"I love old things. Modern things are so cold. I need things that have lived." (Barbara Hulanicki of Biba)
‘The Biba Look’ was ‘fresh little foals with long legs, bright faces and round dolly eyes.’ Barbara Hulanicki described her customers as ‘postwar babies who had been deprived of nourishing protein in childhood and grew up into beautiful skinny people: a designer's dream. It didn’t take much for them to look outstanding.'Barbara Hulanicki started small, selling just a handful of simple designs through her mail-order business. The popularity of a particular pink gingham dress, allowed Barbara to open the first Biba in 1964. The boutique and fashion scene in London was centered on Chelsea’s Kings Road until Biba opened in Kensington.
The Biba shop was a dreamy, hazily lit Aladdin’s Cave where clothes were stacked on antique vanity tables or hung from crooked wooden hat racks. Feathers were stuffed in art nouveau vases and tons of beads, sequins, and Lurex glittered in shadowy corners of the store.
The succession of larger and larger Biba boutiques stayed in the area, culminating with the 1974 “Big Biba” which consisted of an entire department store on Kensington High Street. Spread over seven floors, the shop on High Street Kensington was one of the UK's first big lifestyle stores. There were different departments, and each floor had its own theme, such as a children's floor, a floor for men, a book store, a food market, and a "home" floor which sold items such as wallpaper, paint, cutlery, soft furnishings and even statues. The store had an Art Deco-interior evocative of the Golden Age of Hollywood with its crowning glory being "The Rainbow Restaurant", which was located on the fifth floor of the department store. Big Biba was a huge responsibility in terms of expense and organization. Because of this massive undertaking, Hulanicki said, "Every time I went into the shop, I was afraid it would be for the last time." No one was aware of how serious the financial difficulties were going to be - and they in fact proved too much for the new entrepreneurs. After disagreements with the Board over creative control, Hulanicki left the company and, shortly afterwards in 1975, Biba was closed.
Today, Biba is a very sought after brand on the vintage market (despite never being expensive in its day or even particularly well made).
Biba was more than a trend. Biba sold a total look-clothing, handbags, shoes, hats, makeup, and jewelry-all at inexpensive prices. A girl could go into Biba and buy a pair of shoes, a dress, and hat for the same price of one Mary Quant dress.
Signature Biba Elements:
-Button detailing, as long rows of covered buttons on cuffs or at the neck
-Droopy low-cut necklines with ties
-Funnel collars with buttons
-Bias cutting on long dresses
-Allover small prints
-Colored fake-fur shrugs and tippets
-Maxi-length double-breasted trench coats
Closing of "Big Biba" 1975
(Images: Sarah Moon and James Wedge. Dressing Up Vintage, Boutique: a 60s Cultural Phenomenon, Vintage Fashion, The Biba Experience, Inside the Most Beautiful Store in the World: Welcome to Big Biba)