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.
//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.
//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.
//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.”