Born: Scotland, 5 February 1956. Education: Graduated from St. Martin's School of Art, London, 1978. Career: Assistant to Marc Bohan, Dior, Paris, 1977; design assistant, Givenchy, Paris, 1978-80; assistant to Karl Lagerfeld, Chloé, Paris, 1980-83; designer, Karl Lagerfeld, New York, 1983-84; designer, Alistair Blair, 1985-89; freelance designer and design consultant to Jaeger, Balmain, Complice, Turnbull and Asser, beginning in 1989; knitwear designer, McGeorge, beginning in 1988; designer, Ivoire ready-to-wear collection, Balmain, Paris, 1990-91; designer, Ballantine, beginning in 1989; creative director, Balmain, Paris, 1991; design consultant, Cerruti, Paris, beginning in 1991; design consultant to Valentino, Rome, beginning in 1993. Address: 4 Belmont Court, Pembroke Mews, London W8 6ES, England.
Kellett, Caroline, "Cue: The Return of Alistair Blair," in Vogue (London), June 1986.
Irvine, Susan, "British Style, the Designer Star: Alistair Blair," in Vogue (London), February 1987.
"Solid Talent (British Too) Pendrix," in Connoisseur, February 1987.
Hume, Marlon, "Backstage with Blair," in Fashion Weekly (London), 16 October 1987.
"Alistair Blair to Design for McGeorge," in Fashion Weekly, 29 October 1987.
Hillpot, Maureen, "Alistair Blair: Going for It!," in Taxi (New York), May 1988.
"Blair Quits Beleaguered Bertelsen as Hamnett Sues," in the Independent (London), 8 July 1988.
#x201c;Blair, with Backer, Plans Spring Relaunch," in Women's Wear Daily, 29 September 1988.
"Backing for Blair," in Options (London), December 1988.
Du Cann, Charlotte, "Return of the Pragmatic Professional," in the Independent, 18 March 1989.
When Alistair Blair showed his first collection in London in 1986, he was testing very tepid water. At that time, British designer fashion was recognized for its youth and eccentricity, fun and witty clothes, often unwearable and badly produced. Blair, complete with impeccable fashion credentials (a first class degree from St. Martin's School of Art in London, followed by training at Dior and Givenchy in Paris, then as design assistant to Karl Lagerfeld), seemed to pose little threat to this established reputation in terms of making a valid fashion statement. Blair, however, realized there was a gap in the British fashion market for continental couture at ready-to-wear prices, a gap that became the philosophy for his company.
This singular marketing notion met with immediate fashion applause at the first season's launch. "Blair has arrived as quite simply the most stylish designer in London," raved Fashion Weekly (16 October 1987). Things very quickly went from strength to strength; support came from top international stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Henri Bendel in New York, Harrods in London, and Seibu in Tokyo were quick to place orders. Possibly the greatest publicity came when the Duchess of York ordered her engagement outfit from him.
Blair's backer was Peder Bertelsen, the Danish oil millionaire. Blair, who was considering an offer to work for Royal couturier Norman Hartnell, was advised by a friend to discuss the move with Bertelsen. "Before I knew where I was he was suggesting that he would back me and I was agreeing," he was quoted as saying. Bertelsen was perhaps British fashion's most important asset in the mid-1980s. He injected a great deal of money into his creation of a fashion empire, buying several prestigious stores including Ungaro, Valentino, and Krizia, and backing John Galliano. In his analysis of British designer fashion he concluded that it fell into two categories— old and new money; old money was the Establishment, including the landowners; new money was in the city or in oil and each identified with its own dress designers. Blair was categorized as Bertelsen's designer for the Establishment.
There was certainly something chic yet traditional about Blair's clothes, even in his luxurious choice of fabrics: alpaca, cashmere and lambswool mixes, duchesse satin and satin backed crêpe, expensive soft suedes and kid leather, even sumptuous embroidery from the Royal embroiderer's Lock Ltd. Dog-tooth check wool coats, flannel jackets, and wool crêpe evening dresses in sharp, florid colors always incorporated a section in Blair's signature colors of orange and black.
Each collection evoked a grown-up sensuality, with obvious visual references to the soigné looks of French film stars like Michele Morgan or Catherine Deneuve, prompting Andrée Walmsley from Fortnum and Mason to enthuse, "He has a very French handwriting, which I adore." The catwalk shows enlivened British Fashion Weeks with their no-expense-spared glamor. A coterie of international models, from Linda Evangelista to Cindy Crawford, was flown in to promote the clothes as the paparazzi enthused that Paris had firmly established itself in London.
Even though Blair edited the collections with business-like alacrity, the Bertelsen empire was losing money. Bertelsen admitted to Business Magazine in December 1987 that he had lost a million on his first set of accounts. This nonaccumulation of profit eventually led to Bertelsen pulling out as Blair's backer. Even though Blair subsequently found alternative backing, it was not enough to keep the company afloat and it eventually folded. Despite the hype and publicity behind the name, this perhaps exemplifies a problem experienced by many British fashion companies—without the backing of huge textile conglomerates as happens in France, and the vast income earned from licensed goods such as perfume or cosmetics, sole clothing companies often struggle to survive.
As Blair has said, "It's a business. At the end of the day you have to make money for a lot of other people as well." Fortunately for Alistair Blair, his designing was a much respected commodity and led him to design consultancies with a host of firms, including Jaeger, Pierre Balmain, and Complice.