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Biba

Designer Barbara Hulanicki began running a mail-order fashion operation in 1964 with her husband Stephen Fitzsimon.

They felt that the price of fashion was too high for many so they promoted a “throw away and buy another” philosophy, and the cheaper the clothes, the more temporary they could be.

Barbara designed her own fabrics in Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, and the clothes she created were affordable and attractive.

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When Felicity Green in the Daily Mirror featured one of BIBA’s gingham dresses at just under £3, the orders flooded in.

As a result of this success, Barbara Hulanicki opened BIBA as a small boutique in a former chemist’s shop at 87 Abingdon Road, Kensington.

In March 1966, BIBA (named after Hulanicki’s younger sister) moved to 19-21 Kensington Church Street. Vanity Fair described it as “the most exotic shop in London.” It became the most popular shop on the planet for fashionable girls in the swinging sixties.

The shop had been designed with the greatest care, and BIBA became a way of life. It was dark, like a discotheque with a hi-fi system playing rock music.

There were dark mahogany screens everywhere, twenty potted palms and twenty-nine hat stands laden with hats, feathers and assorted clothes.

Barbara maintained the same style and cut throughout the 60s: high, tight shoulders and straight, tight-fitting sleeves.

In September 1969 BIBA was opened on a grand scale at 124-126 Kensington High Street (formerly a carpet shop) and began concentrating on the 1930s look with lots of satin, ostrich feathers and long dresses.

By the turn of the decade, BIBA was best known for moody, nostalgic clothes and accessories in shades of brown, plum, grey, and pink.

Art Deco furnishings, dynamic designs, wild wigs and towering platforms were Biba specialities; so were lipsticks in browns and greens and more vivid hues that would soon be matched by eyeshadow and powder.

BIBA moved into a major department store (the former premises of Derry and Toms, an Art Deco department store) in 1973, and began to sell much more than clothes and cosmetics.

Their food store sold everything from BIBA baked beans to BIBA soap flakes, all coordinated with the retro BIBA graphics.

Unfortunately, the giant store could not make enough profit to stay open, and BIBA closed its doors indefinitely in July 1975.

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