Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Biba

I'm having one of those tidying up sessions where everything is temporarily (I hope!) more of a mess than when I started. Part of the thinking was to blitz through two filing cabinets in my workroom, to make more space to put things away. Some hope. Anyway, as I flicked through the memorabilia in one drawer and rejected the idea of throwing away my Singapore Schools Athletics Programme (1963) and a collection of Stockholm tourist guides (1969) I came across a rumpled black plastic bag. The faded gold logo on the front gave the game away, but I had forgotten what was inside. Turned out it was several more black plastic carrier bags of varying sizes, an empty baked bean tin, a small box of matches and an unused address book.

If you are of a certain vintage (ahem) you will remember Biba and even if you couldn't visit the shop, you may have had a mail-order catalogue or had the rather fey poster up on your bedroom wall. I think I was only in the Kensington shop a couple of times, perhaps 1970ish, but it made a big impression. Dark, Hollywood decor, clothes hanging on bentwood coat stands, huge plumes of feathers, gold, mulberry, plum colours everywhere. I distinctly remember feeling that I was completely out of my depth and very self-conscious in such glamorous surroundings. No doubt that's why my purchases seem to have extended only to baked beans and matches!



Barbara Hulanicki, the founder of the shop, had some really innovative trading ideas, but, sadly, her business acumen was wanting and Biba had to turn to financial backers to continue - the iconic Biba brand was rather lost in the process. But at the time it clearly made a deep impression on me and I must have realised it was something big, new and special enough to squirrel-away my own souvenirs of the experience. Anyone else got memories of Biba?

9 comments:

PG said...

I am a bit young for Biba, but what a great find - I wonder what the going rate is for a tin of Biba baked beans on the collectors market? Not, of course, that you would sell them, I think; memories are far more precious.

Pomona said...

Yes! I went to Biba once or twice when I was a child - I remember the gloom and dresses hanging on old-fashioned hat and coat stands. One Christmas I was bought a powder blue jersey dress with dangly sleeves - which I only wore about twice, it was so impractical. But the shop was a place of pilgrimage it was so trendy!

Pomona x

AeFondKis said...

loved the short biba smock dresses had two.. and the lovely panda eyes..eyeshadows were heavy and sooty!
Linda x

sandra wyman said...

I go further back than you do. My first week at university we went to Biba, then in a small back room in Abingdon Road, selling tiny (and I mean tiny) op art dresses. The Kensington shop was two shops after that, I think, and had originally been a large and rather posh department store - I remember it had a roof garden where they served coffee, and yes I do remember the dark decor and the bentwood coatstands - all very stylish. I have a painting my husband did of two women in large Biba hats and feather boas..

sandra wyman said...

I arrived there sometime before you: in my first week at university: at that time it was a small back room in a flat in Abingdon Road, and my friend bought a tiny op-art minidress. The last time I went was the Kensington store (two shops later I think) with the bentwood hatstands etc, which had once been a famous posh department store (Derry & Toms?) with a roof-garden where they served coffee. And I have a painting done by my husband during that era of two women wearing hats and feather boas..

Chrissie said...

PG - I ate the beans! I was a poor student at the time ...
Pomona - ooh, dangly sleeves - I still keep buying garments with dangly sleeves and they're still impractical!
Linda - I can see you with panda eyes!
Sandra - how great to be there at the very start. I bet that painting brings back many memories for you.

Thanks everyone for taking the trouble to leave a comment!

Tweed Delights said...

Biba reminds me of my Big Sis (the one who bought me the fabric tape!) - I'm sure she had some of the merchandise, being a 70s chic! I love all the imagery of the brand - gorgeous.

Love your shop BTW!

Gina said...

Thank you for dropping by my blog and for your thoughtful comment Chrissie. I'm so glad you did because I have loved reading through some of your recent posts and will certainly be back again. (I plan to make some of those beautiful Kusudama flowers!)

hippopip said...

I am very envious I am old enough to remember but lived in the depths of Wiltshire so never got to Biba`s but I have always loved the dresses,sadly I now have the cash but not the figure or the youth to wear them.Thankyou for bringing back great memories