Biba forever: reviving the fashions of the Sixties

Lynnette Peck / 26 July 2016

Biba, the clothing and homewares brand, will forever be associated with the Swinging Sixties, so why is it still so revered and been revived today?

The Biba shop was opened by founder Barbara Hulanicki in 1964 on Abingdon Road in London. By 1973 the so-called ‘Big Biba’ was launched as a department store on High Street Kensington in London and ran over seven floors.

It sold food, furniture, clothes and more and was one of the UK’s first ‘lifestyle’ stores.

The original Biba label was sadly closed down in 1975, and has been bought and sold many times since then.

I was aware of Biba from a young age as my mother was a fan but it wasn’t until I opened my own vintage fashion shop in 2011 that I realised just how important the clothing in particular was in the history of fashion. I feverishly bought and sold Biba pieces and became a fan in the process.

I was fortunate enough to interview Barbara Hulanicki for the Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki exhibition in Brighton in 2012, and I was recently in Miami where Barbara Hulanicki has a home. Here she has spent recent decades helping to restore the Art Deco district in Miami Beach. I went on a tour of the Art Deco buildings and highly recommend it for those interested in that era.

Biba to me means freedom, as it came at a time when young women and men were able to break free from dressing like their parents and be individual in how they and their homes looked. 

Long may the Biba vibe continue…

Read more about Biba

The Biba revival

House of Fraser relaunched the Biba label in September 2010 and it is still going strong six years later. The products are designed by House of Fraser and always include print blouses, faux fur coats, evening dresses and t-shirts with the name Biba on.

House of Fraser says: "Although it's not a retro collection, we drew on the heritage of Biba and its archives to ensure that we remained true to the brand's ethos. New Biba embraces the mood of the original brand, and is made relevant for today's market."

Our pick of the New Biba products 
(All available at House of Fraser)

Biba Beaded Dip Dye Dress

Biba V Neck Lipstick Signature Tee

Biba Flamingo Placement V Neck Jumper

Biba Speckle Faux Fur Portobello Coat

Biba Wrap Front PU Skirt

The Biba collector

J Anna Ludlow is a Biba collector and bought pieces from the original Biba in the Sixties.

Why do you think the original Biba is still of interest and the pieces so sought after?

"I think the resurgence of Barbara (Hulanicki, the founder) and her partnerships with George at ASDA and House of Fraser, as well as her high profile appearances with Twiggy and Kate Moss at various exhibitions have embedded her into the consciousness of a new generation.

Much is also known of her Miami connection, and refurbishments of mega rock star homes and Miami Beach hotels. Those of us who remained loyal to the ethos - even as we witnessed the collapse of Big Biba (one of the Biba shops), the self-imposed exile of this icon of fashion and her widowhood - were pleased as punch when she re-established herself!

I hope that anyone new to Barbara does understand just how truly innovative and inspirational she was to those of us who really did live through the original Biba experience."

When did you start collecting Biba pieces and why?

"1969; it was quite a year! I was introduced to Biba by my friend and fellow student Caroline.

I'd gone to visit her so we could exchange notes about our art school aspirations and we talked about her elder sister Julia who was in London and had just completed her drama course. Julia had discovered Biba while there and sent her little sister the first catalogue.

In the catalogue was the precious opportunity to apply to go on the mailing list and receive future catalogues.

It was quite different in those days - no instant internet sign up - so the catalogues were my first collectibles although I didn't think of them as such, just that they were mine!"

What are your favourite pieces in your collection?

"I suppose nostalgically the catalogues should be my favourites, especially as my mother had kept them safe long after I had left home.

But I also had shelves of jars that followed me to all the places I lived in. They were (and still are) always on show and I never tire of them.

I adored all the clothing and I bought tights in most shades of plum, pink and sludgy greens and browns. It was such a novelty to have coloured tights that weren't as thick as sacking!

I have a dark purple dress with sweetheart neckline, peplum and flared sleeves that must count as a mega piece of favourite, as it is now threadbare through wear and tear."

What pieces do you not have from Biba that you have always wanted to own?

“The red and white spotted mushroom seating that was in the kiddie area and a full black and gold dinner service.”

What should new collectors of old Biba look out for when sourcing for their own collection?

“There seems to be a lot of Biba memorabilia available as it comes out of attics and gets sold on auction and other internet sales sites, but any new collector would probably be disappointed if they wanted to get a full set of anything.

I would suggest they get one of the illustrated books available and have a good look at what was available and what they like the look of.

Research on the internet to see what is available and the price it commands. Then decide on a budget and stick to it - you never know, they may just find exactly what they want!”

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