Born: Michael Vollbracht in Quincy, Illinois, 17 November 1947. Education: Studied at Parsons School of Design, New York, 1965-67. Career: Design assistant in New York to Geoffrey Beene, 1967-69, to Donald Brooks, then back to Beene and Beene Bazaar line, then returned to Brooks, 1969-71; designed for Norman Norell until Norell's death in 1972; illustrator, Henri Bendel, 1972-74, and Bloomingdale's, 1975; Vollbracht Design Studios, producing garments from hand-printed silks (by Belotti) of his design launched, 1977, New York; swimwear designer, Sofere company, 1979; launched Vollbracht Too division of Manhattan Industries, 1981; Michaele Vollbracht Sport line introduced, 1983; has also designed sheets for Burlington Industries, table linens for Audrey Company, Dallas. Awards: Golden Thimble award, Parsons School of Design, 1967; Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1980; American Printed Fashion Council's Tommy award, 1984.
Michaele Vollbracht's Nothing Sacred: Cartoons and Comments, New York, 1985.
Khornak, Lucille, Fashion 2001, New York, 1982.
Schiro, Anne-Marie, "And Then They Turned to Clothes," in the New York Times, 8 July 1978.
Langway, Lynn, "A Fashion Comet Returns," in Newsweek, 25 May 1981.
Heiderstadt, Donna, "The Tranquil Force Behind Michaele Vollbracht's Bold Art," in California Apparel News (Los Angeles), 19 August 1983.
Radakovich, Anka, "Vollbracht Perfects a 'Starring Role' for Every Fashion Fantasy," in Apparel News South (Atlanta, Georgia), March 1985.
Larkin, Kathy, "Michaele Vollbracht," in the New York Daily News, 29 December 1985.
Lavina, Bettijean, "Portrait of a New Life," in the Los Angeles Times, 16 October 1992.
Dubbed "a fashion comet" by Newsweek magazine in 1981, Michaele Vollbracht blazed across the New York fashion scene for a 10-year period beginning in 1977. When he left Parsons School of Design, New York, towards the end of the 1960s, Vollbracht logged time as a design assistant on Seventh Avenue, found it not to his liking, and turned instead to fashion illustration and graphic design. A shopping bag he created for Bloomingdale's department store in 1975 became an instant conversation piece and collector's item. It pictured an idealized woman's face, the artist's signature, and no other identifier, least of all the store name. The bag became the all-purpose tote, a symbol of reverse chic, acceptable because it carried no advertising, although everyone knew what it represented.
By 1977 Vollbracht was one of the top illustrators in the field. At the same time, sensing women were ready to turn away from the conservative, monochromatic look which had characterized much of the 1970s, Vollbracht established his fashion company. "We have been beiged to death," he told Priscilla Tucker for a May 1978 issue of the New York Daily News.
Bringing his skills as a graphic artist to the new company, Vollbracht created huge patterns in bright colors, hand screened onto lengths of silk, then cut into simple kaftan or kimono-like shapes, sometimes further embellished with sequins or bugle beads. These were entrance-making clothes with humor and panache for a confident clientéle. Vollbracht's celebrity customers included Elizabeth Taylor, Diahann Carroll, and Joan Rivers. For his first collection in 1978, many of Vollbracht's prints consisted of a single stylized element, such as a palm frond or a panther's head, enlarged to full body proportion and placed asymmetrically at the shoulder or side seam so that the motif was not quickly perceived—and the negative space of the ground formed a pattern of competing interest.
By the early 1980s Vollbracht's work included more sophisticated shaping and traditional fabrics in addition to his enormous signature prints. "I had to prove I'm not just some outrageous designer, waving fabric over women's heads," he told Newsweek in 1981, "I want to demonstrate that I can cut an armhole and shape a dress—maybe not as beautifully as Givenchy, but I can do it." Indeed he could—a black velvet dress from his 1980 collection was softly draped diagonally across the back from the left shoulder almost to the waist at right, presenting the bare back as a piece of sculpture.
At the height of his career in the mid-1980s, Vollbracht was responsible for three ready-to-wear lines, Vollbracht Too, Michaele Vollbracht Sport, and Overs by Michaele Vollbracht, as well as a line of swimwear for the American manufacturer Sofere. His licensing agreements included sheets, towels, table linens, and a line of women's blouses. Vollbracht's whimsical, eye catching prints characterized his swimwear just as they did his custom line. In 1985 Vollbracht parted company with his backer. Apparently unable or unwilling to obtain financing elsewhere, he discontinued his custom business. Two years later, in 1987, he retired from Seventh Avenue for the second time to concentrate on illustration and portraiture. His work was used in the New Yorker and in Vogue as well as in his 1985 illustrated memoir Nothing Sacred.