London Fashion Umbrella: Biba and Beyond

Hulanicki cosmetics circa 1985, Brighton Museum

Before I lived in London I had never heard of Biba. Now, the legendary fashion mega-boutique that transformed the British High Street, and its founder and designer Barbara Hulanicki, loom large for me in fashion history – and to some degree, in my daily life. Vintage Biba garments always cause some excitement when they come in to the vintage shop I am a buyer for in London – and Biba is even the name of my good friend’s baby daughter!

Biba models, c.1973, photographed by Brian Duffy © Duffy Archives.

If I could travel back in time to the late 1960s in London (as I’m sure you have yourself now and again) I would make a beeline for one of Hulanicki’s Biba boutiques, famed for their lavish interiors and affordable yet stylish clothing and accessories with a retro glamour feel. Today, mega-stores that cater to the young and fashionable with low prices and engaging retail design are de rigeur – but Hulanicki was a pioneer of this concept.  And although her young, trendy designs were within economic reach back in Biba’s heyday – today original Biba garments are highly sought after and cost a few quid more than their original prices at vintage fairs, auctions and shops.

Detail of Biba mail order catalogue 1968-9 © Barbara Hulanicki

My chances of actually stepping back in time to visit Big Biba are pretty much nil – but I am sure to not be disappointed by the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery’s upcoming exhibition Biba and Beyond.  The exhibition will trace the history of Biba and also Hulanicki’s later and current work as a designer, illustrator and architect.

The exhibition opens in Brighton on September 22nd, but you can see a sneak preview and interview with Barbara Hulanicki by Jo-Ann Fortune below. In the clip Hulanicki returns to Brighton where she studied fashion illustration in the 1950s, and talks about her work, the Biba years, and gives her thoughts on fashion today.

Thank you to Jo-Ann Fortune, iCrossing and Lianne Jarrett Associates for the information and images in this post.

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1 Comment

  • Mellissa September 12, 2012 06.45 pm

    I’m so excited to hear about this exhibition. I finally had the opportunity to read the Barbara Hulanicki autobiography recently, and it is such a great story! I was a little disappointed by the documentary, however, and hope that the exhibition can make up for the lost opportunity in this realm…

    Looking forward to your coverage of the show when it opens!


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