|Original Bellissima Store, formally called Serena|
Interview With Store Owner And Buyer: Serena
Bellissima is a family run company. Tell me a bit more about that. How and why did you decide to build the company and what was the experience of starting a family run company like?
I had a vision to own a chain of ladies wear stores in my early teens. I felt such joy and confidence when I was well presented. I wanted to share this feeling with more women. Growing up in my family, I felt women are considered insignificant. Too many times I was told girls are useless. When I told my family about my dream they just laughed at me. I graduated from University of British Columbia in 1971. I worked in the Ladies wear department at Robert Simpson's in Toronto. The interviewer asked me at the time why a university graduate would want to be a salesgirl. I told her "I'm going to own a chain of ladies wear stores one day. I have to start some place to gain experience". She also laughed at me all the time. I guess this was not the first time she had heard this. I finally had the opportunity to venture into my own business in 1973. I had a failed attempt as an importer. Collecting money was a major problem. My husband and I decided to venture into retail. Our first store was opened in May of 1975. I have been living my dream ever since.
What has been Bellissima’s greatest success?
Bellissima's greatest success is the team of great women and men working in the company. We have such passion for fashion and to make our customers look great. We are proud of our products. We also have many local customers.
I know you do the buying for your own stores. Tell me a bit about this experience. How do you decide what to buy? How do you find brands that fit the Bellissima aesthetic?
Over the years I have worked with numerous suppliers, I tried to find lines with good workmanship and fit, and also suppliers that will stand behind their products. Every line depends on their designer, merchandiser, pattern maker and quality control. Any slip in any of these departments will effect the selling of the line. This is why I change my lines constantly, but my focus is the same. I have to find beautifully made clothes with great fit that make a fashion statement. I am always looking for elements of what is interesting at the moment in fashion. The clothes must be accessible to my customers.
What labels do you carry?
Joseph Ribkoff, Frank Lyman, Conrad C Dolcezza. I am constantly trying out new lines and dropping lines that no longer work for our customers.
Bellissima has it’s own, in house label - Who designs for the label and how do you come up with the inspirations for the designs?
We develop our private label by travelling to major cities like Paris, Milan, Rome, London and New York. We spot colour trends and new looks. We like to have merchandise that is exclusive to Bellissima only. Now, we also have our in house designer Vivian Wong, who does her own research to come up with new looks. She was trained in Paris and has been a designer for a lot of boutiques in Vancouver. Her designs are doing very well in our stores, and they are all made in Vancouver.
What trends can we expect to see at Bellissima for S/S?
Bellissima means Beautiful in Italian. We want to emphasize the femininity of the female body. We are proud of our assets and our look no matter what our size and age. Colours bring in different energy and vibration to our body. There are lots of vibrant colours and prints this spring.
Why is keeping things local important to Bellissima? How do you keep it local?
My focus is to bring beautiful clothes to our customers. By keeping productions local we can turn around new designs in 1/3 of the time. We are providing local employment and helping the overall economy. We have been doing this for over 20 years.
What are you doing to keep your company current?
I am open to view new lines all the time. We take trips to Europe, New York and Los Angeles a few times a year.
What is your favourite piece in stores right now?
There are too many favourite items in the stores. I am bringing in new looks and new ideas all the time. Different silhouettes suit different body types. Our staff are experts in this area. I love the skinny pant or legging with tunic tops. We are dressing more relaxed these days. Comfort is a major factor. Knit jackets and cardigans are more comfortable than woven jackets. We have knitted co-ordinate looks that are professional looking.
What do you love about working in the fashion industry?
I love working in the fashion industry. I am a visual person and I have a very good visual memory. I am good with forms and shapes; this is the area that I am good at. Fashion is always stimulating and changing, there is never a dull moment. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to assist with women's wardrobes over the years. I hope Bellissima played a small part in their success and happiness.
What inspires your own style?
My own style is from my selections for Bellissima. It is the culmination of my work and passion.