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Richard Doty
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Last modified: Friday, October 4, 2002

Designer Bill Blass wills $1 million gift to IU

Indiana University announced receipt of a $1 million gift from the late Bill Blass today (Oct. 4) at the opening of an exhibition at the IU Art Museum featuring works by the internationally-known fashion designer.

IU President Myles Brand said during the opening reception that Blass had willed the million-dollar gift to the university. Blass, a native of Fort Wayne, died in June at age 79. He provided the gift to IU for general purposes. Brand said the university will use the funding to support the Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection and the IU Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design (AMID). Specific details will be announced later.

"This gift marks the beginning of a period of further growth for the Sage Collection and for the Department of Apparel Merchandising as a whole," Brand said. "There is great potential here. We are extremely grateful for Bill Blass' recognition of that potential and for his willingness to support its development."

The exhibition, titled "Bill Blass: An American Designer," will open to the public on Saturday (Oct. 5) and be on view through Dec. 17 at the IU Art Museum. It is the first retrospective of Blass' career as a leader in the fashion industry, and the show includes more than 100 examples from his 50-year career. Included are gowns worn by former first lady Nancy Reagan, singers Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, actress Claudette Colbert and newscaster Barbara Walters.

The IU Art Museum is presenting the exhibition in conjunction with the Sage Collection, which has some 19,000 museum-quality garments and accessories from the late 18th century to the present. The collection is part of AMID, which enrolls about 450 undergraduate majors in a bachelor of science degree program. Reed Benhamou, chair of the department, said she deeply appreciates the gift from Blass and the decision by Brand to allocate the funding to the Sage Collection and AMID.

IU Professor Kathleen Rowold, director of apparel merchandising and curator of the Sage Collection, is curator of the Blass exhibition. She worked with Blass and his staff to arrange the show. "This gift would not have been possible without the strong working relationship formed between Professor Rowold and Mr. Blass," said Benhamou.

Rowold said, "I was humbled and thrilled by his recognition of the importance of what we are trying to achieve with the Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection and deeply saddened that he did not have the opportunity to see the final product of his three years of dedicated collaboration with IU."

Works in the exhibition are from the archives of Bill Blass Ltd., IU's Sage Collection, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, celebrity friends and devoted customers of Blass.

A catalogue featuring childhood drawings, sketches and more than 250 of Blass' most important ensembles has just been published by Abrams to accompany this retrospective. Many of the items featured in the book are part of the IU exhibition. The book will be available for purchase at the exhibition.

The Blass exhibition is open to the public free of charge. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed on Monday.

A Web site created for the exhibition is at http://www.indiana.edu/~iuam/bblass. The IU Art Museum Web site is at http://www.indiana.edu/~iuam/. For more information on the exhibition, contact Joanna Davis at the IU Art Museum at 812-855-5445 or joedavis@indiana.edu.