Goodbye Biba & Amen

The failure earlier this month of the most recent attempt to breathe fresh life into Biba was not in the least surprising, blighted as it was by a series of poor market judgments but also weighed down by the history of the brand.

Potential customers were deterred by licensee Michael Pearce‘s ill-conceived positioning of the original High Street fashion label in the luxury bracket, while the departure of head designer Bella Freud after just three seasons rang alarm bells throughout the industry.

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//Freud talks about her Biba launch collection, A/W 06//

Such events, however, were overshadowed by the non-involvement of visionary founder Barbara Hulanicki, who maintained a dignified distance aside from commenting that she found the revival “painful”.  

//Marc Bolan in Biba jacket with ziggurat sequins 1973// 

//Evening Standard advert April 1974// 

Biba expert Alwyn Turner has pointed out in The First Post that the crash of the original company in 1975 was seen as symptomatic of the general economic malaise in the dog days of Ted Heath’s Government, and that this latest collapse can be viewed in similar terms: “As belts are tightened, it is possibly time to say farewell to Biba. Finally.”

//One of 12 customised windows at Big Biba, 1973 //  

Whatever, it’s all a long way from the joie de vivre expressed by the original Biba in all it’s incarnations. As detailed in Chapter 14 of THE LOOK, the boutique and label brought affordable high fashion to the High Street and came to symbolise not only Swinging London in the 60s but also the glam era of the early 70s, serving along the way such customers as Cathy McGowan, Twiggy, Marc Bolan and Roxy Music.

//Invite to early 90s retrospective//

Since then Hulanicki has engaged in all manner of creative endeavours, not least designing boutique hotels in association with Island Records boss Chris Blackwell. The opening shot of Mike Nichols’ movie The Birdcage has a sweeping view of four of them: the Leslie, the Cardozo, the Cavalier and the Netherlands.

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//Look out for four Hulanicki-designed hotels in Palm Beach// 

Among her many achievements, Hulanicki has also created a bar for Rolling Stone Ron Wood , illustrated a yoga book, and worked with Graham & Brown and Habitat on wallpaper ranges. Last year the eight-foot Great Dane she designed for Big Biba’s pet department even made an appearance in plant form at the Chelsea Flower Show.

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//Hulanicki on Biba’s history and her approach to design// 

Earlier this year the former fashion illustrator held an exhibition  of her work at a London gallery and is currently working on a collection for the V&A.  “I don’t mind that people still want to reinvent Biba,” she said earlier this month. “I just try to grin and bear it.”

Rollergirl said,

May 31, 2008 @ 8:08 am

Oh dear. I thought the revived Biba had potential as a luxury brand. Unfortunately, it got off on the wrong foot with Freud going for the 70s Biba look wholesale which didn’t make for great reviews, but I thought the most recent collection was better. I guess the ethos of original Biba was similar to what we have now with TopShop, so even if Pearce had gone down the affordable route, there would have been no point, we already have TopShop now, who can compete with that. I kind of know where Hulanicki’s coming from, why can’t we let Biba RIP now?

madame said,

May 31, 2008 @ 8:25 am

When you watch the film it shows up what a difference between now and then. Big Biba was a huge megastore on the scale of Topshop, but they used that scale and platform to take their own thing to a more extreme, concentrated level – even Biba baked beans! Whereas Topshop uses their scale and influence to copy others, and produce more quickly and cheaply, never mind the ethics….Interesting….sad…..

Madam Miaow said,

June 9, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

I stumbled across the Biba shop in Covent Graden a few years back, thrilled at its return but puzzled as to why it was such a well-kept secret.

It was great! I could actually afford the clothes and bought a wonderful black velvetish dress-jacket with high-quality lime green satin lining and metal Biba logo buttons for under a hundred squid. Plus a few other bits and pieces which I love. So it was a disappointment to see it close shortly after.

I hadn’t realised they were trying to position themselves at the luxury end of the market, excluding people like me. That can only be down to greed. Since when did the rich have the monopoly on genuine style?

Seymour Cleerly said,

July 16, 2008 @ 6:15 pm

There is always the BIBA musical on the way AND the Fab books by Alwyn W Turner to remind ourselves of the atmosphere and sensation that the two big Biba stores had–No way does Topshop come close to that feeling!!!! There is still room for a similar experience/style focus/multi culture retail experience in one place and it won’t happen in a mall and it won’t be Biba BUT Biba was the first……we’re waiting!

go to for more!!!!

Rebecca Ward said,

August 15, 2008 @ 9:48 pm

do you have a look page on Ossie Clark?

rockpopfashion said,

August 16, 2008 @ 9:29 am

Hi Rebecca

We posted about this year’s revival of the Ossie Clark label here:

Interested to see what you think.

Also the entirety of Chapter 15 of THE LOOK is given over to Ossie and he receives many mentions elsewhere.

seymour clearly said,

January 11, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

The album of BIBA the Musical is now doing a bomb on iTunes, Amazon, and CDbaby check it out for yourselves—there are many still who love everything BIBA!

harvey said,

May 19, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

The Biba store in Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden, was something to do with Monica Zipper, who was, i think, behind Monix, Pink Soda, and A-mazing. It was on the site of the old “Sign of the Times”, but was definitely around Topshop`s prices.

seymour clearly said,

October 4, 2009 @ 6:28 pm

Biba the Musical showcase is at the Jermyn St Theatre on Sunday October 25th at 8pm…..could be fun

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