Veteran fashion designer Babette Pinsky has made quite the name for herself in San Francisco and beyond since launching her line in 1968 and becoming known for the array of artfully-crafted pleated coats and polished, yet relaxed separates available in her Babette boutiques. Now her success is going beyond the style realm. Named by The San Francisco Business Times as one of the 100 Top Women Owned Businesses in the Bay Area this year, Pinsky has a new book out – and lots to say about the fashion industry. Read on for our recent chat with this San Francisco entrepreneur.
A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York where she majored in coats and suits, Pinsky has made it a point not to follow popular trends, but instead to opt for wearable women’s pieces featuring Babette’s signature pleats. Her formula has proven such a success that Babette now has 8 stores open nationwide in 7 different states, though she continues to produce her line in her expansive West Oakland factory. San Franciscans can view her collections at her Sutter Street boutique in downtown San Francisco.
Now, after 40+ years in the fashion biz, Pinsky recently self-published her book, Babette – Designing a Vision, and was tapped as one of the 100 Top Women Owned Businesses in the Bay Area by The San Francisco Business Times.
Pinsky took a break from her hectic day-to-day to give us the scoop on how Babette Inc. came to be, her journey to get where she is today, her love of art and what every San Francisco woman should have in her closet.
How did you get your start in the fashion industry?
I always wanted to work fashion. It was the only thing ever wanted to do, so it was an easy and obvious decision. I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and after school got one job after another and even worked in Europe for a while. I eventually came to the West Coast and got a real fashion job as a coat designer, which was what I specialized in at FIT. I worked for four years designing coats and square dance dresses, which was what my boss and the owner designed. Then, in 1968 I opened my own store and started my own line.
How does it feel to be a part of the 100 Top Women Owned Businesses in the Bay Area? Can you tell us a little bit about the journey to get here?
Well, great, of course. There is no question about that. Although I never really thought of myself as a women-owned business. I just went into business because it was I what I wanted to do. I worked hard at it, and it continued to evolve and I just did it and didn’t think anything of it. As I went along I did notice certain advantages to being a woman that have helped Babette evolve into what I have now, such as people are willing to buy from you first. I am really proud of what I have created.
What kind of woman wears items from Babette? Can you describe her?
We always keep her in mind. She is about 45-years-old, works and has a family. She loves to travel for work and for pleasure. She is probably a professional woman and is married to another professional, successful person. She enjoys going to art museums, the movies and dinners as forms of entertainment. She is generally in the middle to upper income bracket. She is of an average figure, typically size 8-10, not too tall and not too short. She is definitely someone who has a little bit of an artistic bent and is not afraid of making a statement. She is simple, but quite artistic. She is not a wallflower and is not afraid of being seen and being complimented on her clothes.
What are you inspired by when creating pieces for your line? Do you look to anything in particular for inspiration?
Design is an evolutionary process….For me part of the process of design as it changes and evolves is maintaining a sense of style but changing things so that they are new and different. With each new collection I draw inspiration from previous collections, but I like to change, recreate and reinvent with color direction, texture, theme and create something else that is completely altogether new on top of it.
What are your favorite fabrics to work with?
That is an ever changing thing for me right now. I am currently very interested in working with soft, drapey and liquidy fabrics. Not chiffony, but fabrics that are slow when you move, that almost create a feeling of water. That is what I am interested now, but that doesn’t mean I will be tomorrow.
When you’re not designing and creating, what else do you do?
I am very much like the woman I describe who wears my clothing. There is a big emphasis on art in my life. I enjoy art exhibits and art galleries. My husband and I collect art and, wherever we travel, to we like to see what is going on in the local art scene and look for special pieces to add to our collection. That is usually what gets us most excited, other than our work. And of course, going to dinner, spending time with friends and going to the movies.
How would you describe the Babette aesthetic?
As far as the stores, the collection and the advertising, it all goes together. We try to keep the stores very simple and let the clothes tell the story….In my displays, I almost always don’t add accessories. I really like the clothes to speak for themselves. In my collections, I use a lot of texture and pleating.
What are three things every San Francisco woman should have in her closet right now?
A pair of great jeans are a must. As far as from my own collection, I think a classic pleated white shirt is a great staple, as well as some kind of fabulous and interesting coat or jacket. Not a suit jacket, but a coat or jacket that has color, detail and texture. One that is versatile and can go over jeans, black pants, just about anything.
What new and exciting things are you working on at Babette?
Right now I am working on next Fall 2012 collection, which will come about about a year from now. That is really where my mind is at. As far as the business side of things, we are in a sort of holding pattern, at a cross roads in growth. It is reflective time, which feels really good.
Photography courtesy of Babette