Before Forever 21, Urban Outfitters or Charlotte Russe ever served up hot, on-trend clothes at affordable prices, a young Londoner named Barbara Hulanicki, along with her partner Stephen Fitz-Simon, recognized the gap between children’s wear and frumpy women’s clothes on the London market and started a modest mail-order couture fashion business that targeted twenty-something women who wanted fast, attractive fashion at attainable prices.
Biba’s Postal Boutique chugged along quietly and without much notice until a simple gingham dress with a checked handkerchief was featured in the UK’s Daily Mirror and caught the popular sartorial imagination.
The Biba look quickly became iconic, shaping the style of 60s and 70s London. Biba was more than a boutique– it was a petri dish for fashion, a space where the new and the now grew from an idea into an explosive new trend radiating from a small boutique in London to magazines, the streets and the world. Rockstars, their girlfriends and their groupies frequented Biba, snatching up the pieces just as soon as they hit the racks.
From its original roots as a mail-order business, Biba became a booming shop that changed location throughout London several times, trailing an ever larger crowd of adoring fans from place to place. When Biba relocated to a massive former carpet warehouse, the brand produced fashion for men, women and children, sold such products as baked beans and soap flakes and held elaborate parties on a massive rooftop deck. With its nods to the Art Deco era and its luxurious embrace of dark, earthy colors in fashion and even darker interiors, Biba was more than a store, it was an aspirational lifestyle experience. Attracting the likes of Yoko Ono, Cher and Twiggy, Biba became a place where the shop girl mingled with the superstar.
Biba’s rise was cut short by corporate takeovers in the mid-1970s. By 1975, Barbara Hulanicki left the sensation she’d started to explore other creative projects. Soon after her departure, Biba ended production and shuttered its doors. Biba has had other incarnations since Hulanicki’s departure, some quite recent, but many would argue that none since have had the power to seize the zeitgeist in quite the same way as the experience in affordable luxury that was Biba.
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