Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Barbara Hulanicki

My big Sister flew the nest in the mid seventies and headed to London to seek adventure, she left me, her seven year old little sister behind, she returned home often and started telling me wondrous stories about an emporium called BIBA, to me it sounded like Aladdins Cave, full of exotic and beautiful treasures, she often came home bearing gifts from this hallowed place, strings of beads, feather boas, patterned scarves and beautifully packaged eye shadows and lipsticks, all which went lovingly into my dressing up box.

Sadly by the time I flew the nest and headed down to London, BIBA was no longer but thanks to my Sister I have had a lifelong fascination for all things BIBA and it's creator Barbara Hulanicki.

Born in Warsaw in 1936, to Polish parents, after studying at Brighton School of Art, now the University of Brighton Faculty of Arts, Hulanicki won a London Evening Standard competition for beachwear in 1955. She began her career in fashion as a freelance fashion illustrator, working for various magazines, including Vogue, Tatler and Women's Wear Daily.

Hulanicki sold her first designs through a small mail-order business, featured in the fashion columns of newspapers such as the Daily Mirror.  In 1964 she opened her Biba shop in Kensington, with the help of her late husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon.

The shop soon became famous for its stylishly decadent atmosphere and lavish decor inspired by Art Nouveau and Art Deco. It became a hangout for artists film stars and rock musicians, including Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Marianne Faithfull and Cathy McGowan, presenter of Ready Steady Go!, among the regulars. In the shop affordable mini-skirts, floppy felt hats, feather boas, velvet trouser suits and unisex T-shirts dyed in rich, muted colors were eagerly snapped up by a young clientele. Anna Wintour got her start in fashion as a BIBA employee.

The First BIBA store was an Old Chemist shop in Abingdon Road, but by the time it closed it doors in 1976 it had evolved into an elaborate 5-story, Art Deco department store with a restaurant and a roof garden, overlooking High Street Kensington.

The avant-garde BIBA cosmetic brand was being sold in 33 countries across the globe.

BIBA finally closed it's doors in 1976, a victim of corporate raiding before the term had even entered the business vernacular.  But the scene was set, BIBA was the blueprint for a new style of fashion store, shops like Bus Stop and Top Shop started to spring up following the BIBA example.

The BIBA look has now become iconic and a firm favourite for stylists and glossy magazines.


Kate Moss

Gloria Swanson  Edward Steichen

The inspiration for the BIBA look came from the Twenties and Thirties, these two Steichen photographs look as if they could have been part of a BIBA campaign.

Marion Morehouse and Helen Lyons, Edward Steichen
After the closure of Biba, Hulanicki continued to work in the fashion industry, designing for such fashion designers as Fiorucci and Cacharel and for twelve years, from 1980 to 1992, designed a successful line of children's wear, Minirock, licensed to the Japanese market.

From 1990 to 2006, Hulanicki has perhaps had the most impact on Miami Beach through her work for Chris Blackwell and his Island Outpost Group. She twice reconceived the MARLIN Hotel, on Collins Avenue, as well as the CAVALIER Hotel, Ocean Drive, the LESLIE Hotel, Ocean drive, The NETHERLANDS building, Ocean Drive, and the KENT on Collins Avenue. Other Caribbean properties she has designed for Blackwell include the COMPASS POINT Hotel and beach resort in Nassau, Bahamas - which is prominently featured in all the Bahamian Tourist Board television commercials - the PINK SANDS resort on Harbor Island, Bahamas. In 1993 Hulanicki won an award from the American Institute of Architects for her work on the NETHERLANDS, as well as an award from an association of Florida Architects. Hulanicki's other projects have included private luxury homes on Palm Island and Dilido Island in Miami as well as several commercial properties, including the BEACH HOUSES at CORAL SANDS HOTEL on Harbor Island, Bahamas and hotel development for Chris Blackwell's GOLDENEYE in Oracabessa, Jamaica

One of the crowning achievements of Hulanicki's impact can be witnessed in the opening of the Hollywood hit movie "The Birdcage". A sweeping helicopter shot flows over the waves to zero in on the primary location for the film, the Cleveland Hotel on Ocean Drive, which is flanked by no less than four Hulanicki-designed buildings - the Leslie, the Cardozo, the Cavalier and the Netherlands. Additionally, throughout her career, Hulanicki has designed costumes for several stage and film productions, including clothing for Cathy McGowan on the influential live TV rock show "READY STEADY GO" (1964), outfits for Julie Christie in "DARLING" (1965), costumes for local productions in Miami Beach, costumes for old friend and Biba model Twiggy for "CAPTAIN BEAKY" in London's West End and her Royal Command Performance in 1976. From 2001 to 2002 she worked on the Island life Ministore, located in the heart of Miami Beach on Ocean Drive. Hulanicki renovated this unique shop at owner Chris Blackwell's request. Coined as "tropical lux," this lifestyle store contained a large collection of ethnic gift items, music, film, jewelry and accessories from around the world. It also boasted men's, women's and children's apparel custom designed by Hulanicki.

In 2003 she delved back into product and fashion design, with a collection of handbags for Coccinelle, Italy, Wallpapers and Illustrations for Graham and Brown, both of which still retain her to design new collections. She has also designed Wallpaper and textile designs for HABITAT stores in the UK. In 2008 she went back to her roots and designed a fashion collection for TOP SHOP, which included her fashion illustrations used as prints. The Victoria and Albert Museum recently republished her memoirs FROM A TO BIBA and accompanied the book launch with a range of her jewelry and scarf designs. Subsequently her autobiography inspired November Films, an Independent Film Company, to document her life and career in a recently released feature film called BEYOND BIBA.

 To find out more about Barbara Hulanicki and her latest projects visit her at:


Richard Saker 

I was very distressed to find the film documentary 'Beyond Biba' was broadcast on the British Sky Arts Channel on August 17th, can't believe I missed it, that will teach me to remember to look at the TV listings! the book and DVD are going on my wishlist!

Book and DVD available here

Text Sources from Wikipedia and barbarahulanickidesign.com


  1. Wow...
    you know her...
    you post about her...
    it somehow scares me how much interests we have in common...
    I've lived for many years near Warsaw and so I know a lot about polish history, polish designers and...Barbara Hulanicki.
    I've read the autobiography too. I love designer biographies.

  2. again: WONDERFUL post!
    Thank you, I really enjoyed reading it!

  3. Chapeau bas for the painstaking research and scanning Dash!What a fabulous post about Barbara Hulanicki.I wish I'd been there during the Biba heyday.So loving that picture of Twiggy smoking in that Art Deco living room.Love everything really.
    I love going through all my Mother's old British magazines like Mirabelle & Honey etc that captured the Biba phenomenon.

  4. how gorgeous.........I adore her too and have decided to embrace my inner Biba......again.......I found the same Biba poster I had as a teenager in a junk shop in Yorkshire and a pair of original plumb coloured suede clogs.....lucky me!!

  5. What a fabulous post Dash .. One I know that I will visit again, I loved Biba. Like you I was a little too young to really know it, but remember all the iconic images and wanted to look like a Biba girl although I was far too young and my mother hadn't a clue what I meant. I wanted a black cloche hat with red cherries on the side... I was about 10..maybe??
    Anyhow I watched a documentary about her and Biba last week it was fantastic and I loved all her interior design projects over in Miami too.
    I think that I have been in the roof gardens though if they were called the Kensington Roof gardens during 1989 when I first came back to this country and was working for Clarins, it was such a waste a room full of over a thousand gorgeous girls and not a man in sight... I made my way to the bar and chatted up the Australian waiters :)
    I was already in trouble as the dress code was red white or gold and I wore a black tuxedo.. so did the Managing Director ...mmm I was not popular there xx

  6. Your blog should be required reading for students of the arts.
    You manage to entertain and inspire without the reader realizing they are being schooled in art/fashion/design history.
    X David
    So sorry to hear about your "Mexican Moment" in the Alps, I trust you have recovered.

  7. Loved it! I used to get the Jackie delivered every week and so much of the design was informed by BIBA (or at least in my memory it was!) lots of Art Deco style typeface, large dark eyes, 20s styling.....unless it was a Bay City Rollers issue and any taste that the mag had was subsumed in a haze of tartan and non-ironic mullet haircuts!

    Great post as ever Dash.

    Gorgeous photo of Twiggy and KM is unrecognisable!

    Ali xxxx

  8. Dash, that was a great read. I had an older sister too who used to bring home wonderful things (although Australia in the 60s/70s was not London!) It looks like a fascinating read and a great documentary.

  9. I first heard of Biba years ago after seeing that photo of Kate Moss (think I was about 18) and soon became fascinated with the look
    Really wish they would bring Biba back, the Topshop collection wasn't enough

  10. Dear Dash, wonderful post! I wish I'd been to Biba too! I also managed to miss the documentary. It'll be on again soon I'm sure on Sky Arts.

    I have the poster and one dress. I loved the decor too! By the way I forgot to say on my last comment - I hope you're feeling better now xx

  11. fabulous post. I used to just love Twiggy and would try to copy those famous eyes...the figure was impossible for most. I just love the old hippy style. Retro I can relate to.....

  12. This was such fun to read - she was a trail blazer and I wish that I was slightly older so that I could have gone to the shop.

    I didn't recognise La Moss at all - she looked so different

  13. Dear Dash, thank you for another fascinating post, I have always found Biba interesting, and like the fact it was based in Kensington where I used to live; I never made it to the Roof Gardens though..have good hols Bx

  14. OMG, that champagne and novocain album is one of my favorites. played cd to death im on my second one..
    would totally recommend that all woman should own a copy of this.

  15. Hello from Texas, Dash. I am Christina's friend and, amazingly enough I sent her an email telling her she should post about Biba immediately. She responded that you had just done a post...and may I say what a splendid post you have done, my dear. Of course, being only of-the-moment trendy I was telling her about Biba's relaunch at the House of Frasier in London. I didn't know what House of Frasier was, but presumed it's a lovely shop. Anyway, now you can do a little follow-up on this to tell everyone our fabulous Biba's apparel was be back next week. I love Christina, who says she loves you...so if you don't mind I'll love you too. xx's Marsha

  16. Forgot to say, a few years ago I purchased one of the gorgeous Coccinelle handbags in Nice having no idea they were her design, however, I worked in the fashion department of Sak's 5th Avenue & was instrumental in getting the line into the stores. Spent my honeymoon at the Carlton Hotel with my 2nd husband in l999 & have been back many times to the area. Many things I didn't know about Barbara, including the architectural projects. Design genuis crosses all lines.

  17. I am a 21 year old fashion promotion student from Rochester Kent , for my final project i have well and truely fallen in love with the original Biba and have researched into the subject greatly, thus how i came across your blog. I find your use of photographers very inspiring and your multitude of sources! I wish i were born of that time to live it in the 60s and 70s! For my project i am going to launch a fragrance for Barbara Hulanicki using her illustrations. I am struggling to find enough passionate people about the od Biba brand to help me with my consumer research would any of you be willing to fill in a questionnaire for me as you sound equally as fired up about the original Biba as i am :D
    thank you Gemma Seager


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