It hasn’t been an easy road for Bettina Liano.
The Melbourne designer’s eponymous denim label – known for skinny-leg, low-rise jeans – shot to cult status in the ’90s, before several turbulent years forced it into liquidation in 2011. The Sydney-based fashion conglomerate The Apparel Group (which also acquired Jag and Willow) bought the business in 2012, which ultimately led to Liano’s exit from the label.
“I wasn’t expecting to be cut out of the equation,” says Liano. “I would have settled for a small percentage [of ownership], or even a job.” Her trademarks were not adequately protected, and The Apparel Group acquired the rights to the Bettina Liano name. “What I’ve had to endure is every creative person’s nightmare – there is someone running around with my name.”
The Apparel Group has announced that it’s reviving the “Bettina Liano” label in 2019, and Liano wants to set the record straight. “I want to make it clear for my customers … It’s not part of my design philosophy, it doesn’t have my taste, it’s not coming from my studio, it’s not me.”
Since her departure from the brand she founded, Liano has been focused on returning to design. “I had to go through the motions. The depression, the disappointment, the anxiety,” she says. “I’ve worked really hard, creating a new opportunity to do what I really love.” That opportunity is her own label, BYBL.
The name is an acronym for By Bettina Liano – pronounced “bible”– and is perhaps a nod to the former popularity of her beloved denim. Liano has repeated the same formula as before, but this time brings a heightened commercial awareness and a newfound drive. “I am starting with the classics, because I’ve had so many requests over the years,” she says. “It is literally the same thing again. I am making jeans that fit really well.”
Liano is bringing back two of her original cult styles: the Rodeo jean and the Ace jean. “The Ace jean was [my] first skinny leg [style], I did that in 1991 – and it didn’t sell,” she says. “I put it on the catwalk, and it didn’t sell. Then I put it on sale and it started selling, for the next 20 years.”
Her classic designs have been edited slightly to reflect contemporary trends: the low-rise waistlines have been raised (thankfully) and Liano is exploring wider cuts.
The label will also expand to incorporate branded tees soon, and has long-term plans for a full collection of apparel. “I hope to be able to do more than just jeans,” she says, though is quick to add a caveat: “I don’t necessarily want the huge range. I was producing 130 styles a season before.”
I mention I still have my first pair of Bettina Liano jeans that I bought when I was 12 years old. “It’s because they’re flattering,” she says, unsurprised. “They’re tailored within the millimeter. I don’t compromise – I’m not a perfectionist, but if you’re going to do something, do it well.”
All BYBL jeans are made in Australia from premium European denim. They are currently available to purchase online, and select national stockists will be announced in March.
BYBL will also make its runway debut at VAMFF 2019.
The Apparel Group was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.