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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21 comments

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

I was gene Ewing’s employee before 1990.
The last time I visited her at Santa Monica
Was feb/2020. Very sad to hear that.

Louisa cheng

I was gene Ewing’s employee before 1990.
The last time I visited her at Santa Monica
Was feb/2020. Very sad to hear that.

Louisa cheng

ah, Gene Ewing. My first job right out of FIDM was to work as her sample cutter in the design room. The designer there at the time was Susan Hagen and she was very talented. Gene oversaw all the design. She and her husband had massive drug feuled fights and drank champagne along with it. She was a terror to work for. After a year, I quit on my lunch hour after securing a design job and never went back. She sent the cops to my house after she accused me of stealing her patterns and designs. ( WOW ) .. I went on to have a major career and learned a lot …

m.m

Thanks for posting this. Funny enough i just found the same exact skirt you posted! I was trying to find more info. Though the tags look new i knew it was a vintage Score. Havent looked up prices yet but glad to learn some info! And cool the ladies here worked for her!

April

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