Conversations with Barbara Hulanicki: the Designs & Fabrics of Biba!

During the production of our collaboration with Barbara Hulanicki, we got a bit ‘fabric-nerdy’ with Barbara and chatted all about how Flare Street produces our garments and how Biba used to do it back in the day! Needless to say, it was amazing!!

Generously, she told us the in’s and out’s of her production – what we absolutely loved, was the similarities between making locally, sourcing deadstock and creating unique and innovative designs for her Biba customers.

From the beginning of Flare Street, we’ve held local manufacturing close to our hearts. We prefer using limited edition, deadstock designer-end fabric over new fibres, though it’s very difficult to come across! Creating our own prints and designs, with colours and patterns that are exciting and nostalgic at times, was the next step in our process. It allowed us to create something truly unique, art-work for your legs as we sometimes refer to them!

When it came to our conversations about Biba with Barbara, we just couldn’t get enough! This has been a dream come true and we’re excited to share the ‘behind the scenes’ of fabrics, design and manufacturing of Biba with you!

Barbara Hulanicki Design Room

The below conversations were from 2019 with Barbara Hulanicki:

In the beginning of Biba, you used to source deadstock fabrics from the 1920’s & 30’s. How did you come across it?

“In Biba I used to rummage in this mouldy old decaying department store up the road near the shop.I got to know one of the buyers, a very old man, and he asked me if I wanted to see the Ponting’s stock rooms. I nearly had a heart attack!”

The High Street used to be a grand street with 3 huge department stores during the carriage trade. Ponting’s was one of them and operated from 1863 to 1970.

“The 3,000 foot store room was filled with old stock, rolls and rolls of old prints from the 1920’s and 1930’s....  so we used to buy the fabrics for nothing every time we were cutting new lots of dresses for Biba. The prints were amazing... Once you start you can’t stop!”

Ingrid Bolting Biba Flare Street 

What came next?

“After that faze, when we were jamming, we developed our own base fabrics that resembled Art Deco rayon’s floppy base. I had a huge design room doing prints and colourways and just painting out colour sheets of new colours to send out to various manufacturers such as tights, T-shirt’s, etc. We had to do that as there was no Pantone in those days! We did 22 new colours every season!”

Did you have a favourite fabric you loved working with?  

“My favourites were the rayon imitation droopy crepe silk from the 30’s... Rayon, Crepe, Velvet, Satin Cotton Voile, and a copy of Liberty’s wool we called Flanesta which was a brushed rayon.”

Pattie Boyd Biba 

And the clothes were made in England?

“Right at the beginning we had a small sample room which of course grew with each shop. The styles would be sampled and made up and most important pattern cut... which then were sent out to Mr Sava, our fabulous Greek Sewing room in the East End of London.”

“It was after English fabric suppliers received an order for 10 thousand yards of Gingham we were walking on water! By then our sales were humongous, we manufactured with Mr Sava, he and his makers were still with us until the end.
Our t-shirts were made in Manchester with Admiral, football t-shirts and plain t-shirts were made with Vedonis who made Victorian underwear for men... they giggled when they got orders for 3,000 t-shirts in one style but lots of colours. The re-orders were every 6 weeks in the Big Biba store!”

“By then also the sample room was churning out new styles daily. Fitz would calculate the styles selling fastest (more the shapes that were selling) and we would use the same base patterns and develop new styles. We had to have new stuff delivered daily which was manufactured in Footwell Rd.

"After the studio sample was ok, new patterns would be sampled by the manufacturer, sometimes more than five times. If a shape was flying out of the door, we would use it as a base for more styles and fabrics… I'm getting a stomach ache just thinking of the stress of manufacturing, things always going wrong in the making!"

“In Big Biba, Fitz would just come downstairs and want more dresses - as a category! This was before computers!” 

“It amazes me how there was this ‘word of mouth’ and info got around regardless of lack of the internet... it even got to your land (Australia)! When we went to Sydney the dress manufacturers gave a dinner for me to thank me for knocking off a specific Biba dart! I thought it was terribly funny…”

 Biba Darts Barbara Hulanicki

Naturally, we asked what the dart was! Barbara drew us a picture which you can find above. “It takes out the fullness of fabric under the bust.”

Where were sourcing fabrics from for Biba after the Ponting’s days?

“Burgess Ledward, who manufactured our rayon linen brought back one of the old boys that had worked for them in the 1930’s and he developed the original fabric from their archives!
It was amazing in the Sixties as you wanted something really badly and you could get it manufactured. From day one in the second shop, after Ponting’s prints ran out, we used to order base fabric and have it dyed in our colours and prints. By then our sales were massive and non-stop...” 

“We were using the factory in Alicante in Spain to produce my designs of shoes .... Biba was full of red sole shoes, the soles are brilliant marker of a brand!”

 MArc Bolan Biba Jacket Flare street

“The rainbow sequinned fabric Marc Bolan wore was from Japan, it was by the yard.” 

How did Biba Couture arise?

Once Fitz came over to my chaotic area in the design room. There was a huge section where I had rolls of fabric that were gorgeous but much too expensive for us to use in Biba.

“He looked at the fabrics and said that he had had them stock checked! He said to me, ‘Do you realize that you have here in these shelves a Country House and a Rolls Royce worth of fabric!’ That’s how we started Biba Couture with the ‘Country House and a Rolls Royce’ from the shelves in the design room!

 Biba Couture Flare Street

Finally, from the Biba days, if you had to choose just 1 favourite item, what was it?

“I had no favourite... when something was bugging me a lot it usually meant that it was missing and there were other people that came into the shop who were also into the same thing... if you have a shop and are in contact with a lot of people, you can pick up their wants and dislikes. After the ‘boots incident’, Fitz always listened to my ‘Fashion Flashes’”.

Mick Jagger Biba 
Mick Jagger and Chrissie Shrimpton in a dress with matching fabrics as the first image, circa 1965.

Barbara Hulanicki
Image of Barbara Hulanicki.

To Shop the collection of Flare Street flare's designed by Barbara Hulanicki, head here:


Pieces from this blog were taken from our conversations with Barbara Hulanicki in 2019 with Nik from Flare Street.

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