Fashion artist and illustrator Michael Vollbracht, 70, died Wednesday at his home in North Safety Harbor, Fla.
After years of illustrating, Vollbracht bankrupt out on the New York artist arena afterwards starting his own aggregation in 1978 afterwards any funding. His additional accumulating becoming him a Coty Award.
An ardent cine watcher, who befriended Joan Crawford in the afterwards years of her life, Vollbracht kept her account as able-bodied as added icons like Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Vreeland on affectation in his oxblood-colored showroom. Accepting told WWD in 1980, “I owe my aptitude to American films.”
Later in his career, Vollbracht was abundantly associated with Bill Blass, allowance the artist with his 2002 architecture attendant at Indiana University and afterwards demography over the artistic reigns from Lars Nilsson in 2003.
The account of afterlife is awaiting an autopsy, but Vollbracht had suffered a alternation of medical problems in contempo months, according to his acquaintance Jeffrey Banks.
A neighbor, who had appear over to airing his dog, apparent his anatomy on the kitchen attic with the baptize in the kitchen bore overflowing, Banks said.
He may be bigger remembered as Michaele Vollbracht, as he aforetime spelled his name aback he advised a signature ready-to-wear accumulating and formed as an illustrator for Henri Bendel and Bloomingdale’s. Iris Apfel said Friday, “He was a Renaissance man — he could do everything. He was a abundant dress artist and dressmaker, absolutely acceptable at autogenous design, he could acrylic and draw beautifully and architecture all kids of things. And he was the sweetest best fun guy imaginable.”
Born and bred in the Midwest, he accelerating from Parsons School of Architecture in 1969, acceptable the school’s celebrated Norman Norell award. In a aberration of fate, aback Norell was bare to present it, Blass stepped in. Kay Unger, who forth with the backward artist Willi Smith was a Parsons acquaintance of Vollbracht’s said Friday, “He absolutely accomplished us all to see. Truly, he would say, ‘Get out of the classroom. Airing about New York. Attending at the Empire State Building. Attending at the doors.’ He absolutely accomplished us to get alfresco of ourselves and additionally to attending at ourselves. Who were we? What was our best talent?”
After graduation, Vollbracht formed as an illustrator for Geoffrey Beene abstraction Lynda Bird Johnson’s bells apparel amid added assignments. He exhausted out Beene’s then-assistant, Issey Miyake, to architecture the inferior collection, Beene Bazaar. Two years later, Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg from Vogue advised Vollbracht’s assignment and adumbrated he was unimpressed, so he was fired. Vollbracht was assassin appropriate abroad by Geraldine Stutz, who congenital Henri Bendel into a retail force with the accession of its bazaar arcade concept, and as an illustrator he abstruse bound by archetype the assignment of Kenneth Paul Bloch in WWD.
Within a brace of years, he was recruited by Bloomingdale’s, which paid a lot added money — about $500 a account — in 1975. There, he drew portraits of Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Jean Muir for abundance windows and, through an careless press error, became famous. Vollbracht sketched a woman’s face in fractional contour — alone the appearance are arresting — for a new white arcade bag, nine actor of which were printed afore anyone accomplished they had done so afterwards including the Bloomingdale’s name. Yet, they became instantly apparent throughout the streets of New York, and eventually the world, as a cachet attribute apprenticed by the arduous admeasurement of force of the retailer.
“My 15 account of acclaim as a absolutely acclaimed artist was a continued one,” Vollbracht said.
With no funding, he started his own accumulating in 1978. His aboriginal show, with an busy affair alleged “The Lady in the Tiger,” was a huge success, landing in Bergdorf Goodman. His additional accumulating becoming a Coty Accolade and by the Eighties, Vollbracht became a domiciliary appearance name. In 1981, he guest-starred as himself on an adventure of “Hart to Hart” about a appearance artist doubtable of murdering his models, and again appeared on “Paper Dolls” with Lloyd Bridges.
The added “e” in his name was an affectation of childhood. “I added it aback I was 13 to accomplish my ancestor absolutely upset,” Vollbracht said. “But afterwards my business failed, I went to see a analytic and she told me to get rid of it because it was messing up my numerology.”
The accumulating lasted seven years, afterwards which Vollbracht alternate to analogy and art, abstraction appearance icons from designers such as Carolina Herrera, Cathy Hardwick and Mary McFadden to celebrities like Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Crawford, who was a bubbler buddy. Those years are actual in a book he appear in 1985 alleged “Nothing Sacred,” which was reissued by Rizzoli in 2000 aback Parsons put on an exhibition of his work.
Before assuming his abatement eveningwear accumulating in 1980, Vollbracht told 25 of New York’s accomplished paid models at that time, “Give me artificial. I don’t appetite annihilation real.” Later, aback archetypal Carmen Kaplan sashayed through the backstage anarchy in billowing beaded atramentous silk, Vollbracht recalled the calm that descended afore all the added girls bankrupt out in applause. “I thought, ‘Oh, baby, that’s fashion.”
Vollbracht admired to say that he looked at the apple in accurate frames like administrator George Stevens of “Giant” and “A Place in the Sun” fame. The aboriginal years of his career presented their own snapshots or alternation of apprenticeships, as he admired to say. He said his assignment alive for the burdensome Beene was “pre-med.” And his administration with Brooks, whom Vollbracht alleged as his best abundantly artistic mentor, he abstruse to be contrary and to experiment.
He additionally captured snapshots of long-forgotten Seventh Avenue days. Geraldine Stutz already approved on Jean Muir dresses to sketch, “sitting in her appointment with her anxiety up, toes wrapped, accepting a pedicure like Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’” All the while, authoritative decisions, giving orders and accidentally clueing in Vollbracht “to what ability is,” he said.
Crawford was accession array of abecedary and angel saint. Vollbracht kept a account of her in his exhibit in the Eighties. He visited her frequently during the aftermost three years of her life. “There was the American dream. She was one boxy army sergeant. She was Miss Havisham afterwards the cobwebs, accession who fabricated it and relentlessly had to braid back,” Vollbracht told WWD. “Imagine three years with Joan Crawford. Between the two of us, we drank abundant vodka to bore a ship.”
Having already watched Elizabeth Taylor primp afore convoying her to a Roseland Ballroom event, Vollbracht declared the acquaintance of seeing her administer mascara as “the adventure of a lifetime. Suddenly, it was ‘Butterfield 8.’” As for Garbo, she was the alone being to accomplish your affection stop, from the designer’s point of view. And while on the allotment aboriginal in his career, he adopted a cape to into the Winter Garden to t Marlene Dietrich assuming afore an conductor aerated him from the balcony. Referring to a cartoon of his of the Duchess of Windsor captivation a Coca Cola bottle, Unger said Vollbracht told her, “I anticipate of them as two iconic figures.”
A flaneur while active in New York, Vollbracht alleged it “the best amazing city. One minute it’s Calcutta, the aing Paris.”
“I booty from everywhere, from everyone, whether it’s a Claude Colbert cine or National Geographic. I can accomplish a Balenciaga covering band for line. Why not? Macy’s did it.”
Like Norrell, he advised apparel from the inside-out, accession closets of accouterment from accompany to get a bigger of construction. Referring to the appearance anarchy that he advancing in 1980, Vollbracht said, “We’re activity to bake the blazer. Change the accomplished system. We can’t accumulate putting pockets on rear ends, or stacking box shapes.”
Vollbracht was additionally advanced of the appearance backpack with upcycling. He advised one of Unger’s admired coats — repurposing a rug by reembroidering it and bonds it with leather. Andy by 1980, he was already into thrifting his actionable compatible — a white-collared Brooks Brothers shirt, a brace of khakis and atramentous tennis shoes. He additionally advancing the end of the ability clothing and the casualization of America decades afore it set in, the artist said, “Lives are too complicated. The affluent travel, and they like to backpack like the poor.”
During his tenure, Vollbracht approved to breathe some activity into the Blass characterization by creating flirtier pieces for adolescent shoppers afterwards alienating the brand’s amount Old-Guard customers. With Vollbracht at the helm, he ill-fitted up such notables as above Aboriginal Lady Laura Bush, Jessica Lange and Janet Jackson. Prabal Gurung was amid the agents at that time, too.
In 2007, Vollbracht exited Bill Blass afterwards months of bitter relations with management. At the time of his departure, admiral at Bill Blass Ltd.’s again ancestor aggregation NexCen Brands said his artistic absorption had led him bottomward a altered path. Afterwards abiding to Florida, he focused on accomplished art painting and had representation in art galleries. Vollbracht additionally had a two-year amplitude casting a added affordable band on HSN and occasionally dispatch in for Apfel including for her HSN debut, aback a burst hip kept her sidelined. “He was such a acceptable acquaintance and so talented. He fabricated clothes for colossal women on HSN. It did actual well. He fabricated admirable things,” Apfel said.
“He accepted fashion, what he didn’t like was business. He admired fashion. He hated the appearance business. In Europe, your abandon of announcement was consistently added acclaimed and supported. Being an American appearance designer, until recently, was added about the dollar, architecture a business, ambrosial to the stores,” Unger said. “Michael didn’t fit that mode, nor did he appetite to.
She added, “His art was so abundant a allotment of his fashion. Michael consistently did things in a altered way, and his art consistently started everything. He could acrylic a book in two abnormal that would booty somebody abroad forever. He was his own affectionate of Matisse and Picasso all in one.”
In accession to his own book, “Nothing’s Sacred: Cartoons and Comments,” Vollbracht formed on illustrations for “Iris Apfel: An Accidental Icon” and “Norell: Master of American Fashion,” by Banks and Doria De la Chapelle. At the time of his death, Vollbracht was at assignment on a book of his illustrations, including Ginger Rogers and added blur stars with the art administrator Steven Cohen. Vollbracht said of his affected leanings, “I tend to be melodramatic, I like too abounding violins. But if I had a accustomed life, I’d be apathetic to tears.”
Vollbracht is survived by a sister Michelle.
Unger, administrator of the lath at The New School’s Parsons School of Design, said she hopes to adapt a canonizing and attendant of Vollbracht’s activity there.
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