Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Viva BiBa!

 A couple of weeks ago, Mr. E decided we should take advantage of  'the last nice weather before winter' with a long weekend on the Monterey Peninsula. So we spent a couple of nights at The Gosby House along the main drag of historic Pacific Grove. On our last morning there i got up, got it together, got mobilized, and headed out to check out the small boutique Nest - just a couple of blocks away from our lodgings.

Well, for one reason or another Nest didn't open at the posted time. Not one to waste a beautiful morning, i walked around the block. A friendly open door flanked by two huge plate glass windows drew me into BiBa. I immediately was drawn to the space, the art, the clothing and asked the lady working there if she minded if i took some pictures. She asked why, i said 'I have a blog......', and one thing led to another. I departed almost an hour later with marvelous pictures, a lot of new, fascinating information about the women's clothing business, and the story of a powerful friendship.

As a blogger, i really appreciate the opportunity to share thoughts, events, places, with my readers. Blogging is a great way to do this, to keep in touch with like minds all over the world.  And 99% of the time, i am fine with blogging as a way to do this. But the time i spent in BiBa was different - i can't tell you how much i missed all of you when i was there, how often i felt frustrated that at least a few of you couldn't be there with me - to see the space and the clothing, sure, but even more to be able to speak with Mona Kelly, a manager and buyer for BiBa. I hope this post, and the one to follow, gives you at least a taste of what my visit was like.

All of us have read and heard about the 'small, highly edited, flexible wardrobe' composed of 'Clean & Contemporary European-style Fashions and Accessories'. Well, that last line is printed on BiBa's business cards and concisely describes their philosophy. They stock up to date, functional, every day wear for the professional woman on the go. Nothing fussy, nothing musty, and most importantly pieces that will physically last and carry over style-wise from year to year. This is that fantasy boutique you dream about - you come back anytime, for basics or a focal piece, and they have what you envisioned only better. It's on trend but not at all "trendy", and blends seamlessly with your existing wardrobe. Even nicer, you won't see yourself coming and going.

Here's an example. Look at how this table is laid out - each piece has something special about it, but is in no way over the top. Choose any top and any bottom from this table for a great look with no drama. Choose any one piece for a slick update to your current wardrobe. Take those Not Your Daughter's Jeans made up in a subtle tone on tone leopard. Pair them with anything you'd wear with regular jeans for a witty take on today's animal print craze. At the same time, it's subtly enough done that you can sport them in future with no worries about embarrassing 'fall 2011' associations. BiBa hits a perfect balance in their individual pieces, and display them in a way that makes shopping make sense.

 Check out the top stitching on the jacket shoulder - subtle details that take a piece from basic to style standouts

This piece is my personal favorite - a silk leopard print scarf with a beautiful cerulean blue accent. The fabric, hem, and print are all high quality. The blue is brilliant - adding color to an animal print makes it very personal as well as flattering (that blue will make brown and blue eyes sing). Animal prints with color are also very current. It's a brilliant way to wear a trend while making a unique personal statement. And buying from BiBa gives you another way to remain unique - they only buy five of each piece. They also feature brands from the UK and Canada not generally found here in the USA. In fact, i often thought of Smoking Lily and Sheila of Ephemera during my visit.

Buyer Mona Kelly looking effortlessly chic in a four year old frock from Donna, a Canadian company

How did this magical space come about? I spent at least half an hour speaking with the very generous Mona Kelly, who told me the story of BiBa. BiBa today reflects the style of one woman, and also a friendship. Mona's friend Elise Paton started BiBa about a decade ago to bring Elise's Swedish style sensibility to the Monterey coast. Very clean, modern, unique, well thought out design and good, lasting quality were the touchstones of Elise's vision. Meanwhile, Mona had sold her restaurant and was looking for what next to do with her days. As these things unfold, Mona began working a few shifts at BiBa, part time.

As time went on Elise Paton began to mentor Mona Kelly. Slowly but surely, Elise tutored Mona on style and the clothing business. First, Mona learned how to put together an outfit - for display and for particular clients. (As an aside, today Mona exudes effortless chic. She is the last person you would think had to learn one thing about personal style. I like to think this means there is hope for anyone!) Then Elise brought Mona along on buying trips. Mona also learned about quality and how to tell which garments will last - she remembers Elise turning pieces inside out, examining the fabric and construction, tugging on the seams.

 Beautiful, spacious dressing area. Who wouldn't feel gorgeous in these artistic surroundings?

Over the years, Mona and Elise grew closer as friends as well as professionally, Mona learning more and more from her mentor Elise. A little over three years ago, Elise became very sick pretty quickly. This November is the third anniversary of her death. Now, as Mona buys for BiBa she strives to keep it true to Elise's vision. She is proud to say that her clients let her know she is succeeding in respecting Elise's vision. It was really moving to hear Mona recalling her friend Elise, Elise's vision, style, her focus on the practicalities and how Elise expressed all in BiBa. Mona's love and respect of Elise and her accomplishments shone through. I felt so fortunate that Mona shared this part of her life with me.

 BiBa's superb curation
 it's hard to create an awkward outfit when the selection you choose from is this well thought out

As it happens, my timing in visiting BiBa was excellent (thank you Mr. Eccentric!). BiBa honors Elise Paton's vision and continues it in a way that makes sense today. True style evolves, so BiBa continues to change as well. A couple of weeks ago, sparked by Pacific Grove's Friday Night Art Walk, BiBa clients approached Mona with worried faces, concerned that this treasure trove of reliable closet upgrades was - gasp! - changing direction. If true, customers had some serious research to do!

Well, it's not true. BiBa will continue to be the place for clean, contemporary, European-style fashion and accessories. But you will be able to find something a little more - luxurious, unique, colorful, artistic.....something that explains why in the world i kept thinking of Sheila, of all bloggers, as i took photo after's a hint:

Coming up, a special 'Featured Artist' exhibit at BiBa!

Clean & Contemporary European-style Fashions and Accessories
211 Forest Avenue
Pacific Grove, CA 93950


  1. I love this post! I feel like I was there! Great job of on the scene reporting and observations!!

  2. (blushing) Quite the compliment coming from a journalism teacher!!! Pam, you have made my day! (big hug) steph

  3. This shop is beautiful and I appreciate your tour/history. So many times on my trip to NYC I wanted to have my blogger friends along, to share the cozy boutiques, and consignment shops. It's more fun to share, isn't it?

    I do love your favorite scarf too. It would be perfect on you with your coloring and your style vibe.

  4. Aw, thank you for thinking of me! I do love the artsy and unique - and this store looks like a wonderful one for exploring! I adore details like the stitching on that jacket and out-of-the-ordinary patterns like leopard jeans (WANT).

    But OOH, what is that green patterned thingy? Scarf? It reminds me of Smoking Lily very much.

  5. Patti, it's so fun to hear you feel the same way at those times! but not surprising :) actually, with your coloring and hair that scarf would be a hit on you, too!

    oh ho ho, Sheila! you ain't seen nuthin' yet! you are going to FLIP!!!!!

    heeheehee, i love surprises!

    Take care all, steph

  6. Hello there,
    Thank you for writing this piece. I am Elise Paton's daughter, and it was so lovely to hear and see that my mom's voice and story continues to travel. BiBa had been in the making for decades, seemingly something she had wanted to do since birth, and something in which she was innately good...reading and connecting with people. She used to send out of town guests home with boxes of clothes and said "just mail them back if you don't like them", and had a colorful way of letting you know if something did not fit just right in her thick Swedish accent.
    We feel blessed that her friends have continued to honor the subtle nuances of what makes BiBa special, and there is no doubt that if my mom's soul were to rest would be there.

  7. oh Chandra, thank you so much for taking the time to read this piece and leave your very kind words. BiBa is still a remarkable and unique place, and Mona was wonderful at bringing Elise and her passion to life for me.

    Speaking of innately talented mother is an insanely good cook, loves food, and needs to hear about your blog STAT! persimmons, no less! Thank you again and i hope you have a lovely week, steph

  8. The items in the shop definitely have a Scandinavian sensibility to them; it reminds me of some of the shops I went to in Copenhagen and Malmo. What a great excuse for a road trip!