Vintage Biba clothes: Mini budgets mad for mini boutiques
By Sheila Thomas – The Province (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) April 17, 1967
LONDON — “Boutiques have put the fun back into shopping,” says Mary Quant.
Having opened “Bazaar” 11 years ago in the King’s Road, Chelsea, she is the “grandmother” of boutique-mania, and well-qualified to such an opinion.
Biba is a classical example of the 2,000 boutiques which have mushroomed throughout Greater London during the past decade.
“This is the most fantastic boutique in London, and no visitors to this capital city must forget a trip to Biba.” So states a useful paperbacked guide to 100 of these fascinating little shops.
Whatever they may call themselves, whether it be The Carrot on Wheels, The Owl and the Pussycat, Palisades, Periwigs or Pollyanna, all boutiques are small informal shops, probably run by the proprietors and selling mostly exclusive fashionable clothes and accessories.
Reputed to have the highest turnover per square foot of any store in the world, Biba is sitting pretty on the top rung of the ladder.
London’s luvs (1970)
A sweetheart-scoop jacket with pouf sleeves and peplum, and a soft skirt caught up in midi mania. The dusted rose cotton satin is about $3.75 a yard. McCall’s pattern 2725.
Now located in Kensington Church Street in West London, Biba was born three years ago in nearby Abingdon Road.
Tucked away in what used to he a corner chemist shop, it started as a successful postal boutique. A handful of hard-working girls coped with mail orders that poured in from Birmingham and the north, and with increasing publicity from France, Canada, the U.S., Nigeria and Hong Kong.
Biba was thought up by 29-year-old Barbara Hulanicki and husband Stephen Fitz-Simon, who in a combined effort, redecorated the onetime pharmacy with an antique Victorian look.
Barbara Hulanicki (she named the shop after her sister Biba), came from Jerusalem in 1948, and started her rag-trade career by selling a few dresses by mail order from her flat.
Why is Biba such an outstanding success? Because its mini-clothes can be bought on a mini-budget. The most expensive items are $21, and the average dress about $9.
“We try to keep everything as cheap as possible, about half the price of anything everywhere else,” says Miss Hulanicki. “We do all the designing and manufacturing ourselves to keep the markup low. And because we’re big by boutique standards, we can stock up to 500 of each design.”
Biba styles: Tenderly, two ways
Fluid little bodyclothes, borrowed from eras gone by, give more clues to the Biba excitement. (Note, too, the fragile Biba face, cheeks tweaked with color, eyes smoky-soft, hair on a curlycue. )
Here, Biba serves up a blush of rosy print. The sheer pour of shirtwaist billows its sleeves, streams a bow-up collar and stops midi way.
Giving cover, the crispest of short-sleeved vestcoats (solos as a dress too). Shirtwaist of cotton voile, about $4 a yard. Coat of cotton twill: about $4.50 a yard. Floppy fedora: McCall’s pattern 2728.
An unmistakable placard declares that no cheques are accepted. But this hardly worries celebrities Brigitte Bardot, Julie Christie, Mia Farrow, Francoise Hardy and Baroness Von Thyssen, who push their way through the heavy Victorian wood and brass doors whenever they happen to be in town.
However, the average Biba shopper (there are an estimated 3,000 per week) earns a more slender wage-packet of $30-$45, of which some compulsively spend $18-$21 on their weekly pilgrimage.
This income rate doesn’t waver, because, after all, as Miss Hulanicki explains, “after a month’s wear, a new dress is an antique.”
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But life at Bibas isn’t all a bed of roses. Shoplifting is their biggest menace.
“On our opening day, we lost 103 pairs of earrings, 78 pairs of sunglasses and God knows what else… some of these innocent-looking birds are absolutely ruthless thieves — you’d be astonished,” says Miss Hulanicki. But in more confident tones, “Now we have quite good precautions, and we prosecute on an average between seven and 12 people a week.”
Approaching Biba from the street, the window is painted uninvitingly in black and gold, and inside, the atmosphere is eerie. After adjusting your pupils to the dark, and stopping your ears against the continual throb of background pop music, you begin to see what it’s really like.
A Victoriana Aladdin’s cave lined with tempting baubles, fluffy 1920-style boas of chicken or ostrich feathers, handbags, shoes and all manner of accessories, from lingerie to watchstraps.
Old-fashioned hatstands are draped with dresses and felt cloche hats. Huge Victorian polished mahogany wardrobes tower from every burgundy-colored wall, with dilapidated pots of frondy greenery reaching out from every available nook and cranny.
Accustom yourself to these exciting but claustrophic surroundings of pushing and shoving shoppers, and you begin to take detailed note of the goods, although a flashlight would be a help.
The 25 ultra-mod assistants aged between 16-22 wear the shortest skirts to be seen in London, the longest hair, and weird Cleopatra-style makeup.
Wide-eyed Biba doll
Plays a softgirl game with flowery innocence. She’s midi-pretty as you please in a button-upper with puff-and-cuff sleevery. Cotton broadcloth; about $2.40 a yard. Fabrics by Tootal for Biba. All fashions from McCall’s pattern 2746. The baubles are real antiques.
Vintage Biba clothes of the 1960s
Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) Oct 27, 1969
In London, Biba boutique has grown up. It has stepped out of the Little Boutique world, into the world of the Really Big Store.
But it’s unlike any Big Store you’ve seen. Its a full-fledged department store — but just as everything in the old Biba was designed by owner Barbara Hulanicki, everything in the new, bigger Biba is Hulanicki-designed or very closely overseen.
And everything is exclusively Biba’s. There are the Biba home furnishings–satin sheets, carpeting, paint, Anthony Little and Julie Hodges wallpaper, felt and satin by the yard, ribbon and fringed trimmings, pillows, and fringed ’20s lampshades — all in 14 dyed-to-match, special sludgy Biba colors. Plus two sets of Biba china and three silverware patterns. Plus round tables made to the customer’s measure.
IN ADDITION, there’s the jewelry department; the shoe and handbag department; the bigger, funnier, kids department; Biba-for-men; Biba lingerie.
“It was an obvious progression,” says Barbara. “We just. didn’t have enough room to display everything we could sell. “And we had to do more of everything — more lingerie, more cosmetics, more knits. AM everyone kept asking where they could get wallpaper and pillows like ours.
“WE LOOKED around and discovered that no one was doing lampshades to match your walls, or satin sheets, or carpeting. Our customers wanted our decor, so it just seemed logical to expand into a field where we had requests.”
Fitting and proper
This Biba slink-suit belts a semi-safari long top and skims on a great midi mate; printed in powdery plum.
The whole store is pure Biba-ized ’20s-’30s glamor, like the most sophisticated twenties or thirties department store you could dream of. Straight out of F. Scott Fitzgerald, with Marlene Dietrich strolling idly among ostrich feathers and stained glass.
Each part is different: The main floor is filled with carved paneling, mirrors, and stained glass from the old St. Paul’s school torn down this spring. Ceilings are bordered with Anthony Little and Julie Hodges designs.
The original, inexpensive Biba downstairs is still the familiar Biba — just bigger, the clothes hung on a forest of hat racks against the complicated Hodges-Little designs on the walls behind.
Biba Balcony is the most vampish beige plush everywhere, heavy draperies caught hack with heavy ropes, fat pillows, and fringed lampshades, curvy beige-painted ’20s couches and flowered vases, authentic ’20s mannequins with the new Biba dinner hats — feathered and veiled.
And that’s the new Biba look. It’s the new look in London, and it brings back all kinds of outmoded words — like soignee, sophisticated, seductive.
Vintage Biba clothes style Duo too
Duo too takes a top-part start and finishes in pants with their fair share of flare. This scatter pattern, mainly navy. McCall’s pattern 2728, of viscose rayon crepe; about $4.50 a yard. All fabrics are by Tootal for Biba.
Fashion feature: Biba Boutique (1971)
Seventeen magazine – January 1971
This is the Biba look — the look that’s turning on all of young London.
To get it together, everyone’s shopping at the smashing new Biba department store for an eclectic mix of mood clothes, pale-face cosmetics and unique home furnishings — and every Biba find is the brainchild of designer Barbara Hulanicki!
Now you can be a Biba bird too, in fluttery fashions to make with McCall’s patterns and soft fabrics — all created exclusively for Seventeen by Biba to celebrate her American debut!
Go on a super sew with the antiqued elegance of Biba gear translated in hushed colors-with-cream prints and slippery-glossy fabrics.
Deco-rous mididress & Flow gently, sweet blouson
Left, flips a shorter skirt and stars full-blown sleeves above deep six-button cuffs. This and both maxis, all from McCall’s pattern 2747.
Right, on a tidy midi with a twenties glow: collar points to loopy buttons, super sleevery. McCall’s pattern 2725 (a choker is included). Midis of viscose rayon crepe, about $4.50 a yard. Fabrics: Tootal for Biba.
Vintage Biba clothes from 1971: Rosy bouquet & Lissome lilac
Diaphanous slither-stuff to sew puts Biba babies — in maxis and midis that party it or play it long just for fun.
Left: A blooming maxi beauty! Tie-on capelet and choker are part and parcel of the pattern.
Right: Shows more sheer finery, this with Empire airs: soft bodice gatherings, dramatic neckline and ruffled, puffed sleeves. Both, cotton voile; about $4 a yard.