Biba is back... and its millionaire creator is none too happy about it

The greatest name in Sixties fashion is being relaunched as a label, without the founder. By Steve Bloomfield

Biba is back. The store that was as much a symbol of the Swinging Sixties as the Mini Cooper is to be relaunched as a fashion label. But the woman who created it - and whose personal vision of elegantly wasted decadence earned Biba followers from Mick Jagger to the Princess Royal - has nothing to do with the relaunch, and she does not approve.

Barbara Hulanicki was used to seeing rock stars, Hollywood idols and royalty among her shimmering silks and feather boas after she started Biba in 1963. Brigitte Bardot caused a near-riot by stripping to her underwear in the open-plan changing rooms.

David and Angie Bowie took tea with flamingos on the roof of its lavish seven-storey Art Deco store in Kensington. Princess Anne was a fan.

Biba closed in chaos in 1975. But now a fashion entrepreneur has licensed the name and will use it to launch a new range of clothes and accessories next month. Ms Hulanicki has told The Independent on Sunday that she is "baffled" by the way the former one-woman brand is being resurrected without her, and finds it "very, very painful".

The Biba look - creamy skin, ruby cheeks, cupid lips and big eyelashes - has returned from history to become ubiquitous in the fashion of 2006. Seen on most of the models strutting autumn catwalks, it also inspires Alison Goldfrapp, the singer who is one of British pop's most stylish new icons. She has been described as "a Biba beauty reincarnated". And the clothes - with their lace, appliqué and touches of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, the Victorian and the Edwardian - have influenced recent collections by almost every major fashion house, most notably Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Original items that cost very little three decades ago can sell for £1,000 a time on eBay.

Michael Pearce, the man credited with bringing Ugg boots to the UK, says his new Biba label will embody the same spirit as the original. "It is a wonderful British icon," he says. "We want to pay homage. She [Ms Hulanicki] invented the high street."

The original Biba was based on an idea that was revolutionary in its time: high fashion at prices most young women could afford. "That is what Philip Green [of Topshop] is doing now - you make it as cheap as possible," says Mr Pearce. "We cannot compete with that. It is impossible to replicate what she did in that way." So instead the new Biba will draw inspiration from the old, with shoes and bags designed by Tony Cappiello and clothes by Bella Freud.

Yet Barbara Hulanicki believes the new Biba will betray its heritage. "It is very, very painful," says the wealthy 69-year-old, who is now a successful interior designer living in Miami. "The truth to it is not there. This is not the same time, so it cannot be the same thing. I have seen one or two items in various magazines and they look very nice, but it was a very emotional thing, it was not just a series of bags."

She started Biba as a mail-order company in 1963 with her husband, just as the drabness of post-war fashion was being blown away by new boutiques. Cathy McGowan wore Biba dresses to introduce the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on Ready Steady Go!, the hippest television show on the planet for a while. Biba evolved as the Seventies began and pop looked for ways to grow up. At its peak, it was "a theme park devoted to elegantly wasted decadence," says Alwyn W Turner, author of The Biba Experience. "If you shared Barbara's love of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Victoriana and Hollywood glamour, this was your spiritual home."

With dazzling colours, glamorous assistants and pounding music, Biba also introduced the idea that shopping was done with friends, as a way of defining yourselves and becoming the people you wanted to be.

"I didn't see why inexpensive things couldn't be well-designed," says Ms Hulanicki now. "In that period there were no nice things in the mass market. There was no choice, nothing."

Biba clothes were also exclusive: only small numbers of each item were made. Alexandra Shulman, the editor of Vogue, says it was her favourite shop as a teenager. "When I was young you didn't have the high street, it was Biba and Kensington Market for me."

Big Biba opened in a seven-storey Art Deco building in Kensington High Street in September 1973. It sold everything from wallpaper and paint to food (there were even baked beans in black and gold Biba cans), but most visitors wanted to gawp and not buy. The store closed two years later, after the partners who had helped grow the company sold the trademark, without Ms Hulanicki's permission. At the end clothes were piled on the floor and customers carried them off for free.

Wayne Hemingway, founder of the fashion label Red or Dead, prefers to remember Biba as "massively influential, the first designer label for ordinary women." Growing up in Morecambe, Lancashire, he watched his mother make clothes from Biba patterns. "A big day out was a trip to London to visit the Biba store," he said yesterday. "Biba was the biggest thing ever to happen in women's fashion."

That is all in the past now, says its founder. The new label will be launched with a private view in Paris next month and a show in London in the autumn. But Barbara Hulanicki, the woman who was Biba, will not be there.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

SAP Functional Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000.

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn