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US Fashion Designer Bill Blass Dies of Cancer

U.S. fashion designer, Bill Blass, who dressed some of the country's most powerful women, died of cancer late Wednesday at the age of 79. Mr. Blass was at the top of the U.S. fashion scene for more than 30 years. He built a multi-million dollar business, defining a unique American style that combined elegance with relaxed, casual clothing.

Famous American women, ranging from First Ladies, including Nancy Reagan, and socialites, such as Gloria Vanderbilt, wore Mr. Blass' "sporty-chic" outfits. They also hobnobbed with the designer himself.

The chair of the design department of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology worked with Mr. Blass. Francesca Sterlacci says his hands-on approach differentiated him from his European and American counterparts.

Mr. Blass used to travel throughout the United States with a so-called "trunk show," where he made personal appearances to show his new lines and take special orders.

"He had an incredible appreciation for the women and the men he dressed. He was probably the most connected to his customers of any of the designers out there today," she says. "He actually met the customers and became personal friends of his customers. So he intimately knew their needs."

Ms. Sterlacci says the death of Mr. Blass is a loss for the fashion community and the Fashion Institute of Technology in particular. He helped create a new program to bring high, European fashion to New York City.

Mr. Blass began selling sketches to New York designers as a teenager. He was raised in the Midwestern U.S. state of Indiana, but moved to New York after high school to study fashion. After serving in World War II, Mr. Blass began working for an established designer, later taking over the company in 1970.

His business grew, predominantly in the United States, and branched out to include men's clothing, shoes, and jewelry.

Although Mr. Blass received awards and showed his designs on the New York runway, he also added a more affordable line of casual cloths.

Mr. Blass died at his home outside New York City, in Connecticut. He was a heavy smoker and in recent years received treatment for throat cancer. He was 79 years old.