Tuesday, 15 May 2012



Barbara Hulanicki, creator of the much-loved & legendary BIBA brand, was born in Warsaw to Polish parents in 1936.

After the murder of her father in Palestine by a terrorist movement, Barbara, her mother & her sisters, fled to England.

Little is said about Barbara up until her study art at Brighton School of Art, now the University of Brighton Faculty of Arts. After graduation, Barbara became a freelance fashion artist for a variety of magazines. It was in 1961, when she married ‘Fitz’, BIBA's co-founder. He often suggested that they should set up a little fashion business, where Barbara would design garments that they could sell by post. It wasn't until 1964, however,that
they hit gold & launched BIBA...

The couple often stressed that they felt the price of designer goods were far too highly priced & not very affordable for the current climate at the time. They began to promote a"use for a while, throw away and buy more" marketing philosophy for BIBA, which became a huge success. I suppose that strategy has been adopted by high-street chains like Primark?

One of their first designs to be sold was a pink gingham dress. The dress appeared to have a celebrity appeal & following, as a very similar dress had been seen worn by 60s starlet & pouting sex symbol Brigitte Bardot. A soon as the morning after, the little gingham dress was advertised in the 'Daily Mirror'. This ginghambeauty had received over 4,000 orders that day!

The first store in Abingdon Road, Kensington, was opened in September 1964...


The distinctive 'Biba Look' became apparent to all. Hulanicki often referred to her target clientele as being:

"Fresh little foals with long legs, bright faces and round dolly eyes... 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."

BIBA's clientele consisted mostly of females, teenagers or twenty year olds, all who who wanted to have clothes that looked good on them & weren't like any other. Twiggy, 1960s fashion model & icon has often said that there was such a black & white, either or thing going on in fashion before BIBA was invented- that is was either children's clothes or women clothes & that there was no in between for teenage girls. That's where BIBA filled the gap like no other...

Ask any BIBA girl of the good ol' days & she will tell you how she remembers the rather silly notion that women over thirty years old were considered old & if seen in a BIBA store, were frowned upon, left to feel isolated. This feeling was too described by the younger generation of teenage girls when they entered other stores of the time.

The Biba look was very distinctive & rather different for its time. Think of the stunning, simplistic, yet stunningly decorative Art Nouveau era of the 1920s, meets 1960s dolly-chique! Hulanicki referred to the colours she used as "Auntie Colours" - a mix of blackish mulberries, blueberries, rusts and plums. Biba smocks were said to have been awfully uncomfortable & irritatingly itchy, stopping women’s arms from bending - yet this was obviously something that couldn't deter the BIBA buyer!

Whenever I look at BIBA style, to me it seems like the brand was almost a 'uniform' of the era. The beauty of the brand was not only did you have a wide variety of colours & styles to chose from, but unlike any other store of the time, you could always purchase accessories & cosmetics from BIBA to match! How wonderful?Miniskirts, the style staple of the time & the defining piece, itself, solely recognisable as the 1960s, were causing a big scene & uproar of their of their own. Although it was the quintessential, 60s girl, Mary Quant, who is known to be the first British designer to show the mini skirt, BIBA was the first it exhibit & sell it on the high street.

BIBA make-up counter in-store...
BIBA make-up...
BIBA make-up...
A scan of an original BIBA drawing that was to be found either as instructions
with a product of at the back of their mail-order catalogue!
BIBA's trademark staples as seen in their catalogues. Simple yet alluring photographs of their models....
It wasn't just their clothing & interiors that made BIBA such a distinctive & instantly recognisable brand, but it was their logo that summed-up all that was BIBA with just one glance, that became emulated by brands everywhere. The logo itself played a large & crucial part in BIBA's success...Black & gold, Egyptian-esque- the colours adorned the logo & seemed to reflect the growing taste in youth for the Art Deco revival of the time. Designed by Antony Little, the aim was to create a look for BIBA's first store, where Little painted the infamous BIBA sign just above the shop opening. Following this, he came-up with the unique idea of blacking-out all the windows which meant that it didn’t allow the store’s interior to receive any sunlight; vital for the BIBA’s dark, mysterious & brooding Art Nouveau chique atmosphere.

BIBA displayed their clothing in a rather unusual manner from the very beginning. They would hang their items on coat stands & since coat stands can not hold a lot of clothes on one stand, many were needed & they filled nearly every corner & inch of each store. BIBA was also the very first high-street store that allowed their customers to try on their makeup before buying it, something which seems very commonplace in many stores & department stores today. This started a trend & BIBA began to discover in no time at all, that women would come into BIBA, before work with no makeup on, apply it in-store & then rush to work! A service that is now offered at all department stores, but at a price, of course...

                                                               The Brand, The Logo...


BIBA began to customise their logo in various ways to embody the specific design of each & all of their different products. Each labels showed the size, colour & price, all resembling something different in style. BIBA was the first brand to set a recognised
standard for 'brand marketing'. It was the first high street store to create a specified & personalised look for itself. A look that is still recognisable to this very day! The BIBA logo was placed on everything from clothes to food, cosmetics to wallpaper & accessories.

Below is some modern-day jewellery that was a part of the BIBA's re-launch:
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                    Below, classic & original BIBA products:

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BIBA never exhibited anything in their shop windows, which is surprising considering their huge success!  They believed that instead, people would be more intrigued & seduced to enter the shop by their captivating store interior seen from outside & to make up their own minds about what to buy & imagine what it would like on themselves first, not that of a lifeless mannequin.

Sadly, after countless disagreements with the BIBA's Board of Executives over creative & artistic brand control, Hulanicki & Fitz left the company. It was shortly afterwards in 1975, that BIBA was closed & the Board began to support a brother company, Dorothy Perkins...

There are many publications & collectors books on BIBA. All can be found in most popular bookstores & online:

Biba: The Biba Experience
'Biba: The Biba Experience'...
Welcome to Big Biba: Inside the Most Beautiful Store in the World [Book]
'Welcome to Big BIBA: Inside
              the Most Beautiful Store in the World'.
                L O V E  L O V E  L O V E...
New Deluxe edition with gold edged pages
Illustrations by Chris Price
by Delisia Howard...
Although gone, to an extent, BIBA is most certainly not forgotten & to me, collectors, fans & 60s savvy individuals, BIBA LIVES! Watch the acclaimed documentary 'Beyond BIBA' A Portrait of Barbara Hulanicki or buy from Amazon or directly from the 'Beyond BIBA' site:





                                           Lots of Love,
                                      Lover-Doll Presley
                                              x TCB x

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