- Date Established:
- Date Trading Ceased:
The fashion label Biba started as a small boutique in South Kensington, and gradually expanded to become an entire department store.
Fashion designer Barbara Hulanicki, with her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon, founded Biba by selling her designs via mail order. They opened their first shop in Abingdon Road, Kensington in 1964. Its popularity increased, and the boutique moved to larger premises in Kensington High Street in 1969, and again in 1971.
Hulanicki drew much of her inspiration from retro styles such as Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Victoriana and the glamour of Hollywood. This nostalgic look was a bold contrast to the existing crisp, modern designs of the time. Biba outfits, with their narrow upper arms and slim-fitting designs, suited slender frames.
In 1973, with the financial support of Dorothy Perkins and the Fraser group, Biba moved into the empty Derry & Toms department store also on Kensington High Street. The Biba flagship store sold everything from specially packaged baked beans to satin sheets. Biba had become a lifestyle choice, and shoppers could not only purchase a fully co-coordinated outfit, but also cosmetics, soft furnishings, household products such as washing powder, and food. All goods were presented in the distinctive black and gold Biba packaging.
The department store had opulent dcor, which featured black glass counters and parlour palms. Shoppers could also be entertained, drinking cocktails in the Roof Garden, where flamingos also lived, or in the Rainbow Room, where live musical performances took place.
Despite famous customers such as Brigitte Bardot, Princess Anne, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, the store was never the exclusive preserve of the rich and famous. Prices were kept deliberately low, and everyone was encouraged to soak up the glamour of an unforgettable shopping experience.
Hulanicki's determination to pursue her vision set her at odds with her backers. In 1975, the shop closed down. The story of Biba and Barbara Hulanicki is typical of the 1960s designer retailers. At this time, there was a strong desire by designers to create a new kind of shop, and they refused to moderate their designs for the mass-market. This was combined with contempt for conventional retailing and business knowledge, making London fashion innovative and unique, but also short-lived in many cases.
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