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

I worked for Gene Ewing Bis ..she personally interviews me & hired me as a sales assistant in her Los Angeles showroom, I was just out of college. It was 1985-86.
I left the company after she didn’t think I had enough experience to be one of her sales executives…but it was the best sales training I could have ever had! I got hired at another contemporary line by designer Maurice Sasson, selling Kikit. After that, on to Leon Max…was quite the decade in fashion!!
She was quite the talented designer…and character! Bottle of champagne opened almost every afternoon in her design room🥂
I still have a few pieces…and am so sad I didn’t save more!!

Lisa

Years ago I hold an amazing collection of Gene Ewing denim, jackets, skirts, tops and even a coat that I absolutely loved. Unfortunately a horrific event took them away from me and I haven’t found anything like her designs for decades. I would love to know if any of her designs are still available somewhere as I would like to purchase some. Is that at all possible, and where would I even begin to look, other than the sites that are selling recycled items? If you know of anything I would love to begin searching and wearing BIS Jean wear again. Thank you…. Nae

Nae Brown

Gene Ewing is one of the greatest American clothing designers of all time—style, fabric, fit, look—Gene Ewing and her BIS line will always be sensational!

Karen D Myers

I fell in love with BIS in the early 1980s and remain so to this day! I am again collecting her fabulous original California sun-washed denim and cotton garments and re-experiencing the same comfort and delight her fanciful designs brought me years earlier!

Karen Myers
Silly; late 70’s and early 80’s I work for a Bis Gene Ewing independent contractor, Bis was somewhat zealous of their production but not so much with their goods, so was able to acquire small fabric bolts leftover. Vividly remember wash out denim, navy blue, red, orange, marine blue, mexican pink and of course, white.

I converted those fabrics into bed covers, trench coats, skirts, etc. Ultimately forced to relocate I get rid of the rest; but a small piece of mexican pink made it to Texas and end up as an apron. You brought me back old buried memories of the good old days in the Fashion Industry. Bis was located in the very heart of the LA fashion district, but do not remember exactly where.💃💃💃

Soco

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