Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Biba was a fashion store in the 1960's and 1970's founded by Barbara Hulanicki and her husband, Fritz.

In early sixties London, there was not much in the way of fashion for a young girl with very little pocket money. Most of the fashions were pricey Paris ready-to-wear or even pricier Haute-Couture. Hulanicki believed she could deliver what young women wanted at a price they could afford. She startd a mail order catalog that received little success until May 1964, when Biba offered a pink gingham dress that was very similar to one Brigitte Bardot had worn. When the dress was advertised in the Daily Mirror, they received 4,000 orders in one day. Eventually, selling over 17,000 pieces.

The Hulanicki's opened their first store on Abingdon Road in Kensington in September 1964. The shop opened at ten o'clock and was sold out by eleven, with lines of customers waiting for the next delivery. The Biba logo became more recognizable and more desirable everyday.

On September 15, 1969 Biba moved to Kensington Church Street. The new store was nine times the size of the previous one. This brought on extreme financial difficulties and lack of organization. The Hulanicki's turned to Dorothy Perkins and Dennis Day who purchased 75 percent of Biba. This led to the formation of Biba Ltd. which meant that the brand and the store could be properly managed and financed.

Exactly five years later, Biba moved once again to the seven-story Derry and Tom's department store building. This incarnation became known as "Big Biba" and attracted over a million customers a week. The store itself was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. With each floor containing its own theme they expanded into different markets selling housewares, cosmetics, food and washing detergent all bearing the Biba logo. Hulanicki never believed in window displays, instead she opted for seating and lounges in her windows for the customers. On the top floor you could dine at the Rainbow Room popular with the New York Dolls, Liberace and Brian Ferry. Outside on the roof deck you could spend an afternoon sipping cocktails with Angie and David Bowie and live flamingos that lived there.

A crucial part of Biba's success was its logo, black and gold in color reflecting an art deco look which was gaining popularity at the time. The logo was on every bit of packaging, which set a standard for brand marketing in the advertising industry.

Big Biba lasted just two years before it fell victim to recession. The store was a fantasy palace and will be remembered as "the most beautiful store in the world".

The Biba label was relaunched in May 2006 by designer Bella Freud, who studied under Vivienne Westwood in the eighties. A new Biba boutique is slated to open in London in 2008.

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