BIBA, illustrated by Abi Daker
It was the now legendary Barbara Hulanicki that brought Biba into the lives of so many young people. Barbara, with her husband Stephen, had previously run a small mail order company before opening Biba, a small boutique on Abingdon Road, South Kensington, in 1964. It was an instant success and customers flocked to the boutique to buy clothing that was inspired by Art Nouveau and Deco designs, as well as Hollywood glamour of the 1920s and 1930s. The interior of the shop was designed to suit the original and covetable clothes perfectly; it was ornately decorated with beautiful furniture and antiques. Hanging out at the Biba shop was the thing to do, it was the hippest place to be seen and young celebrities of the time such as Twiggy, Julie Christie and Brigitte Bardot were loyal customers.
‘Big Biba’ illustrated by Alia Gargum
Following its quick success, Biba moved to a further two stores but it was in 1973 that it relocated to the Art Deco department store Derry’s and Toms on Kensington High Street. Barbara and Stephen spent £1m on refurbishing the store that became known as ‘Big Biba’. It sold everything that the contemporary household needed and desired, from furniture, food, cosmetics and other household goods, alongside Barbara’s clothing and accessory designs. Behind the scenes, Biba had become a profitable venture and Dorothy Perkins became a large stakeholder when the company was privatised. For Barbara and Stephen, their personal relationship with the brand had soured and they were frustrated with the lack of control that they had over the everyday running of the business. In 1975 the nationwide recession forced Big Biba to close, and the couple relocated abroad.
In 2005, Biba was given new life under the reins of designer Bella Freud. As creative director, Freud and the company who had bought the rights to Biba tried to capitalise on the legacy that Barbara and Stephen had left behind them. Freud’s vision was not well received and the collection was criticised for being over priced, and lacking the spirit that Barbara had instilled in the brand.
Daisy Lowe wears Biba, illustrated by Natasha Thompson
It is now at the hands of House of Fraser that Biba has its third revival. House of Fraser will offer three ranges; Biba, Biba Blue and Biba Boutique. Biba Blue will carry popular denim styles, whereas Biba Boutique will offer limited edition dresses. For this season, bang on trend, there are 11 statement maxi dresses. There will be approximately 160 pieces for the launch, and also available will be jewellery, handbags and scarves. There is a strong contemporary feel to the collection, but sensitivity to the Biba history is clear. The design team at House of Fraser have been busy delving into the archives and sourcing inspiration from original pieces. For this season the collection contains maxi dresses, heavily embellished tops and dresses, metallic colours and sheer panelling. Materials such as velvet, faux fur, marabou feathers and sequins give a nod to the original decadence and Art Deco inspiration of the brand. With an average selling price of £100, House of Fraser aims to avoid the ‘disposable clothing’ concept that Hulanicki championed. This does not mean, however, that the collection should be cast with the same contempt that Freud’s fell victim to. The collection contains some fantastic offerings. Daisy Lowe has been selected as the face of new Biba, and in one marketing shot she coquettishly wraps herself up in the must have piece of the season – the floor length leopard print faux fur coat. Other must have items include a wine coloured velvet maxi dress and a range of marabou feather jackets.
The new collection, illustrated by Jenny Robins
The resurrection of vintage brand Halston shows that with the right creative direction an enterprise like this can be successful. House of Fraser CEO John King spoke recently of the requests he received from American retail giants Macy’s, Saks and Bloomingdale’s about when they were able to place orders for the Biba collection to sell in their department stores. The interest in Biba is mammoth; it always has been. Hulanicki’s capsule collection for Topshop was a huge triumph, but even she has closed the doors on Biba for the foreseeable future. Available to buy in store now, perhaps it will be a case of third time lucky.
Abi Daker, Alia Gargum, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Barbara Hulanicki, Bella Freud, biba, Bloomingdales, boutique, Brigitte Bardot, daisy lowe, Glamour, Hollywood, House of Fraser, Jenny Robins, John King, Julie Christie, Macy's, Natasha Thompson, Saks, South Kensington, twiggy
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