First day of Autumn – a very appropriate date for the mood of Biba fashion. Still, this is the last post in my fashion icon series. You can read all of them here.
I really hope you enjoyed this collage-journey throughout (mostly) 1960s fashion icons. Who knows, this might not be my last series regarding history of fashion, I do have a cunning idea on my mind, but about that some other time. What do you think? And let me know which one was your favourite fashion icon from this series. Do share your opinions. Although I enjoyed writing about them all, my personal tastes lean towards styles of Marianne Faithfull, Brigitte Bardot, Edie Sedgwick and Anna Karina.
This photo is the essence of Biba look (apart from the nudeness) -luscious richly textured pillows in jewel colours of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, fabrics from the East, velvet, heavy perfumes, dark lipsticks, orchids and roses, animal prints – leopard and tiger, hint of 1930s glamour, doll-like make up, black lace, rosy cheeks and floral print evoking Victorian wallpapers – that’s Biba; more than fashion, it is the aesthetic, the mood, the spirit…
And now a few facts. ‘Biba‘ label was started by Barbara Hulanicki, a fashion designer and illustrator born in Warsaw in 1936, who moved to England in 1948 and later studied at Brighton School of Art. The first Biba boutique opened in Abingdon Road, Kensington in September 1964, and its first hit was a brown pinstripe dress. Despite its popularity in times of Swinging London, Biba style couldn’t have been more different to the classic, tailored and structured Mod look worn by Twiggy and The Beatles fans. Barbara’s designs were made specifically for young people, girls in their late teens and early twenties, because, in a typical sixties spirit, she wanted to draw a line between the outfits those girls would wear and the outfits their mothers would.
Likewise, her store was a place for ‘groovy’ individuals, with loud music and lavishing decadent interior in a boudoir-meets-Art Nouveau-and-Art Deco style. When designing, Barbara drew inspiration from romantic Victorian and Edwardian fashions, as well as the glamour of the 1920s and 30s, particularly when it came to make up, inspiration for which was found in faces of film stars such as Greta Garbo, Louise Brooks, Jean Harlow and Theda Bara. Colours she used were very Autumnal, very much in the Count Dracula-graveyard tea party-Miss Havisham-Ophelia-funeral kind of mood – browns, shiny purples, midnight blues, plum, orchid, mahogany, copper, tobacco, camel, camelia pink, red, amethyst, jade… Dresses themselves were very uncomfortable, made from itchy materials and designed in a way it often made it hard to move your arms! But the sixties gals didn’t really care, as long as they looked like Victorian dolls.
Young girls working there were given a new Biba dress every week, along with their regular pay check, so you can only imagine how cool it must have been working there. Hulanicki described 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.‘ Biba’s models, such as Maddie Smith and Ingrid Boulting, followed a similar pattern. They were all skinny chicks with doll-like faces; soft round eyes, chubby cheeks, thin eyebrows and beautifully shaped full lips. And the best thing is that Barbara Hulanicki dressed in the same style she created, which I think shows just how passionately she loved the whole aesthetic. She lived her designs, and isn’t that the best advertisement?
This is the end, dear reader, the end….