Of the thousands of boutiques that appeared in the 1960s, the best loved and most famous was Barbara Hulanicki’s legendary Biba. Described as more of a ”happening” than a shop. Screnn idols such as Julie Christie, pop stars, and European fashion designers on the prowl for new ideas rubbed shoulders with a multitude of ordinary young people shopping for their Saturday night
Like so many British fashion starsof the period, Barbara Hulanicki started small, selling just a handful of simple designs through her mail-order business. One particularly successful pink gingham dress started it all, enbling Barbara and her husband to open the first Biba in 1964. A desire to be different led them to Kensington – in preference to the already highly successful Chelsea. Their succession of larger and larger Biba boutiques stayed in the area, culminating with the 1974 ” Big Biba” which colonized an entire department store on Kensington High Street.
The Biba look defined the later 1960s and early 1970s, based on a softer, more romantic ”retro” feel than the hard-edged minimalism favored by Mary Quant’ ”Mods” and Courréger’ Space Age ”Moon girls”. The Biba shop was a dreamy, dimly lit Aladdin’s Cave where clothes were piled on antique vanity tables or hung from bent wooden hat racks. Ferather bloomed in art nouveau vases and stacks of beads, sequins, and Lurex glittered in shadowy corners. Biba sold a total look – clothning, jewelry, and makeup – all at dirtcheap prices. ”it was a terrible shame to show you were making money,” Barbara explained in her autobiography, dedicated to all optimists, fatalists, and dreamers. ”We practically gave our things away to the public.” The public, in turn, responded. In its headay, Biba was attracting over 100 000 customers each week and became a tourist shopping Mecca, as a one-stop symbol for all that was meant by the whole ”Swinging London” phenomenon.
Although Biba never expensive in its day or even particularly well made, it is very sought after on the vintage market today. Many of Biba’s most devoted fansin the 1990s were not even born when Barbara closed her doors in 1976. Good examples can command high prices at auctions and are often bought by young devotees who rarely hang out in Christie’s or Sotheby’s. These young collectorss have usually been saving for months to afford some spectacular piece for their collection. The best Biba tends to be the early pieces labeled with her famous Celtic logo, printed on a large brown satin tag. On later, usually less interesting pieces, the label itself is smaller and the logo is embroidered on it with yellow thread.