I’m currently in the middle of buying a new house with the hope of moving some time in July and as a result I am having to pack everything up. This is a bigger job than it normally would be as I am having to downsize due to moving to a more expensive area and, therefore, I have to get rid of so much stuff. With this in mind, I am going through everything, being utterly ruthless, before finally packing up what I’m taking with me.
My job for Sunday afternoon was to go through everything that was in the eaves of my attic room and, as you can see from the photo below, this was a huge task. I just stood there for at least 10 minutes wondering where the hell I was going to start!
When I did finally get started I began to find things I’d completely forgotten I had, including these three beautiful Biba catalogues from the late 1960s. I bought them from an antiques shop in Burford, Oxfordshire. Each one was priced £6 but, if I remember correctly, I paid £15 for all three.
Biba, a truly unique fashion brand famous during the 1960s and 1970s, was started by Polish-born designer Barbara Hulanicki. Initially it was a humble mail order business advertising in the national newspapers. Their initial success came about from an advertisement placed in The Daily Mirror in May 1964 for a pink gingham dress, similar to one worn by actress Brigitte Bardot, which accumulated a total of 17,000 orders. This then allowed them to open their first bricks and mortar shop in Abingdon Road, Kensington just four months later.
Barbara Hulanicki, with the help of her husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon, built up a brand that became instantly recognisable with a heady mix of Art Nouveau and modern day Rock and Roll. Although the brand ultimately became a department store selling everything from toys to food and from books to clothes, it was the women’s wear range that has lasted to show us the classic Biba look. Their demographic were skinny teenage and early 20s women and the style was ethereal with tight sleeves, maxi skirts and oversized accessories, a complete opposite to the Mary Quant mod mini skirts.
The mail order catalogues were first put into production in 1968 which dates my three to between 1968 and 1971 as the prices are still in the old UK pound, shilling and pence currency which was decimalised in February 1971.
The front covers just have the classic Biba logo on them, but I particularly like the one that fills the whole page. The background colour is used throughout the catalogue with each image being overlaid with the same hue of terracotta, dark green or brown. The two with the small logo on the front have three double page spreads and two triple page spreads. The other has just one double page spread and two triple pages spreads which makes me believe this is the oldest one of the three.
I’ve photographed two spreads from each catalogue which I think show the best outfits and you can click on them to see an enlarged version. The very last one, on the far right, makes me think of Princess Lea!
I would love to own a genuine piece of Biba from the 1960s, particularly one of the maxi dresses as they are just so classic of the era. Do you own any Biba vintage? I’d love to know where you found it.