BIS by Gene Ewing

BIS by Gene Ewing

As a vintage seller with an interest in many decades I come across unfamiliar labels every week. Some pique my curiosity more than others. When I saw this new-to-me label in a denim wrap top, I knew it deserved some digging into. This piece also came with a little provenance from the original owner, and I knew it had been a special purchase when she picked it up on a trip to Paris in the early 80s. 

My initial searches led me to wonder if this could be a line by French designer Dorothee Bis (more on her in a later blog maybe!). But it didn't quite add up. Then, through cross-comparing some other BIS listings I had found online I realized the critical piece of information my label was missing: the designer's name: Gene Ewing! 

ah-hah! This opened up access to a lot more information!

Gene Ewing grew up in North Carolina where her mother had been a hat designer. Her education included time at the Sorbonne in Paris, and an internship at Balenciaga in Spain. She eventually made her way west to New York, then LA and began designing under the Label BIS Gene Ewing with her manufacturing partner and husband (her 4th!) in 1976.

"Her first big success in sports clothes was the prairie skirt." And you can definitely see that western, easy-going So-Cal influence in many of her designs. The label grew through the 80s and by '89 was doing $40 million-a-year in volume. She is quoted as saying "I don't want to do a billion-dollar volume like Liz Claibourne or Ralph Lauren. There comes a point where you have to stop. After $100 million, I couldn't be original anymore. A billion-dollar volume is staggering."

(for the record I share her POV on this, definitely stopping when we, mcgee hits 100 mill. gotta stay fresh)

read more from this story/interview here.

I didn't have much success finding original BIS ads showcasing the clothing, but her pieces come up here and there for resale around the internet. I love Ewing's breezy, feminine designs, and especially her use of denim and corduroy. The quality of construction is fantastic. I would be thrilled to have this jumpsuit, or this red skirt set!

 (skirt image via LadyBirdVintageLA (sold), jumpsuit images via Objects without Meaning (sold), skirt set image via PinnacleVintageCo, (unavailable))

 

So what happened to BIS and Ms. Ewing? That, I haven't yet discovered. I think she has a twitter account though. Thinking of sliding into her DMs. Can you do that on Twitter?
What do you think about the BIS aesthetic?

 

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20 comments

I loved and wore Bis for many many years. I still have six of her fabulous “outfits.”
I found this consignment “shop” when I was thinking it might be time to “ let go.”
However, I realize that is probably not possible as I still love them as much as ever.
Perhaps I will bequeath them to an adoring fan of Gene and her fabulous designs.

Gael J ROSS

I fell in love with Bis many many years ago. I love/loved her whimsical style, colors, and just about everything. I still have most of her clothing and was just trying to decide what to do with it. ( I have not worn in years, but can’t let go.) I found this site in my search to try to decide if I should “resell” it, but it almost seems too sacrilegious! I think I have had most of the clothing for 40 years or more. I am sad to learn of her passing. I am kind of preparing for mine.

Gael Ross

i had a wonderful boutique in hamilton ontario for over 37 years..it was my luck to come across Bis collection in New York on a buying trip…Bis was a tremendously successful collection to be privileged to have in the shop…it was at her offices i met Barbara Harris..part of the Bis team..and we are still friends today..in fact Barbara and i spoke today and guess who we talked about Gene Ewing and Bis..i am going back to the 80’s..

adele

Sorry to hear of Ms.Ewing’s passing.
I grew up in Rockingham N.C.and heard Ms. Ewing’s name from family members several times over the years and that she had become a successful designer.
She went from a small “mill town” in North Carolina to a world famous designer.

Arthur Gregory lll

As I know it Gene had a keen way of embellishing her design resumé. She was indeed a keen business woman and sales person and she relied upon her husband , Bert ,to establish her Bis brand. Bert Sunkin’s company was doing business as Barnaby, Inc. and were manufacturing junior apparel .There was an ownership dispute between the Sunkin brothers at at last Gene found her opportunity to change brand names. The day to day business was conducted under the name Barnaby. It was a struggle for Gene and there were many trade newspaper articles about her bully techniques which helped buyers to shun her brand . But her designs were absolutely stunning ! I cannot include my own observations but perhaps a bit of research can reveal some of the truths revealed by the trade newspapers at that time about 1982 .

David Bauer

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