Michaele Vollbracht is a fashion designer and illustrator. He has collaborated with big brands and helmed his own groundbreaking label. In 1980, he was given the Coty American Fashion Critics Award (fashion’s Oscar) and in 1981, Newsweek magazine dubbed him “a fashion comet.”
Vollbracht was born 17 November 1947 in Quincy, Illinois. He attended the Parsons School of Design (now Parsons The New School for Design), where he earned the school’s highest honour, the Golden Thimble Award. He began his career in fashion working as a design assistant for one of New York’s most famous fashion designers, Geoffrey Beene. He later joined the design team of Donald Brooks.
Not completely satisfied as a design assistant, in 1973, he turned to fashion illustration and graphic design. He began working as the in-house illustrator for Henri Bendel. Two years later, he moved to Bloomingdale’s, where he designed the store’s famous Face Bag. It featured a close-up of woman’s face but excluded any branding. Carried daily by thousands of shoppers, the bag became a conversation starter and later a collector’s item. The Face Bag and others he designed are now exhibited in the Smithsonian Design Museum’s Cooper Hewitt Collection
In 1979, Vollbracht launched his own label. Stoutly avoiding the conservative looks of the 1970’s and the beige tones that came with it, Vollbracht’s collection featured full-length patterns in bright colors. It was very well received, earning him the Coty Award. In 1985, after Johnny Carson withdrew financial backing, and Vollbracht unable or unwilling to obtain financing elsewhere, the company folded.
In 1985 he published a book of his illustrations and portraits called Nothing Sacred. In 2000, Rizzoli published a new edition of the book. By 1987 Vollbracht was once again focusing on illustration. His work was being published in the New Yorker and Vogue. The New Yorker named him as one of their top illustrators and they worked together for the next several years.
In 1999, thanks to a longtime friend and mentor, Bill Blass, Vollbracht returned to the world of fashion. In 2003, he became head designer for Bill Blass Limited. However, he only stayed in the position for 4 years, resigning from the label in 2007.
Nowadays, he dedicates most of his time to painting and illustration, with the occasion fashion-related side project. Vollbracht considers himself first and foremost a fashion designer and when asked why he left fashion he explained,
Fashion is my passion. I didn’t leave it; it left me
— Michaele Vollbracht