Biba


Biba

:"This article is about the fashion store; other meanings are computer security model Biba Integrity Model, and British Insurance Brokers Association.

Biba was an iconic and popular fashion store in the 1960s and 1970s.

Genesis

Ready-to-wear fashion before the start of the Biba era was mainly aimed at thirty year-olds. As a result, most prices were too high for many younger buyers and the designs also weren't aimed for their market. Biba set out to change this and bring fashion items to a wide market.

Many of the ready-to-wear market clothes were either copies of Paris models or deeply influenced by the Paris Haute-Couture collections. Barbara Hulanicki, Biba's owner and founder "was looking forward to the day when I would be that old and able to cope with all the elegance." This was one of the factors that led Hulanicki and her husband (Fitz) to open Biba: they believed they knew what young women wanted.

Biba's early years were rather humble with many of the outfits being cheap and available to the public by mail order. Biba’s postal boutique had its first significant success in May 1964 when it offered a pink gingham dress to readers of the Daily Mirror. The dress had celebrity appeal as a similar dress had been worn by Brigitte Bardot. By the morning after the dress was advertised in the Daily Mirror, it had received over 4,000 orders. Ultimately, some 17,000 outfits were sold.

tores and mail order services

The first store, on Abingdon Road in Kensington, was opened in September 1964.

Hulanicki’s first encounter with her new customers was at 10 o’clock on the Saturday morning it opened, ‘...the curtains were drawn across the window…the shop was packed with girls trying on the same brown pinstripe dress in concentrated silence. Not one asked if there were any other styles or sizes.’

The brown pinstripe dresses were being stored in the shop because Hulanicki’s apartment was overflowing with boxes of clothes for their mail order service. Fitz dropped Hulanicki at the shop and went to pick up more dresses, Hulanicki went to the bathroom and when she came back the shop was packed. ‘The louder the music played the faster the girls moved and more people appeared in the shop…. I had sold every dress by 11.’ After the last dress had been sold people were still lining up inside waiting for the next delivery.

The shops' main appeal was that an average woman in London could for less than 10% of her weekly earnings share the look of the most glamorous woman in Europe. What could be seen on the catwalks in Paris could now be bought with a Biba twist for much less money. As the Biba logo became more and more recognizable, the more and more people wanted to be seen in it.

On the 15 September 1969 Biba moved to Kensington Church Street; the new store was nine times the size of the previous one. The store was a big undertaking, in terms of both expense and organization, but Hulanicki and Fitz felt they needed to ‘keep moving forward.’ Because of the huge job that they were undertaking, Hulanicki was afraid that ‘every time I went into the shop I was afraid it would be for the last time.’ No one was aware of how serious the financial difficulties were - and they indeed proved too much for the new entrepreneurs; as a result Dorothy Perkins and Dennis Day came to save the day and bought 75% of Biba. This led to the important formation of Biba Ltd which meant that the brand and the stores could now be properly financed.

Exactly five years later, Biba moved once again, this time to the seven-storey Derry & Toms department store building, which immediately attracted up to a million customers weekly. There were different departments on each floor, which also had its own theme. At the same time Biba ventured into providing a food court and expanded into many additional new areas, such as wallpaper, paint, cutlery, soft furnishings and even statues.

What began as a cheap, streetwise version of couture was turning rapidly into a lifestyle, creating a total look that was thematically unified and color-coordinated. This provided the store with another market - home design and made it possible for young couples to have up to the minute fashionable homes for low prices. The store was designed for people to live, not simply to shop ‘somewhere to be and to be seen, a private members' club for the general public.’ In this move Biba also undertook another risky project - The Rainbow Room, which was situated on the top floor of the department store and which was destined to become a major hang-out for rock stars, but which wasn’t solely the reserve of the elite.

With every new store that opened, the Biba look became more thought out and elaborate and as the brand’s name became more widely known it attracted yet more new customers. The prices were still kept low, despite the brand's growth. Hulanicki said ‘Every day had dozens of letters from people who wanted to buy from us by post.’ This led to a Biba mail service catalogue aimed to give young women the chance to have their own Biba outfit and become Biba-girls, without having to come to London.

The Biba look and the feel

‘The Biba Look’ or 'Dudu Look' was ‘fresh little foals with long legs, bright faces and round dolly eyes.’ Barbara Hulanicki describes her customers as ‘postwar babies who had been deprived of nourishing protein in childhood and grew up into beautiful skinny people: a designer's dream. It didn’t take much for them to look outstanding.’ These women were mostly teenagers or twenty year olds, who wanted to have clothes that looked good on them. All the Biba girls remember how women over thirty years old were considered old in the Biba store, and probably felt isolated as these girls felt in other stores. The employees were from the same demographic; among them at one point was a young Anna Wintour, later editor of "Vogue".

The Biba look consisted of what Hulanicki called "Auntie Colours" - Hulanicki described them as ‘look [ing] like a funeral.’ These colours were blackish mulberries, blueberries, rusts and plums.

Biba smocks were uncomfortable and ‘itched’ and stopped women’s arms from bending - something that did not stop customers from buying the clothes, which had become the uniform of the era - with the added bonus of that whatever you bought, you could always get accessories to match. Miniskirts were causing a scene of their own, every week they got shorter ‘I thought surely we couldn’t shorten them any more, but magically there were a few old inches to go’ . Although Mary Quant was the first British designer to show the mini skirt, Biba was responsible for putting it on the high street and as miniskirts were in fashion, everything needed to be associated with them.

Biba spread out into children’s wear after the second store was opened - inspired by the birth of Hulanicki's son Witold in 1967. Soon after his birth Hulanicki started designing children’s clothes. Uninspired by the traditional baby blue and pink ‘toweling suits or those prissy looking woolly jumpers and bonnets’ for babies she wanted her baby to wear ‘purple and black and other Auntie Colours’ . Soon Biba babies started to appear in the streets with their Biba mothers.

Marketing strategy

The Biba logo played a crucial part in Biba’s success: the logo (see above) was black and gold and reflected the growing taste in youth for art deco. The logo was designed by Antony Little. To create a look for Biba in the first store, Little painted the Biba sign above the shop and blacked out all the windows. The blacked out windows didn’t allow the store’s interior to receive any sunlight which was vital for the Biba’s art nouveau atmosphere.

The Biba logo was reconstructed in various ways to be appropriate for all the different products. Every product had the Biba logo on it. The labels showing size, color and price all resembled a similar style. In the final Biba store, each department had its own logo or sign which was based on the Biba logo and had a picture describing the department.Biba was the first to set a standard for brand marketing and the first high street store to create a look for itself. The logo was seen on everything: from clothes to food, to wallpaper, creating an immediately recognizable identity from any piece sold at the store.

Biba never wanted to be considered an average high street store and as a result the interior layout was always innovative and was set to enhance the clothes rather than just to hold them. The Biba Food Hall was also designed ingeniously, each part being aimed at one particular kind of product; a unit made to look like a dog consisted of dog food; a huge baked beans tin can consisted of only tins of Baked beans etc, all foods having individual innovative units.

The clothes were also displayed in an unusual manner from the beginning hanging on coat stands. Since coat stands can not hold a lot of clothes many were needed. Fitz shopped for them all year round, so that he could secure as many as they needed in the store, while ordering hundreds more. Biba was also the first store that let customers try makeup before buying it. This started an unusual routine; women came to Biba before work with no makeup on, put it on in the store and then rushed to work.

Biba also never exhibited anything in shop windows, believing instead that people would be intrigued and seduced to enter the shop by their captivating store interior seen from outside.

At its first store, Biba didn’t even have its name above the door; customers just came in because they were interested what was inside the dark store roaring with music. The display windows in later stores were often made sitting areas, where you could read, watch the activity on the street, smoke and enjoy other peoples' company. These sitting areas attracted many to come to the store and just sit there all day smoking cigarettes and taking drugs, which became an obstacle Biba had to overcome towards the end. Biba made fashion accessible and made shopping a leisure activity.

Demise of an icon

However, when the fashions started moving again in a new direction in the seventies, the Biba look could not adapt with the changes and finally failed. Eventually the shop started to attract fewer shoppers; Hulanicki left the company after disagreements over creative control and in 1975 Biba was closed by the British Land Company. The Dorothy Perkins shareholder decided that the building that Big Biba was housed in was worth more than the ailing business itself. It sold the trademark to a consortium with no connection to Barbara Hulanicki, who opened a store in London on 27 November, 1978, on two floors in Conduit Street in London's Belgravia. The store was not a success, and closed less than two years later.

Relaunch

The Biba label had its most recent relaunch in May 2006 under designer Bella Freud. The new collection was unveilled at London Fashion Week in September 2006. A new Biba boutique is scheduled to open in London in 2008. Spring summer 08 saw a new design team for Biba and a new creative team with Hector Castro as Artistic director.
The couture hats are created by Prudence Millinery.

Bibliography

*Hulanicki, Barbara. (1983). From A to Biba. London: Hutchinson & Co.
*Turner, Alwyn W. (2004). The Biba Experience. Woodbridge:Antique Collectors Club.

External links

* [http://vintagefashionguild.org/labels/biba.html The Vintage Fashion Guild]
* [http://www.nostalgiacentral.com/pop/biba.htm The Nostalgia Central]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/2004_36_fri_04.shtml BBC Radio 4 - Woman's Hour - Biba 40th Anniversary]
* [http://wck2.companieshouse.gov.uk/d71bf325327494f63bd66977470aa7dd//compdetails Companies House link to the Original Biba Ltd]
* [http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/03/05/opinion/rside.php Biba is back- IHT]
* [http://www.joanneburke.co.uk Biba Dolls author and illustrator]
* [http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/server.php?show=conInformationRecord.304 Exploring 20th century London - Biba] Items and oral histories from Biba
* cite web |publisher= Victoria and Albert Museum
url= http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/fashion/1960s/fashion_designers/biba/index.html
title= Biba, Barbara Hulanicki
work=Fashion, Jewellery & Accessories
accessdate= 2007-07-24


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