America's Best: A Designer's Favorite Spots

America's Best: A Designer's Favorite Spots

Bill Blass has come a long way from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and he has seen it all. Here, the quintessential American designer shows us his favorite places

Whenever I talk to Europeans who are here to see America, I tell them how important it is to explore the rest of the country, not just New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles. What about the rustic charms of Lake Tahoe and the Adirondacks, or the sophistication of San Francisco, where nothing ever has to rush?Texas alone is practically a nation unto itself -- it probably should have seceded -- and each city has its own distinct character. Amarillo is as different from Austin as they both are from El Paso. I've been fortunate to get to know so much of the country (even if I've seen more of Troy than I ever have of Detroit). One thing is certain: no matter where you go in America, you'll never be bored.


Not a city but a town, a college town, with a wonderful intellectual atmosphere. From the days of Isabella Stewart Gardner and her clique-- for more on that, read Douglass Shand-Tucci's fascinating new book, The Art of Scandal, from HarperCollins-- there's been a sense that the very best of American content is here. Frankly, I'm not sure you could find it anyplace else.

Moreover, I'm a highly visual person, and Boston just plain looks good. The scale is so appealing. Nothing disturbs the eye. There's a permanence-- Cleveland and Kansas City have a similar solid American feeling. If only I could find somewhere to have lunch.

Which Cities Have the Best-Dressed Women?

1. Houston
2. Santa Barbara
3. New York
4. Lake Forest, Illinois
5. San Francisco
(Did you honestly think I was going to say Washington, D.C.?)

Kansas City

Tight and tough, with a lot of civic pride. It's the ultimate Midwestern town; it has all the admirable values one would expect. You can see the amount of money and affection and spirit that's been passed back to the community by the main industries. The people help build up a company-- in Kansas City's case, Hallmark-- and the captains of that industry, the Halls, give back to the town, making everybody happy and proud to live there. It's a marvelous thing. You also find it in other cities-- in Omaha, in Cincinnati, in Pittsburgh, with Carnegie and Mellon. It'll be interesting to see if Bill Gates and the new Seattle billionaires keep up the tradition.

10 Great Small Museums

I wish more people realized that museums offer a kind of travel: one hour in the Chinese Temple Room at Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins feels like a miniature trip to Shanghai. That said, I prefer small museums, mainly because I cannot stand to stay for more than an hour.
1. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Boston (280 The Fenway; 617/566-1401)
2. Fogg Art Museum Cambridge, Mass. (32 Quincy St.; 617/495-9400)
3. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Williamstown, Mass. (225 South St.; 413/458-9545) The Clarks' collection includes a bit of everything: Impressionism, old masters, English silver and porcelain.
4. Yale Center for British Art New Haven, Conn. (1080 Chapel St.; 203/432-2800) It has all the elements of an English family's private collection, with some paintings hung floor-to-ceiling.
5. Pierpont Morgan Library New York (29 E. 36th St.; 212/685-0008) There's an excellent assemblage of drawings.
6. Frick Collection New York (1 E. 70th St.; 212/288-0700) The Frick has recently been enlivening itself with more exhibitions.
7. Phillips Collection Washington, D.C. (1600 21st St.; 202/387-2151) You must see Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party.
8. Bayou Bend Houston (1 Westcott St.; 713/639-7750) Ima Hogg had an amazing collection of American furniture, which she donated -- along with her house -- to the Museum of Fine Arts.
9. Gilcrease Museum Tulsa, Okla. (1400 Gilcrease Museum Rd.; 918/596-2700) It's a museum of the American West -- with many noteworthy Remingtons -- but there's nothing rustic about it.
10. Millicent Rogers Museum Taos, N. Mex. (1504 Museum Rd.; 505/758-2462) Anyone interested in fashion should go: her jewelry was exquisite, especially the silver and turquoise.

Where I Buy Antiques

San Francisco I bought a pair of 1935 Art Deco chairs -- all blond wood and black leather -- at Ed Hardy San Francisco (188 Henry Adams St.; 415/626-6300). Therien & Co. (411 Vermont St.; 415/956-8850) is a great source for Scandinavian furniture, hard to find in this country.
Woodbury, Conn. British Country Antiques is good -- my decorator, Chessy Rayner, buys tables there (50 Main St. N.; 203/263-5100). The shops on Main Street in nearby New Preston are also fun.
New York I love downtown, from 14th to Grand Street. I picked up an English railroad-station bench at Niall Smith (96 Grand St., 212/941-7354; 344 Bleecker St., 212/255-0660). H. M. Luther Antiques has a shop in the Carlyle Hotel, but few people uptown know about his less expensive one in the Village (61 E. 11th St.; 212/505-1485).
Dallas I just bought some 19th-century French crystal glasses from a good shop called East & Orient Co. (1123 Slocum St.; 214/741-1191). It's very sophisticated stuff, not necessarily indigenous to the area.

Where to Eat?Ask My Friends

I always rely on recommendations, especially when I travel. Here's what three of my friends have to say.
Oatsie Charles Washington, D.C. Mr. K's is an elegant Chinese restaurant (2121 K St. NW; 202/331-8868; dinner for two $50); Café Milano is quite jolly (3251 Prospect St. NW; 202/333-6183; dinner for two $70); and La Femme in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is just wonderful (7101 Brookville Rd.; 301/986-5255; dinner for two $80). I know Willie would love it.
Alyne Massey Nashville Quails Restaurant has light European food and small portions -- then again, I wonder if Bill would like it (4936 Thoroughbred Lane, Brentwood; 615/376-2799; dinner for two $100). And I can't forget Sperry's! Everyone loves Sperry's (5109 Harding Rd.; 615/353-0809; dinner for two $50).
Shelby Marcus Dallas Sleek new La Valentina (14866 Montfort Dr.; 972/726-0202; dinner for two $60) serves the kind of food you really get in Mexico -- I absolutely adore it. Going Gourmet is a little French-Italian bistro in a strip shopping center (4345 W. Northwest Hwy.; 214/350-6135; dinner for two $30). You have to take your own wine, which can be fun. Love the owner's accent.

Lake Tahoe

The natural grandeur of it is breathtaking: a navy blue lake surrounded by mountains. I've been there six times, first to present a fashion show, and then returning to do benefits to help clean up the lake.

Ordinarily I prefer hotels, but at a place like Tahoe it's better to stay with someone. You meet more people, and there's nothing like taking a vintage Chris-Craft to dinner at another lodge. Tahoe may be predictably wealthy-- the houses are compounds, reminders of another time-- but it's more relaxed than Pebble Beach or Santa Barbara. I find that America's wonderful honky-tonk feeling is never far away, even in Southampton or Palm Beach. But here it's more modest and rustic. The rich poke around the flea markets with everybody else.


Miami It's not half as sexy as everyone says it is. Just more sexually competitive. Traveling alone I'm happy to be by myself during the day, but I always want to end up meeting someone for dinner or a drink.
Savannah The city has its charms, but it's no garden of good and evil. Try Charleston instead.

Five Favorite Hotels

Here are the ones I return to again and again:
Mansion on Turtle Creek 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas; 800/527-5432 or 214/559-2100, fax 214/528-4187; doubles from $340. Ever since Mrs. Hunt established this restaurant and hotel -- she must be the preeminent American hotelier of our time -- the Mansion's had a personal atmosphere. You can see her stamp on it.
Four Seasons Hotel Chicago 120 E. Delaware Place, Chicago; 800/332-3442 or 312/280-8800, fax 312/280-7585; doubles from $395. A truly modern hotel for the city that's perhaps the most modern in America. There's nothing nostalgic here. It has the energy and vitality of Chicago now.
Hotel Bel-Air 701 Stone Canyon Rd., Los Angeles; 800/648-4097 or 310/472-1211, fax 310/476-5890; doubles from $350. If any hotel has the essence of Hollywood in its heyday, this is the one. It feels as if it's in the country -- which of course we know it's not. And that's to say nothing of the fantastic way it's managed.
Luxury Collection Hotel ITT Sheraton (formerly the Ritz-Carlton) 2100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.; 800/325-3589 or 202/293-2100, fax 202/293-0641; doubles from $295. For the past 20 years, I've stayed there every time I've been in D.C. They pay the most attention to me, and they always remember to give me the same suite. I love the fabulous bar, and the restaurant -- the old Jockey Club. You know you'll run into whoever's in town, no matter which party's in power.
Inn of the Anasazi 113 Washington Ave., Santa Fe; 800/688-8100 or 505/988-3030, fax 505/988-3277; doubles from $239. If you want to stay in an upscale version of the typical Santa Fe hotel -- cactus, candles, carved wood -- this is it.

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