BIBA – Let it rest

Why try and recreate the irreplaceable?

Fashion brand Biba experienced a decade long lifetime: from 1964-75. Subsequent attempts at reviving it, in various forms, force us to ask the question – why? It was a brand that was so of the time, of the moment, and captured the essence of british feeling in the late 60s and early 70s, a magic that is lost in recent attempts to restore it to its former glory. If this could be confirmed in any way, the fact that original creator Barbara Hulanicki has openly expressed her sadness at recent attempts to revive the brand due to the loss of its original spirit, must be it.

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‘Big Biba’ was opened in 1973 on Kensington high street, and was the first department store of its kind. Outrageous colours, art deco themed rooms with flamingo clad walls, novelty installations like a giant record player and model of Hulanicki’s own dog, the store sold everything from stationery to stockings and even had its own food court. Biba was fast fashion: affordable clothes that could be reproduced en mass, often replicas of outfits seen on film stars, it filled a gap in the market for the young who wanted to be fashionable, but didn’t have the financial means to do so. Big Biba was a novelty attraction, and was frequented by stars such as Twiggy, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, even Vogue’s Anna Wintour was once a saturday sales assistant! Bands such as the Kinks played on the roof top, resulting in a frenzied cult like following surrounding the store. Make up counters allowed girls to try on makeup before they bought it – the first of its kind, and the sales assistants doubled up as models for the clothes, going to Biba was an experience in itself. The point is, this atmosphere, spirit, and wonderfully weird combination of celebrity and ordinary girl both in the same, bizarre, fantastical sensory emporium cannot be recreated.

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Thanks to the financial climate of the 1970s Biba’s demise was abrupt. Bought by British Land, eventually the building on 99-117 Kensington High street that housed it was valued to be worth more than the brand itself. A sad end to a fleeting and marvellous fashion brand that changed the way the high street looks today, inspiring brands such as Topshop and H & M, the demise of Biba was a sorry one, but this does not mean we should continue try and revive it! Now an (admittedly successful) concession brand of House of Fraser, Biba has lost the magical captivating allure it enjoyed in its 1970s hey day. It does not belong on an upper floor of a remarkably unexciting department store. Perhaps there is an irony in the fact that in its prime Biba was a brand that drew inspiration from the past, reinterpreting old trends and tried to turn it into something accessible for the fashion forward contemporary youth… Regardless, the essence of Biba was in the experience of shopping there: it was the perfect solution to an ‘absolutely desperate’ contemporary fashion scene for a particular demographic, and it should be left as such.


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