GLAMOROUS FASHION BOUTIQUE IN SWINGING LONDON
Barbara Hulanicki OBE was dressing stars before they caught the light. We invited Barbara to talk about fashion and her brainchild Biba store. Miami based, recognised as a British fashion icon, Barbara Hulanicki was born in Poland and raised in England. Founder of energetic Biba – lifestyle store and fashion boutique that grew into a vast emporium and epitomized Swinging London.
WE TALK WITH BARBARA ABOUT WHAT HAS CHANGED SINCE BIBA
The initial concept of Biba was that fashion should be fun and enjoyed by everyone, not just the privileged. The glamorous and rebellious nature of its founders, transformed it into accidental status symbol.
BIBA WAS JUST VERY SIMPLE AND DOWN TO EARTH AND PRACTICAL
Biba was full of colorful birds. Women were wearing bold accessories. There were some kind of status symbol, and the Biba lifestyle, which is now not about the place anymore. That’s the feeling! This is something what people carry in their hearts.
SWALLOW MEANS FREEDOM
What differs fashion from art is that in this industry only few players shape the current language. In a wild scale, people follow them and make their choices based on a fear to stay fashionable, not the desire created by their emotions.
LIFESTYLE STORE EXPERIENCE
Today everyone is talking about customer experience but from the golden age of Biba this is still the same purpose of blending all aspects of life into one dimension of pleasant shopping experience in the lifestyle store.
Yaskulsky (Dora Staszko): Biba first brought fashion to the adventure status, something that world’s finest PR specialists proud themselves to develop today. At bottom, what changed since Biba?
Barbara Hulanicki: 1964, the first Biba, I wanted it to have an atmosphere of a living room/club, hence the drapes, and loud music. We had no clothing rails but hatstands, which had clothes and accessories displayed together. We had sofas for the boys to hang out on when the girls were shopping. All the furniture was found at Antique vintage shops. And we were open until eight in the evening, whilst most shops closed at five or six o’clock.
Everybody was working, and they were free to move away from restricted home environments. Fitz, my husband, and partner analyzed the average wage was $10 a week, $3 went on rent in a bedsit, $3 for food and clubs and $3 was spent in Biba.
Girls were independent, beautiful and it was natural that they “Ruled the roost.” It never occurred to them they were not.
After six decades, this is still the same business model. It evolved from mail order into online fashion shopping.
‘Audrey glided in, she was lovely but she was human… She was like a fashion drawing brought to life – huge eyes, mouth and quite a large nose too… I almost wished I hadn’t seen her in the flesh. It broke the magic on celluloid.’ – BARBARA HULANICKI
Y: Now #womenempowerment movement is making wave, how does it look after six decades since the women’s liberation that started in 60’s? Those days it was about trendy clothes or maybe I should say, lack of them?
BH: Both Fitz and I believed in putting all of our energy into one space. We tried a second Biba shop in Brighton but found that it was just a duplication of what we were already doing. We put all our energy in one place, lived near the shop so it was continuous energy between the two visits.
Y: In Poland we say that one swallow does not make the spring… it foretells it (Yaskulsky’s name comes from the swallow in Polish). You built little society. At the same time having sample team on hand gave you creative freedom for crafting and fitting details to individual needs. How different is it now from the time of Biba when fashion has made a circle and again turns from fast to slow fashion? Do you think, so popular offer of personal styling and shopping is an equivalent or the mass proportion kills the spirit?
BH: We produced a catalog to reach the people in the provinces. And also, it was a way to show the public how to wear their clothes, e.g. styled! Biba was just very simple and down to earth and practical.
Y: Currently Biba and vintage clothing from 60’s and 70’s is skyrocketing on online auctions, would it be because of timeless taste and the lifestyle symbol people aspire to? Just note, after six decades, this is still the same business model. It evolved from mail order into online fashion shopping. Your husband was a visionary.
BH: We manufactured locally with the Greek manufacturers who delivered daily. We built a sample room as it was necessary to give the manufacturer a pattern to cut the fabric. Everything happened by need, to get the clothes quickly into the shop.
Y: How “Timeless” is this related to #whatiworetoday trend, those people really lost the capacity of using their brains to define their own aesthetics?
BH: There were no seasons. Clothes just rolled in from Summer (Ha Ha) to Winter. Swimsuits were sold when the weather said you go could swimming, not six months earlier as in most stores. It was all common sense.
Y: Just because of my inherent curiosity, can you name a few current fashion divas or best dressed women you admire?
BH: There has only been one fashion hero to me since Sabrina fair, Audrey Hepburn. She has an indelible image of her style and all that graphic color, Black! She has survived so many fashion ups and downs. Simple design always wins!
Y: Simplicity is the clue right now. This is fascinating in Biba, you have created the space which surprisingly evolved into lifestyle store. It is remarkable because you gave people exactly what they wanted at that time.
Y: My grandfather was a tailor and today some would call his work “luxury”, what I could say is just how it should to be. I have chosen handbags as a badge of self-expression because for me this was a symbol of adulthood. I want women to cherish them not because of latest season design, but because they are kind of their security blanket. Look at British Queen Elizabeth, the more simple her bag is, the more curiosity it rises, but she knows she can conceal her intimateness in it. I love that conclusion, that “simple design always wins” because this is exactly what we are after.
Y: What is American fashion like?
BH: Sporty and in Miami the less you wear the better.
Y: Thank you Barbara. It was a great pleasure to have this conversation with you.
Inspired by her life, understanding the difficulties of pushing out idealistic vision, in Yaskulsky we’ve been working closely with our clients but just recently we decided to allow people to interact with the designs in pleasant atmosphere of art galleries as equivalent to fashion boutique. During the exhibition we can hear from people what is interesting for them, listen to their stories and be inspired. This is a great opportunity to better understand their expectations and what fashion means for them. This is an exclusive, for us, insight into their lives. Feel free to join our conversation in comments.
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