Hello and welcome to our Biba Blog series!!
We are so thrilled and excited to be heading on this journey with our flare-lovers! Thank you so much for all the excitement you’ve shown us so far, and for the love of our Ophir collection with Barbara Hulanicki, the woman responsible for some of the iconic looks of the 60s and 70s, dressing Freddie Mercury, Twiggy, and Sonny and Cher.
Biba & Barbara have been a huge inspiration behind Flare Street from the very beginning, it has been an absolute dream to work with her on this collection!!
Today, we’re launching from the very beginning… so for all of those who are yet to know about Biba, welcome! For those that are already Biba fans, hey there! And for the lucky ones out there who own a piece of Biba clothing, what an absolute dream!!
On this weekly blog series, we’re covering stories from Biba’s beginning in 1963 to the Big Biba empire in 1975, year by year.
From a mail order business to a five story Art Deco Building on the High Street, Biba was a style revolution that still inspires and influences the world of fashion today!
We almost don’t know where to start... so, here we go!
1963 & 1964, the Beginning.
Biba was one of THE biggest brand’s in London 1960’s & 70’s, paving the way for women’s fashion and liberation through clothing that still impacts the way we wear clothes today. Responsible for trends such as the shortening of mini skirts, the creation of the t-shirt, and the introduction of vibrant colour into wardrobes such as Plum, Mint and Mustards, Biba introduced concepts into that had never been seen before. Selling clothes at affordable prices, Biba allowed girls and women to express themselves through fashion, something that nowadays we take for granted, but in that time was an absolute freedom and a revolution in young women & female expression.
Everyday girls were the first loyal advocates of Biba, lining up out the doors waiting for new stock. Just as obsessed with her exciting and vibrant creations were the likes of Twiggy, Cher, Brigitte Bardot, Pattie Boyd, The Supremes, Marc Bolan, Anita Pallenberg.
Don’t worry, we’ll have a huge post on this soon!
Barbara, Fitz & Biba
Beginning her fashion career in the early 60s, Barbara worked as a freelance illustrator after studying at Brighton College of Art and her husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon, known as Fitz, was an advertising executive. Barbara was inspired by her Aunty, a beautiful Victorian era lady, who was laden in 1930’s style clothing.
Biba was very much influenced by 1930’s styles, cuts and even used vintage fabrics from that time. Inspired by luxurious French fashion houses such as Givenchy, Barbara’s design style stemmed from her desire to create clothes that were designed to elongate women’s figure and show off their best bits.
She wanted to create cuts to make your torso look long and slim, and accentuate skinny, deep set shoulders to create an angular silhouette. Influenced by 1930s styles, cuts and even vintage fabrics from that time, Barbara was inspired to create pieces for the everyday girl, and with all this in mind, Biba was born.
The Gingham Shift Dress
Barbara and Fitz attempted to sell two other items through mail order before their first major success in 1964. It was a pink-gingham sleeveless shift dress with a small hole in the back and matching headscarf. Each day, they would carry sacks and sacks of letters from the post office back home to fulfil orders, they sold 17,000 dresses That’s every single person at a sold out Paul McCartney concert in Madison Square Garden wearing a Gingham dress!
“We parked the car and waited for the first post to arrive. Fitz came back grinning from ear to ear, dragging a huge sack behind him. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.” “The next day, we went to see if there were more straggling letters. As Fitz came around the corner, he had an even bigger grin on his face. There were 2 huge sacks, that day there was 7,000 letters…”
Reference: 'From A to Biba', Autobiography By Barbara Hulanicki.
Like modern day millennials with a side hustle, they both kept their day jobs and worked tirelessly in the evening on Biba. Their next big break was designing dresses for Cathy McGowen, a huge deal in Britain in 1963, she was nicknamed ‘Queen of the Mods’ and was the host of Ready, Steady, Go,
One afternoon in 1964, Barbara decided to set up her apartment with items of clothes for sale and called everyone she knew to come around to the sale. Each of them had called 10 others and by the early afternoon, she’d sold everything. She was even struggling to keep her cushions from being sold. The rest of the week, people were still coming by asking about the sale... this was all the encouragement they needed open their first boutique on Abingdon Road, Kensington.
The first day of being open, they had only one dress. At 10am, Barbara put on her Beatles LP, and opened the store. Girls began queuing up and by 11am the had completely sold out. Their local dressmakers rushed over more dresses to sell, and the demand was so high that they sold them straight from the car parked out front. They were still selling the same dress in high demand six months later.
Their High Street store was unlike any other shopping experience, filled with ornate furniture and antiques, it was dimly lit for dramatic effect and had a communal changing room.
Hiring young staff who looked and acted like customers, they played loud music that spilled out onto the street. The retail experience was transformed and Biba became a phenomenon. Shopping became a social event, with girls coming in and making new friends, or travelling from outside of London just to visit Biba, and it soon became a destination for the cool-cats of London.
What did the designs look like?
Magic! Long sleeves, smalls waists, short skirts, matching coloured tights to dresses… the style evolved of course, but Barbara always remained the head designer.
We can't wait to share next weeks journey with you!
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