DOROTHÉE BIS





French fashion house

Founded: by Jacqueline (designer) and Elie (manufacturer) Jacobson in 1962. Company History: Became known for casual knitwear; opened first Dorothée boutique in Paris, 1958; first Jacqueline Jacobson collection shown and opening of Dorothée Bis boutique, 1962; boutiques found in Henri Bendel and Bloomingdale's, New York; Jacqueline served as set designer for film The Weekend, 2000. Exhibition: VizonShow, Istanbul, 1994. Company Address: 17 rue de Sevres, 75006 Paris, France.

P UBLICATIONS

On DOROTHÉE BIS:

Articles

Snead, Elizabeth, "In Paris, Short Cuts to the '60s," in USA Today, 18October 1990.

"Paris Now," in Women's Wear Daily, 19 October 1990.

Parola, Robert, "Sportscast," in DNR, 25 August 1993.

Parola, Robert, and Catherine Salfino, "Reports," in DNR, 25 August 1993.

Israel, Betsy, "Flash: The Return of Disco Style," in Elle, February 1995.

***

Dorothée Bis, the Paris ready-to-wear house, was founded in 1962 by Jacqueline and Elie Jacobson and quickly and firmly established its now long-standing reputation for unusually stylish and wearable contemporary sportswear, particularly for knits of every variety and description. The jargon of a 1978 Macy's New York advertisement for the firm's clothes sums up the Dorothée Bis look: "Easy fashion with all-over chic appeal. The kind of clothes that you know look right. Anytime, anyplace."

The original boutique, Dorothée, was opened in 1958 by Elie Jacobson. Four years later, along with wife Jacqueline, they opened Dorothée Bis, a new concept in clothing boutiques that catered to young people and employed young people who wore the same clothes as the shoppers. Since then, the firm has been presenting clothes that manifest contemporary trends in a sophisticated and wearable way. Dorothée Bis was among the first houses to present styles such as the long and skinny maxi look in knit coats and vests in the late 1960s, the peasant look in the early 1970s, the layered look in the mid-1970s, and the graphic color block look of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Generally, these looks were presented in a particularly Parisian way, as total ensembles (as opposed to the American idea of mix-and-match), with coordinating accessories—such as a knit dress and coat shown with a hand-knit shawl and beret in the same yarn with matching belt, bag, and fashion jewelry. Materials came from as far away as Nepal, India, and China.

Bernardine Morris, writing for the New York Times, described Dorothée Bis as one of "the quintessential Paris ready-to-wear houses aiming at the young swinging crowd who prefer to change their style every season if not oftener." Indeed, in 1969 and 1970, while the hemline debate was fought by other designers, Jacobson satisfied her customers' shifting desires by giving them the mini, the midi, and the maxi, all in the same collection. By 1972, those debating skirt lengths had reached a momentary consensus at mid-knee, leaving the design agenda open for a new focus on silhouette.

Freed from the hemline discourse, with its implied bourgeois conflict between "appropriateness" and fashion, Jacobson continued enthusaistically to develop her concept of dressing in layers, a look that reflected women's growing liberation and consciousness. The feminist theory of the day proposed that as women entered the workforce in rapidly expanding numbers, and in a wide variety of career options, they would no longer need to seduce men to obtain financial support and would therefore no longer be compelled to wear seductive, figure-revealing clothes. Dorothée Bis' layered look evolved from the skinny knits of 1972-73 to the ethnic layers of the mid-1970s and culminated in the extreme and voluminous layers of 1976-77, in which a typical outfit might consist of a boldly patterned cardigan coat over a belted, striped tunic dress, over a full gathered skirt, over wide-legged or sweat-style trousers, with a knit scarf and hat to match. Although seemingly cumbersome, the look's appeal lay in its ease and comfort and in Jacobson's ability to give it all a Parisian stylishness.

In the 1980s, with the rise of conservatism in culture and politics, there was a return to conventionally body-revealing fashions. Many women began to feel that in their adherence to orthodox feminism, they had abdicated the power inherent in their sexuality, and sought to regain that sense of power through their dress. Dorothée Bis was right in step with this trend with a new focus on dresses, especially in the firm's signature knits. A typical Dorothée Bis outfit of the period, a navy-and-white striped wool knit two-piece dress with deep V-neckline and padded shoulders, was described in a Macy's 1986 advertisement as evidence of "a new body emphasis…curve conscious and deserving of its stripes."

Also during the 1980s, the company created a sports line called Dorotennis, and Christophe Lemaire, who served his apprenticeship under the tutelage of Thierry Mugler and worked later for Yves Saint Laurent and Michel Klein, joined the company as a collaborative designer. He eventually would move on to Jean Patou, where he worked with Christian Lacroix. Klein himself also spent 17 years working with the Dorothée Bis firm. Others who worked with the French firm included K. Jacques, who created models and window designs in the 1950s, and Agnés B., who served as a designer, press attaché, and buyer before 1965.

The company has numerous boutiques throughout France, each with a life-sized rag doll sitting in a chair somewhere on the premises. With the firm's emphasis on its highly adaptable and appealing signature knits, Dorothée Bis has been able to remain at the forefront of stylish and realistic fashion for nearly 40 years.

—Alan E.Rosenberg;

updated by Daryl F.Mallett

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