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

Hi! I found a Gene Ewing jacket at a resale shop and cannot find the name of the style but it’s white with multicolored designs including an eye! It was $9 and I saw people selling her stuff for like hundreds of dollars online, I had no idea!

Ava

Is her husband still running the company? I was her delivery driver back in the 80s. They treated me well while employed with them. Good people, may she rest in peace!!!

Edward Espjnosa

Have a pair of shorts cotton t-shirt fabric with wild embroidery that still is amazing today. I looked for Gene Ewing about 5 years ago online and found little but she is a designer that should have her work archived so much fun! Her best work seemed to reject the typical 80s huge shoulders and oversized fits love her wild men’s colors, fit silhouettes and embroidery

Deborah

is this dorothee skirt suit avaiable

deb rome

You are spot on, Etta “Gene” Ewing was my friend and more. She past away last year (she will be forever missed). Yes I met her when she was at the Copper Building in the fashion district in Los Angeles, on the top floor with 10k sq. feet. Boy she did so much I used to call her “Da Vinci” it made her laugh and smile but it was true. Any questions email me at 61malibu@gmail.com ……

R.O.

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