‘Biba‘ label was started by Barbara Hulanicki, a fashion designer and illustrator born in Warsaw in 1936, who moved to England in 1948. Barbara Hulanicki and her husband founded the iconic clothes store Biba.
Hulanicki sold her first designs through a small mail-order business that was featured in the fashion columns of newspapers such as the London Daily Mirror.
In 1964, she opened her first Biba shop. Regarding her designs, she stated “I didn’t want to make clothes for kept women, I wanted to make clothes for people in the street, and Fitz and I always tried to get prices down, down to the bare minimum.”
Biba’s second store in London, the Kensington Church Street boutique, looked like an old apothecary on the outside with the wooden window frames beautifully polished. Inside it was dark with a boudoir type of atmosphere and the clothes hung up on old-fashioned coat racks. The clothes in the beginning were extremely affordable, a dress selling for just a few English pounds and reflecting the sentiments of the fashion conscious teenagers of that era, with soft fabrics that were form fitting, very stylish in that they were not gaudy at all and were also actually extremely comfortable.
Biba did at that time use bright colours also.When designing, Barbara drew inspiration from romantic Victorian and Edwardian fashions, as well as the glamour of the 1920s and 30s. Colours she used were very Autumnal. Bright blues, gold, silver, plum, orchid, mahogany, copper, tobacco, camel, flouncy chiffons with whirls of muted psychedelic colours and bright boas. Many different kinds of fabric were used including satin, crepe, chiffon, metallic, a fabric that looked like soft felt (which had not been seen before).
Her store was a place for ‘groovy’ individuals, with loud music and lavishing decadent interior in a boudoir-meets-Art Nouveau-and-Art Deco style. It became a hangout for artists, film stars and rock musicians, including Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Marianne Faithfull… In the shop, a young clientele bought affordable mini-skirts, floppy felt hats, feather boas and velvet trouser suits (Anna Wintour started in fashion as a Biba employee).
Biba was an aesthetic adventure that was inspired by the flappers that shook American society in the happy twenties. Like them, they say that the Biba Girls smoked, had champagne and, above all, followed Hulanicki’s dictation when dressing. If the Americans had the flappers and the French the garçonnes, in the 60 the English welcomed their own rebellious girls. Hulanicki describes 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.”
After the shop’s 1975 demise, Hulanicki continued working in fashion through specific collaborations for Fiorucci, Cacharel or Topshop. She presently resides in Miami, Florida, where she has an interior-design business.
Biba’s layout was innovative and was set to enhance the clothes rather than just to hold them: The clothes were also displayed in an unusual manner, young girls working there were given a new Biba dress every week, she was also the first store that let customers try makeup before buying it, also Biba never exhibited anything in shop windows, believing instead that people would be intrigued and seduced to enter the shop by their captivating store interior seen from outside.