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titleAmerican Master: Bill Blass

August 29-October 21, 2022

American fashion designer Bill Blass, one of the most important American fashion designers of the 20th century, is the focus of an exhibition, designed by Professors Jeffrey Mayer and Kirsten Schoonmaker, in the Sue and Leon Genet Gallery Located in the Nancy Cantor Warehouse, School of Design.

Featuring garments from the Sue Ann Genet Costume collection, found in the Fashion Design program within the School of Design, CVPA, these garments highlight two facets of Blass’s design brilliance; his love of glittering Hollywood elegance, and his menswear inspired women’s suiting.

These Bill Blass garments were assembled by, and are now on permanent loan to the Sue Ann Genet Costume Collection, from the personal collection of curator Jeffrey Mayer.

Blass was born June 22, 1922 in Fort Wayne, Indiana and at the age of 17 moved to NYC where he was already selling his fashion drawings. Once in NYC he gained work as an in-house designer for several fashion houses. After his service in the US Army during WWII, serving as a part of the undercover ‘Ghost Army’, he returned to NYC where he continued to design as a ‘back-room’ designer. By the early 1960s he established himself at Maurice Rentner, the company that he eventually purchased in 1970 and renamed Bill Blass Inc.

Bill Blass was known for his sophisticated ‘American’ style; classic, clean, modern cuts which evoked Hollywood glamour. He attracted an A-list of socially elite women across the United States including Nancy Reagan, who frequently wore his designs as First Lady of the United States, Nancy Kissinger, Pat Buckley, Brooke Astor, Nan Kempner and Lynn Wyatt, as well as Barbara Walter, Liza Minelli and Jessye Norman, to name only a few.

Bill Blass is credited as the first womenswear couturier to also launch a menswear line. His company would eventually hold over fifty licenses for products ranging from automobiles to bed linens and an annual gross income of over $500 million dollars.

In 1982 Blass was introduced to François Lesage (1921-2011), owner of the famed Parisian embroidery firm the House of Lesage (which to this day supplies the most exquisite embroidery and beadwork to all the top French couturiers). From that first meeting with Lesage in 1982, until his final collection, shown in the Fall of 1999 for Spring 2000, Blass included beaded and embellished clothes in all his collections. He used Lesage’s French workrooms for his highest priced couture pieces, but looked to the NYC based Finesse Embroideries, with their ateliers in India, to create sumptuous beadwork and embroidery at more affordable prices for his ready-to-wear collections.

Bill Blass died in 2002, having sold his company in 2000. The company has struggled to regain its importance since losing its namesake. Many credit Mr. Blass’s charm and personality for the success of the company, something very difficult to reproduce.

On view in the gallery are over twenty original designs by Bill Blass dating from 1982 to 1999.


On view through May 15

Traditionally a literary and cinematic technique, retcon is the abbreviation of retroactive continuity and means a new piece of information introduced to a story that alters the interpretation of a previously established narrative. Although it is a word infrequently used, it is omnipresent. Retcon is not just employed in a fictional context, read in a book, or viewed on a screen, but experienced in the world around us. In the current climate, we are absorbing new information constantly (like it or not!), and it is challenging the way we see everything—day to day, hour to hour. Our internal database is developing at record speed. What was recognized as commonplace merely a year ago is being reexamined, and at times, by the entire world in unison.

The artists in this exhibition are evaluating and reframing their personal histories, traditional standards of art-making, and history as a whole. While in everyday life, the constant introduction of so-called facts and opinions appear erratic, the investigations held within the artworks in the exhibition are much more intentional, slower-paced, steady. They are careful and curious assessments removed from the web of media and into meticulously-presented ideas.

Here we have two applications of retcon—one that refers to the daily and ever-changing knowledge that we receive, and one that reflects the new details put forth by these artists through their work that will alter our perceptions. However small, each bit of information sets into motion a new interpretation of our environment, past, present, and future.

About the Artists

Sam Azghandi is an Iranian filmmaker, actor, editor, and sound designer. He is currently pursuing an M.F.A. program in film at the school of Visual Performing Arts in Syracuse. Most of his work explores themes of gender, race, and class in queer and immigrant lives. His projects have thus far been screened in Indianapolis, Palm Spring CA, Australia, Los Angeles, New York State, and Texas.

Aaron Burleson is a photographer born in Hartford, CT and raised in Glastonbury, CT, a suburb outside the state’s capitol. His work deals with preservation, archiving, and evidence. His interest in photography stems from its ability to contain the trace of a person and to act as a form of communication. He has received a bachelor’s in fine arts in photography from Hartford Art School.

Manya Gadhok is an award-winning filmmaker and storyteller emphasizing on the real-life issues of real people. Currently pursuing graduate degree from Syracuse University, her first short film, Soulmates, has won 8 Awards, 15 Screenings, 2 Certificate 2 Grants and 240+ publications. She is professionally affiliated to Screenwriter’s Association of India, and the Indian Film & Television Directors Association.

Jana Herman is an artist working with image and text, originally from Massachusetts. Her practice considers memory, forgetting and the evolution of understanding through time. She has assisted artists and educators across media and graduated from Oberlin College in 2015.

Xuan Liu is an interdisciplinary artist. She works conceptually through social engagement actions and performances, which offer places for her to examine strategies of dealing with real-life struggles. Her works have been exhibited internationally in New York, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

Lebogang Neo Matseke is a South African native filmmaker and screenwriter. She has studied three degrees around the world all of which are connected one way or another to her main love- the sharing of stories through various types of media. She has published a novella titled ‘Queen B.E.E.’ and received accolades for her documentary ‘Dear Whoever, Love Lebo’ and short script ‘The Rain Queen’s Wife’.

Valeria Chikaodile Oha was born to Nigerian parents who made sure she was exposed to their culture throughout her childhood. Currently, Valeria is working with mixed media to showcase the struggles of being a black woman in America. Her current body of work focuses on exploring the idea that society both demonizes and fetishes the black body.

Shuoran Zhou was born in Beijing, China. She makes wearable objects using mainly glass beads to address common stereotypes toward women’s social roles and aims at advocating women’s autonomy. Shuoran’s work has been exhibited internationally in Spain, China, United States as well as various online exhibitions.

Zhu Zhu grew up in a family with artistic tradition where art looked appealing to her when she was a child. She decided to choose art as her undergraduate study major as well as her life career. In 2018, Zhu Zhu came to the U.S and began to learn computer art. During this time, she started to try new ways to show her concept in her work. She makes experimental animation and some sculptures in her MFA degree.

Michael Christopher Zuhorski was born in Detroit, Michigan. In 2015 Michael received a BFA in Photography from the College for Creative Studies, in Detroit. Michael’s practice is concerned with gradual change, sustained attention, and the fragile relation between seeing and knowing.

About the Curator

Laura Dvorkin is the Co-curator of The Bunker Artspace: Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody in West Palm Beach. She has worked with the Collection since 2008, managing large presentations of the Collection at institutions and the exhibitions that DeWoody curates. Dvorkin’s recent exhibitions include In The Absence of Light: Gesture, Humor and Resistance in The Black Aesthetic at the Rebuild Foundation, Chicago and A Very Anxious Feeling: Voices of Unrest in the American Experience at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia.

Dvorkin is the Associate Art Consultant for the Eventi Hotel, New York, Co-curator of 53 West 53, the Residential MoMA Expansion Tower, New York, and consults on acquisitions for private clients. Laura Dvorkin lives and works between New York City and West Palm Beach

Exhibition Venues:

Syracuse University Art Museum
Shaffer Art Building
Exhibition dates: March 31- May 15, 2022
Opening reception: April 7, 5 – 7pm
Curatorial Talk: 7pm

Point of Contact Gallery
The Warehouse
350 West Fayette Street
Exhibition Dates: March 31- May 15, 2022
Opening reception: April 14, 5 – 7pm

Sue and Leon Genet Gallery
The Warehouse
350 West Fayette Street
Exhibition Dates: March 31- May 15, 2022
Opening reception: April 21, 5 – 7pm