Born November 17, 1947 in Kansas City, Missouri, Michael Vollbracht was a fashion designer, illustrator, author, and designer. I worked with him in 1999 when he was the designer for a retrospective exhibition about American shoe designers Beth and Herbert Levine at the Bata Shoe Museum. Michael was one of those people you wanted at the dinner table – he had fascinating stories about everything and everyone – not mean, gossipy tales, but interesting stories that kept you spellbound. The only people he didn’t speak highly of were Johnny Carson and his third wife, because they yanked financial backing from his business during their divorce at a critical moment that forced Vollbracht into bankruptcy.
From the age of 13 until his business failed in 1985, Michael spelled his first name with an extra ‘e’ (Michaele), just because. He graduated from the Parsons School of Design in 1965, and worked for Geoffrey Beene and Donald Brooks before becoming the in-house illustrator at Henri Bendel and later Bloomingdales where he designed the Marilyn face shopping bag. The bag became famous because it didn’t have the name of Bloomingdales on the bag — the result of a printing oversight.
He founded his own fashion company in 1978 where his clothes became canvasses for his artwork – flowy, caftan-like tops and dresses showcasing bold, graphic designs. His collections were well received and earned him a Coty Award in 1980. After his business folded in 1985, Vollbracht wrote Nothing Sacred, a memoir of New York and the people he knew, from Joan Crawford to Geraldine Stutz. He then concentrated on his artwork and did odd jobs like designing museum exhibitions.
He returned to the world of fashion in 2003 when he became the designer at Bill Blass until 2007. Vollbracht died unexpectedly at his home in Florida June 6.