I don’t like modern things. They’re cold.” Barbara Hulanicki!
BIBA was a clothing label created by Polish designer Barbara Hulanicki and her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon in 1963 in London. What started as a small mail order business, soon turned into a cult brand in 1964, one of her dresses (a pink gingham number in the style of Bridget Bardot) was featured in the Daily Mirror; After that, business boomed. The shop eventually became too small for the masses of customers - who often included celebrities (such as Sonny & Cher, Julie Christie & model Twiggy) and in 1965 a new space was discovered, a former grocery store on Kensington High street (numbers 124-126)
(I'll have more specifically about her in a featured 'Wonder Woman' Post soon!)
*The Decadent Nostalgia Look*
Biba was basically a clothing line for women such as many others, but it became most famous and that churned into mania. Why is that? Because the difference between Biba and other clothing lines was the complete concept: the whole success of this super empire depends on the taste and flair of one person. It was run like small businesses are...with only one person in charge, one person approving everything. Everything was personally chosen and approved by Hulanicki herself, who had a flair for combining retrophilia & decadent nostalgia - which ranged from Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Victoriana and Hollywood glamour. The pointlessly beautiful, the sexiness of it all. Upon entering the BIBA store, was entering a fantasy, another world, going back in time, a place to be separated from real life. The Biba style was characterized by it's Art Deco gilded logo and included maxi coats, feather boas, dusky colours, velvet and satin gowns, Art Nouveau prints, platform shoes and much more, I could go on and on about the BIBA style for a long time!
Anxious to expand their dream, Hulanicki and Fitz-Simon found a much larger vacant building on Kensington High street in 1971, it was formerly known as Derry & Tom's department store. What had begun as a tiny boutique with one dress available - in one size evolved into a fully fledged department store, with thousands of products bearing the official Biba stamp within a decade. Biba had turned into a complete lifestyle.
The new building was like twenty times the size of the current shop and was called Big Biba. Whitmore and Thomas were the designers chosen to work on the new store and to expand the image of Biba. The main idea was Art Nouveau but they added the kitsch touch. The seven-department store was like a theme park devoted to elegantly wasted decadence. This place was not just to be somewhere for people to shop, but a place for people to live. It also included roof gardens that are still there today.
The fabulously Art Deco room dubbed, 'The Rainbow Room', this was where legendary performances were held, the New York Dolls being amongst those performers.
The fall and decay of Biba happened for several reasons. First, all of the changes to the managing group and of course the economy in Britain didn't help, but I think it would have happened eventually as sometimes dreams don't last forever & with the changing styles and people, things always go in and out of fashion as quick as one blinks. Big Biba was a huge responsibility in terms of expense and organisation but Hulanicki and Fitz felt they needed to keep moving forward. And 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 & they eventually proved too much for these two. After disagreements with the board over creative control, Hulanicki left the comp[any and shortly afterwards in 1975, Biba closed. There have been several relaunches of the brand over the years, including one in 2006 under designer Bella Freud, which has not been a success. The latest attempts were by British chain House of Fraser in 2009, which has been highly successful, you can view the line on their website.