'Beyond Biba' will leave you bubbly about Biba
Until last weekend, the most I knew about Biba was the striking art deco logo and motif that has always kept me curious. But not until watching “Beyond Biba, a Portrait of Barbara Hulanicki” did I realize the magnitude of what Biba was from 1964 to 1975.
The film recounts Biba designer and creator Barbara Hulanicki’s life from a childhood in Poland to her start as a fashion illustrator in London, doing her now iconic sketches for Women’s Wear Daily, British Vogue and the Sunday Times. In 1964 her and her late husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon, opened the first Biba boutique where women could buy Hulanicki’s affordable clothing. Pre-Biba, affordable and fashionable clothes for young women were unheard of. Hulanicki’s miniskirts, floppy hats and brightly colored cosmetic line became favorites of young London as well as celebrities such as Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful and David Bowie. By the time Biba shuttered in 1975, it was a five-story art deco-style department store that sold clothes, cosmetics, accessories and even Biba-branded sundries.
Biba really was the Top Shop of its day, making inexpensive, but well-designed pieces that people could actually wear and did. Cameron Silver, owner of the vintage boutique Decades, said he occasionally gets Biba pieces in, but always finds that they have been too worn -- a testament to how practical and realistic the line was during that era.
As a pioneer of affordable design, it’s no stretch that Hulanicki has been doing a line for Top Shop. She also does some amazing bags for Italian brand Coccinelle, which are amazing, but sadly not available in the US. The Coccinelle bag Hulanicki carried with her to the film’s L.A. screening caught my attention because of the Biba-esque art deco print on the tote’s velvet exterior. “People always want Biba,” said Hulanicki, dressed head to toe in black, from her Zara blazer to her signature black sunglasses that literally pop against her bright blond bob. “I give it to them, but then eventually wean them off.”
The film painted an accurate picture of Hulanicki’s down-to-earth demeanor and amazing talent for design, both fashion and interiors. The film is currently screening in England only, but plans for a DVD release are underway. Visit the movie’s website for details.
-- Melissa Magsaysay