Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Biba's everlasting appeal

Little did the architects of the Big Biba store in London’s Kensington High Street know they were helping to create a legend. During its brief existence from 1973-75, the opulent emporium was hailed as ‘the most beautiful store in the world’.

Even Mr Al Fayed would have been impressed with the shop’s extravagant Art Deco interior, which was reminiscent of the glamorous, golden age of Hollywood.

Big Biba wasn’t just about style – it was the first lifestyle store. Here a young girl could “buy not only a new wardrobe, fully co-ordinated from head to toe, but also a complete range of cosmetics and soft furnishings, together with the washing powder to care for her clothes, and food to go with it, all presented in the distinctive Biba packaging.”

Alternatively, she could lounge around in the shop-windows (as Biba didn't have window-displays), or sip cocktails upstairs amongst the flamingos that lived in the Roof Garden, or in the Rainbow Room, where live music was performed.

'Biba style' was characterised by flowing lines, floppy hats and… pickled onions! For all it’s curiously cool, stylish charm – Biba was peculiarly quirky and eccentric: Even the food hall displays were in the shape of baked bean tins and Campbells soup cans. But it was the Biba logo that was immediately recognizable on the vast majority of the products.

Biba also produced a mail order catalogue, with girls wearing the complete Biba look – from clothing to makeup and accessories. The Biba look consisted of what Hulanicki called "Auntie colours" - which she said ‘look like a funeral.’ The predominant shades were blackish mulberries, blueberries, rusts and plums.

If you’d like to see more of images of the store and Biba’s designs, how about this fabulous, collectable coffee table book from ShopCurious. ‘Welcome to Big Biba’ features over 150 colour photographs from the seven storey department and is signed by designer, Barbara Hulanicki herself, as well as the book’s creators.

In addition to selling stylish fashion, Big Biba was a social network and curiosity shop all rolled into one. I have a feeling the legend will live on and on... I'm curious to experience Biba’s next incarnation – and see the website.

Are you?


janettaylor said...

Biba! One of my fav brand. I have 6 pair of shoes by Biba. I'm glad you write this post. :))))

Jan said...

Brilliant concept wasn't it ?
Sadly I never experienced it - at the time lived a couple of hundred miles away (trains were a lot slower back then) :)

worm said...

what went wrong with Biba? It seemed so popular as is talked about so fondly, so how come it disappeared?

ps. finished Mailman last week - loved it! You have obviously worked out the kind of books I like! (ie. mostly ones full of weirdos)

Profoundly Superficial said...

I used to skip school to go to Biba. I WORSHIPPED IT!!! Still do, actually...

Susan said...

I also adore Biba shoes - Janet you're very lucky! We'll have some vintage Biba shoes at ShopCurious very soon, so keep a look out for those.

There are numerous books on the fascinating history of the original Biba (probably plenty of 'weirdos' featured worm - so pleased to hear you enjoyed Mailman). I read that the licence to use the Biba brand name in the UK has recently changed hands'll be interesting to see what happens next. Curious to hear any more up to date news on this.

Style Porn said...

I love all these vintage ads! How cool would those be framed in a set and hanging in a giant walk-in closet?! (Hey, one can dream)