Biba and Beyond


Exhibition continues at Brighton Museum until 14 April 2013

With its cutting-edge yet affordable fashion, Barbara Hulanicki’s iconic Biba store and label transformed the High Street shopping experience in the 1960s / 70s. Young working women shopped alongside models and celebrities, including Sonny and Cher, Yoko Ono, Mick Jagger, Princess Anne, Mia Farrow, Twiggy and Brigitte Bardot. Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Victoriana and Hollywood glamour were all combined to create striking, romantic and sensual designs. Following an early success with her fashion designs for mail order, Barbara Hulanicki and her husband Fitz created and established the Biba brand. Detail,Bibamailordercatalogue,1968-9,copyrightBarbaraHulanicki

From Biba’s Postal Boutique to the shops on Abingdon Road, Church Street and Kensington High Street, to the final, glamorous, six storey Big Biba in the former Derry & Toms Art Deco department store, Biba’s phenomenal success changed the face of UK fashion. What linked all the Biba stores was Hulanicki’s skill in creating environments that complemented the appeal of her clothing. The atmosphere was unique, with loud music, stylish staff, dimly lit period interiors and chaotic changing rooms.

This exhibition celebrates the Biba lifestyle, with many Biba outfits, and also Barbara Hulanicki’s other successful careers in fashion illustration and design, interior design, architecture and fashion which are flourishing today. Hulanicki drew the Audrey Hepburn illustration, on display, when at Brighton Art College. Hollywood has always been a huge influence on Hulanicki and Hepburn was the quintessential Biba girl: long neck, big eyes and small upturned nose.

A Jumpsuit, c1965, worn by Jill Richter at her wedding, and photographed for the front cover of the London Evening Standard, is in the exhibition. Jill Richter was part of the avant-garde scene of the 1960s, hiring the Royal Albert Hall for poetry readings by poets such as Alan Ginsberg. She and her husband lived with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the late 1960s.

The revolutionary 1960s Biba make-up, which took the Biba lifestyle nationwide, is also here: foundations in greens and yellows, lipsticks in blue and black, blusher in navy. Hulanicki’s well-known banana design, used throughout her career and in different ways, is on show in a dress of 1968.

One of the most beautiful exhibits is a floor-length lace dress of 1969, with a high, Edwardian style neck, and ‘handkerchief’ sleeves inspired by 1930s fashion. It was featured on the cover and inside pages of The Sunday Telegraph colour supplement.preview_BibaGarmentLabel,c1968-9

When Hulanicki went to live in Miami Beach in the 1980s, it was a run-down backwater. She was instrumental in turning it into a cosmopolitan city, by transforming many of the dilapidated Art Deco hotels on the beach front. The exhibition includes images of her interiors, including the bar she designed on South Beach for Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, which marked the beginning of her new career as an interior designer.

Lianne Jarrett

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