The day I met Barbara Hulanicki

Everything about Barbara Hulanicki and her beloved Biba has captured my imagination. When we moved Stylechapel HQ from London to Brighton and discovered that Brighton Museum was staging its Biba and Beyond exhibition… it felt like my own personal welcome to town! I can't remember when I first became fascinated with Barbara, I just find her story so inspiring. It all started with a fashion illustration course at Brighton Art School, which led to winning an Evening Standard competition with her drawing of a halter neck beach suit (incidentally, Barbara's model drawings all looked like Audrey Hepburn).

Barbara Hulanicki

Image credit: Dania Graibe

Her working life started at Helen Jardine Artists earning £5 a week, making tea, delivering work to senior artists and practising her sketching. Then followed a successful career illustrating for Vogue and The Times, and working at Women's Wear Daily. It’s great to look back at old copies of Vogue and see those beautiful drawings. Barbara married Fitz, the love of her life, in '61. He proposed on Brighton seafront (another connection – no wonder I love it here). Barbara and Fitz launched Biba's Postal Boutique. The pivotal moment came when the Daily Mirror fashion editor chose Barbara to design a garment for an article. She came up with the now famous pink gingham dress, with matching Brigitte Bardot kerchief. Priced at 30 shillings, 17,000 orders flooded in. Biba was up and running.

Biba Store
Image credit: Maleva Apaixonada

The Biba girl was fresh and young with long legs, a bright face and round dolly eyes. Celebrity endorsements from the likes of Cilla Black and Queen of the Mods Cathy McGowan took the Biba name from strength to strength. London was swinging and Biba was at its heart. It was the destination shop attracting the great and the good from Yoko Ono to Barbara Streisand to Brigitte Bardot. At one point, Anna Wintour (now Editor of American Vogue) worked there as a shop assistant. What I wouldn’t give to step back in time and walk into the Biba store with the music blaring and Twiggy trying on clothes with the mob in the dressing room. Within 10 years, Biba had grown from a small boutique to a seven-floor department store. The first lifestyle store of its kind and also the first store that allowed customers to try makeup before buying it. This started a new phenomenon. Women would pop in before work, put on makeup and then set off on their way.

Biba outfitsSince moving to Miami in '87, Barbara has turned her talents to interior design. She designed a nightclub for Ronnie Wood and iconic hotels such as The Marlin and The Cavalier. Her collaborations on these projects have been a huge part of the regeneration of Miami Beach. They say you should never meet your heroes, and they may well have a point. I met Barbara at a talk organised by Elle Decoration and when I went to shake her hand, instead of saying my name, I suddenly came over all star struck and blurted out “I love you”. I kid you not. The fact that I love her may be true but… oh the shame.

Image credit: Tara





"To all optimists, fatalists and dreamers" 

Image credits: Barbara - Dania Graibe
Biba shop - Maleva Apaixonada
Biba catsuits - Tara