Sunday, 3 April 2011

Biba Fever!

No , no not  JB and his uber tight purple skinnies and sidesweep. In the spirit of everything seventies, Haute-fly is giving the nod to style pioneer Barbara Hulanicki and her breakthrough brand, Biba. Ladies, this is the woman who brought you make-up testers, changing rooms and high street fashion itself.

Polish born yet Brighton bred, the young Hulanicki - having briefly been brought up in Jerusalem - was drawn to the visual arts from a very young age. The ever stylish artisan with her set blonde bob and bold black sunnies reveals," You had to really draw, that was a way of amusing yourself."

In 2011, fashion seeps through both the streets and stylish stores, yet in the austere 1950s, fashion and design was a road less travelled. Speaking in her soft yet well spoken voice, Halunicki talks of the prejudice towards fashion designers, "At the Arts' school they really looked down on fashion students. They would say,' Oh you're one of those! We won't bother with you!'"

By the late fifties the fashion scene was absolutely desperate. Hulanicki had talents and ideas and was one of  the first to tap into the teenage psyche and create brand Biba, whilst Justin was still a twinkle in his dad's eye. "There was this huge markets of 16, 17 and 18 year olds who were desperate to get clothes - You had this money in your hand, but there waas nothing to buy." A true life Pretty Woman tale. So with just a PO BOX address, Hulanucki's dress design was picked for a feature in a national newspaper. The famous pink gingham dress design sold to 17, 000  in just one size. Hulanicki resonates the moment, " Steven [ Hulanicki's husband and business partner Steven Fitz-Simon ] came round the corner from our post box dragging two huge sacks full of orders and grinning like a cheshire cat!"

The Biba look was very much a pale palette with dark lips. This aesthetic resonated the 1930s and perhaps a reference to Hulanicki's war-torn childhood. Refering to her customers as " post-war babies who had been deprived of the nourishing protein in childhood grew up into beautiful skinny people - a designer's dream!"

The first boutique was a beautiful chemist shop, then the brand moved to a colonial grocer's shop which in turn later developed into the Derry ad Tom's department store in 1974. It had a million customers a week - including the likes of  The Rolling Stones and The Beatles - and housed an impressive children's floor, book store, a food market, The Rainbow Restaurant and a roof top garden.

 It was a case of Ready, Steady, Go! as the average London girl could access the same look as The Queen of Mods, Cathy McGoven whilst being served by then employer and fashionista Anna Wintour. Biba was the first to set a standard for brand marketing and the first high street store to create a look for itself. Sixties supermodel, Twiggy once said of Barbara and her brand, " She gave us high street fashion. We didn't have it before."

With young people being the key client and being born in the context of the youth culture of the 60s and 70s, it was seen as a rebel with a cause. Reflecting back on the early days , Hulanicki fondly speaks of the spirits of the store in the early days, " If you kept the energy within the 4 walls... it was like a club with no name above the door. It was very underground." Women and girls alike would come into the store early morning and sample the delights laid out for them on the make-up counter - and after work slip into the cubby hole whch was the make-up shift changing room - whilst both boyfriends and The Stones sat nearby.

Yet in 1975, Hulanicki shut the store doors for the final time. Many brands may have gone beyond Biba today but there will always be the blueprint to treasure. With a colloboration with TOPSHOP in 2009, Hulanicki has since set her pencil to paper - wallpaper- with Habitat and ASDA. In October 2010, House of Fraser re-launched the label with more a  high end than high street price tag. Haute-fly hopes her designs will pop up into our high street stores once more. Never say never!

Biba House of Fraser

Barbara Hulanicki

Barbara Hulanicki ASDA


  1. Lovely post. Great blog

    x FashionFifth

  2. Great post!
    and nice pics:)

  3. Very nice blog dear *
    Come to me:

    : *

  4. las fotos son muy bonitas,
    me gusta mucho el blog!!


  5. Lovely post <3
    Love the pictures :)

  6. I love this collection and the nostalgic feel to it all. If only we could have been around back then! Lovely post. xx

  7. Fascinating! Glad I found your blog.

  8. Thanks for your comment on my blog!

    And thank you for this post, i didn´t know some of this information a about Biba.

    Following you back!