damn, that money doesn't mean anything. It costs so much for everything that they might as well put their marbles into having people see how they look," insists Rose Wells, former first vice president of Federated Stores and now a retail consultant. "The luxury fabrics and all the opulence going on suggest a feeling that says, 'To hell with everything,' and 'I'm going to spend money because I have it and don't mind showing it.'"
David Brinkley, the TV news show host, attending his first fashion show ever with his wife Susan, had a more practical view. "It's truly sumptuous," he said after the show, "but I'm not sure I know of any occasion in this country grand enough to wear some of the clothes."
Dorcas Hardin, who once owned Georgetown's most chic shop, had no trouble finding an answer: "They are clothes for all the women who hope to be invited to the White House.