BILL BLASS: In the company of dogs

Blass with Golden Retrievers Kate and Shelby at Connecticut Home.

Remembering an American Couturier who found joy in simple pleasures.

Bill Blass had movie star looks, a smooth and tanned complexion and a twinkle in his eye as though he was tempted to share some wonderful secret. He had impeccable style and a certain elegance that comes with being surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful things. He dressed the créme de la créme of society-Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Nancy Kissinger, Chessy Rayner, and Pat Buckley, to name a few, but he also had a simpler side.  When he wasn’t being entertained at lavish parties and society functions, Bill Blass liked to stay home, enjoy a good book and the loyal companionship of his dogs.  He once commented, “When I think of home, I think of my dogs; for me, they are part of what makes a home a home.”

Blass lived the American dream.  As an Indiana schoolboy, he used to decorate his book covers with women on terraces with cocktails and cigarettes, sketches of a fantasy world that he would later embrace.

With an innate talent in fashion, he sold his first designs when he was only 15 years old, and the rest is history.  The Blass name is associated with almost everything; from perfumes, luggage and bedding, to furniture, Godiva Chocolates and even the custom interior of a Lincoln Continental.  As a fashion designer, Blass often mixed business and pleasure, with a social life centered on the very people he dressed, the epitome of good taste and style.

Dogs always played a major part in Blass’ life.  In the early 80’s he had Kate and Brutus, Golden retrievers. Then there was Shelby, another of his Golden retrievers, who recently passed away.  Most recently he had a beloved Labrador, Barnaby, a gift from Nancy Kissinger and Annette De La Renta. Since the designer’s passing, Barnaby has lived under the care of Mr. Blass’ trusted butler and friend, Alfred McGloin.

McGloin recalls how each night when Blass would retire to bed, Shelby and Barnaby would amble up after him, vying with each other for the distinction of being first to the top of the stairs. Barnaby always won!  “Barn Barn,” Blass’ pet name for the dog, took over the house from the day he arrived. McGloin says, though, that in the car the tables were turned. The car was Shelby’s space, and there the dog would curl up on Blass’ lap, relegating Barnaby to the back seat.  Blass always made quality time for his dogs and could be heard speaking “doggie talk”  (with the hint of a British accent left over from his military days) to his favorite companions.

Early risers everyday (they would get Blass up at 5:30am), the dogs would scamper to the kitchen to be served a home cooked breakfast.  On Sundays, the menu was special and always the same-filet of sole poached in clam juice, and the dogs loved it.

Bill Blass was also an avid supporter of animal causes and was involved in the Humane Society for many years.  He knew firsthand the rewards of living with animals and encouraged friends and colleagues who were thinking of getting a pet.

He was an animal lover until the end.  Barnaby was at his side when he died on June 12 at the age of 79.  Those who knew Blass well may take solace in the fact that he passed this world in the company of a steadfast companion who gave him much joy in the later years of his life.

– Jennifer Cattaui

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