When I received a Biba purse for my birthday, I knew nothing about the brand and was confused as to why something sounding like ‘Bieber’ was so classy.
I recently visited the ‘Biba and Beyond’ exhibition at Brighton Museum where I was immersed in the world of the highly successful woman behind the brand.
Barbara Hulanicki’s iconic Biba store and label was a symbol of swinging 60s high street fashion, known for being stylish yet inexpensive. Half a century on and the brand is still thriving after its relaunch by House of Fraiser in 2009.
With walls adorned with original sketches, photos, and quotes from Barbara and those close to her, the exhibition took me on a vibrant and inspirational journey through her exciting career.
Polish-born Barbara Hulanicki spent her early life in Brighton and studied fashion illustration at Brighton Art College in the 50s.
At just 18 years old, Barbara won a prestigious fashion design competition in the Evening Standard, allowing her to see her design made up by a top couturier.
This pivotal achievement propelled her into her position as a fashion illustrator in London contributing to The Times and Vogue.
Together Hulanicki and her husband Stephan Fitz-Simon set up Biba’s postal boutique which had its first triumph in 1964 when they advertised a pink gingham dress in the Daily Mirror and received 17,000 orders.
Within 10 years they transformed the label from a tiny boutique to a seven-storey department store. I was instantly reminded of the Abercrombie & Fitch store when learning about ‘Big Biba’.
The clothes were simple, aimed at the young and suited slender frames, whilst the the stores had dark interiors and loud, thumping music. The only difference was that you didn’t need to shift too many pennies to purchase Biba!
Hulanicki recently returned to fashion design by creating capsule collections for Topshop, with the likes of Fearne Cotton and Alexa Chung sporting her unique designs.
Hulanicki’s career came full circle when she signed with George at Asda to produce affordable fashion once again.
The exhibition also explores Barbara’s current interior design business, designing hotels in Jamaica and the Bahamas, as well as art nouveau style wallpaper for Habitat and Graham & Brown.
It was a truly interactive exhibition with Biba outfits to try on, Biba dolls to dress up and you could even have a go at sketching your own Biba designs.
If you’re a fashion lover this exhibition is a must-see. Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki is on at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery until April 14 2013.