Architect to Knitwear Designer: Bê Khanh Bilzerian
A knitwear designer and women's buyer for Alan Bilzerian. Wife, mother, and grandmother. She grew up in Paris, France studying architecture and pursued a career to design the private label knitwear for her husband today.
G: Here are some simple questions to get to know you. Where have you live most of your life?
G: Were your parents creative at all?
Bê: No, my father was an officer and mother was an entrepreneur
G: What got you into fashion?
Bê: It was more about necessity because I studied architecture. Growing up, my brother and sister-in-law were designing many collections. Emanuelle Khanh, Quasar Khanh were famous designers in the 60s. To participate in the family business I was designing sweaters. We had a creative design studio in Paris and did designs for 20 different collections. We designed for Missoni, Cacherel... so to help the family during my time off from class I was spending weekends being their assistant. They asked me to design knitwear. With knitwear you have to spend time at the factory so they would send me to Italy to follow up on the collections. I would go there for 1-2 weeks at a time for the samples. So I got really good at it during those 2 years for technical and design knowledge. One of the people making collections for us asked my family if they could hire me to design a collection on my own in Italy. It snowballed into designing for Ferucci and they asked me to come back to Italy. At one point I was living in NY for a year and I went back to create a design studio and I hired about 20 design assistants from London’s Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins and that design studio was created to supervise the development of fabric so we we were doing collections as well as research on textiles. I was working on the fashion side and with the architecture group. Then of course I stopped doing architecture. There was so much to do in fashion. Then I got even deeper into knitwear and then Brunello Cucinelli came here to Boston and asked me to design for him and that was for 10 years.
G: Do you ever miss practicing architecture instead of fashion?
Bê: Architecture is always with me. Most famous photographers, fashion designers, they all studied architecture. If you are in fashion you have to be interested in architecture and traveling to see it. If you want to be better in what you do, you must study volume, the shape, the light.
G: How did you meet Alan?
Bê: I met Alan when I was living in Paris and I was designing.
G: Is there anyone you admire? You mentioned enjoying Frank Lloyd Wright’s work?
Bê: I don’t admire him as a person… he was vain. But I kind of like that he was arrogant. You need that in order to be confident in your designs. Learn how to go for it.
G: Is there anyone in your own life you admire?
Bê: I admire my close friends that go through life with grace. Not so much for movie stars or musicians, more for an individual where I want to be that person and respect them. People that are kind. It’s difficult to be a good person; anyone can be bad. People who can be better than me that’s who I admire.
G: Why did you move to the US?
Bê: Because I married Alan
G: What do you love about Boston?
Bê: I love Boston because my family is here.
G: What’s your favorite movie?
Bê: Citizen Kane
G: Instrument you wish you could play?
G: Alan and Harley said the piano!
Bê: It’s true! But I find the saxophone a lot more sexy.
G: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
Bê: Milk Chocolate. All the time.
G: Who is a new designer you support currently?
Bê: Right now?... I have a hard time supporting someone specifically. They are all mixing what I loved from the 70s. They’re all reverting back to what I had already loved, like Comme Des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto. Unfortunately fashion is going through a strange and difficult time. Nothing is original. Everything is more about marketing and creativity is losing itself. The last designer I recall doing anything drastically different is Rick Owens. I think he was brilliant. He has been the only one to recently change how women really dress. Everybody else is putting different skirts on you. It’s not really the philosophy of getting dressed. It’s sad, street fashion that looks thrifted for young people now is clothing for $2000 for a gimmick when it should be more affordable. It’s all screwed up for me. I admire people that do really nice clothing. Very well made with good cuts, good shape, simple. It all goes back to architecture. It reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright he was a genius for that. Simple.
G: What kind of music do you enjoy? Favorite artist?
Bê: I grew up liking Jazz a lot. I’m not too good with rap I don’t understand half the words. I like reggae, country, the Rolling Stones from the 70s, Bob Dylan… I like music very much just not hiphop.
G: Favorite smell?
-Alan Bilzerian walks by-
Alan: Why is that?
Bê: ..Because of my husband.
G: What's your favorite place to travel?
Bê: Everywhere I haven’t been yet. I love the adventure.
G: Favorite museum?
Bê: I like the Maeght Foundation near Saint-Paul de Vence. A gorgeous museum, it has a lot of paintings by Picasso and I like that period. I also like the Louvre. I would like to go to St. Petersburg. I’ve been to a good one in Madrid as well. Any city you go, you want to visit their museum it gives a sense of their culture.
G: What languages can you speak?
Bê: I speak four languages. Vietnamese which I was born with, my education was in French, English, and Italian for my work.
G: Last question. Tell me about your favorite knitwear line you’ve done.
Bê: I have a favorite piece but not necessarily a line. It’s an early piece I did for Cucinelli which was great. I think it was the 80s.. or the 90s and I made a sweater that was so big. I made an oversized sweater that was four times the normal size and it was very successful. And I am still making the same sweater even after 20 years.