'A ball gown is your dream, and it must make you a dream... I think it is just as necessary in a woman's wardrobe as a suit. And it is wonderful for morale...' Christian Dior

Monday, 9 August 2010

Biba my baby

Repetitive, generic so-called maxi dresses today don't know the meaning of the word, maxi. Take this picture of Twiggy in 1960s Biba. A free flowing, print-tastic, don't give a f*ck maxi. Anticipating House of Fraser's September relaunch of the brand, I'm not sure they'll do justice to the long towering gowns (not to mention micro minis) that made Biba the most iconic store of the decade, but I'm hopeful that they will.

I've loved Biba since long before making my first purchase (a black and white crocheted cardigan from Dapper Boutique in Camden) and think its founder Barbara Hulanicki, sounds like an amazing woman. I'm currently reading her autobiography, From A To Biba (almost as snappy as the title of this post) which chronicles her journey from growing up in Jerusalem to founding her first boutique in Kensington, London then watching the brand being taken over in the 1970s. She writes beautifully with passion in abundance and emotion where appropriate (her opening paragraph reads: 'My childhood was so secure that I remember wishing one of my parents would die so I could feel some emotion, even misery. I was twelve years old when my wish came true.')

I remember interviewing Twiggy a couple of years ago for something TV related and (naturally) we got onto the Biba subject and she painted the most enviable picture of running down Abingdon Road in her lunch hour (when she used to wash people's hair on a Saturday morning) to buy a dress.

She told me: 'I think Barbara changed high street shopping forever. There were no boutiques before Barbara did Biba. There was no teenage clothing at a cost that kids could afford. She started that. And we wouldn’t have Topshop now probably if she hadn’t done that.'

Twiggy didn't keep many of the clothes that are so synonymous with her image, (and I suppose brand) in the 1960s, but she kept her Biba. Course she did. It feels like such a shame that someone of Barbara's skill lost the rights to what started out as her own baby. Of course her talent lives on (I loved her Biba-esque line for Topshop last year). But it will be interesting to see what House of Fraser and 'muse' Daisy Lowe do with the ethos Barbara put her heart and soul into. And if it worked for Halston...


  1. Nothing like a maxi dress to draw out a first comment! Absolutely love the Biba image and ethos, but slightly unnerved that it's going to be relaunched by House of Fraser: surely too many shareholders and directors to appease?

  2. My thoughts exactly. They first tried to relaunch it under Bella Freud in 2006... You can't blame them for trying and retrying, but nothing can match the original because Barbara isn't at the heart. Still, look forward to having a sniff around these new pieces... even if it's just to turn my nose up ;-) X

  3. I love the history of biba i bought the biba bible when it came out just to pour over the pages of beautiful clothes