BH Logo BH Logo BH Logo BH Logo BH Logo BH Logo BH Logo BH Logo

Back to Biba Home Page / Back to Home Page

Barbara speaks out in 2014

The sexual revolution has swung too far the other way with celebrities dressing like 'porn stars', says founder of iconic 1960s fashion label Biba 

- Barbara Hulanicki was one of the inspirations behind Swinging Sixties 
- Designer founded Biba label in the 1960s and dressed model Twiggy
- She feels liberation has gone too far with celebrities bearing lots of flesh
- Hulanicki brands trend for celebrities showing 'cleavages' similar to porn
- She is concerned by younger age when girls start taking contraceptive pill
- Hulanicki, 78, announced return to Biba at House of Fraser as a consultant

By Claire Carter for MailOnline | Published: 11:21, 14 November 2014 | Updated: 23:20, 14 November 2014

She is said to have been one of the founding figures of the Swinging Sixties. Twiggy and Bianca Jagger were among the figures Barbara Hulanicki, the fashion guru and founder of the iconic boutique Biba, dressed in the label's heyday. But now the fashion designer believes the sexual revolution has gone too far, with celebrities no longer expressing themselves through new fashion but some bearing so much flesh they resemble porn stars. Hulanicki branded some of the clothes now worn on the red carpet as 'horrible'.  ‘There’s no mystery. Talk about cleavages. It’s like porn – over the top,' Hulanicki told the Daily Telegraph. 

The Polish-born designer said she feels the revolution has gone too far, with young girls now taking the pill earlier than ever. She said: ‘What’s scary now is that there are very young girls taking it. They’re starting too early. It’s not about love anymore. We’ve been liberated too much.’ Ms Hulanicki said the launch of the pill in 1961 - at the start of the sexual revolution that gave women more freedom to express themselves - was welcome at the time.  She said women began to be aware of their own shape and were no longer forced to live in what she described as 'hormonal hell.'

1969 Biba playsuit

A 1969 Biba playsuit was seen as an item to be worn by the 'bold' because of deep cut armholes and neckline

Ms Hulanicki admitted she took the pill herself, something which she felt gave her a 'happier life' and husband. The 78-year-old this week announced her return to Biba, now owned by House of Fraser, after decades of absence.  Ms Hulanicki launched a fashion mail-order company in 1963 with her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon. The label was relaunched four years ago by the department store and Hulanicki will now work as a consultant. She launched the firm, which began as a mail order fashion business before opening its first store in London, 50 years ago with her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon. Biba became known for its daring fashion and helped to define some of the clothes in the swinging sixties.  

Ms Hulanicki is now an interior designer in Miami after losing control of her company name in the seventies. 

BH Article 2014 Part 1BH Article 2014 Part 2

Biba Attack - 2013

From the Daily Mail dated 20th June 2013

Today's women dress so badly because they all follow fashion, says founder of 60s label Biba

Barbara Hulanicki, 77, founded Biba in the 1960s and is still a consultant
She believes excessive interest in clothes makes women dress less well
Says high streets are saturated with shops selling near-identical clothes

By Laura Cox PUBLISHED: 23:52, 19 June 2013 | UPDATED: 07:43, 20 June 2013

Barbara Hulanicki 2013She brought mini-skirts and psychedelic colours to 60s shoppers, used Twiggy as the face of her clothing range and founded a label that is still the red carpet choice of stars such as Jennifer Lopez.

But despite the influence she has had on the world of fashion, Barbara Hulanicki thinks modern women dress badly – because following fashion makes them all look the same.

The 77-year-old designer, who founded Biba in the 1960s and is still a consultant for retailers in both the US and UK, said: ‘There’s too much interest in clothes now and it makes women dress less well.

'I think people are too concerned about what’s fashionable. Women have such boring wardrobes these days because they must follow fashion, they must, they must. But sometimes it’s about saying, oh, this would work well with that.’

Miss Hulanicki, who last year was awarded an OBE for services to the fashion industry, acknowledged it is now harder to dress interestingly because high streets are saturated with shops selling near-identical clothes.

Biba founder: Barbara Hulanicki thinks modern women dress badly - because following fashion makes them all look the same She said: ‘It’s very difficult to know what to wear now. That’s why I always wear black.’

Biba began as a cheaply priced mail-order business in 1963 before growing rapidly over the next decade and taking over a seven-floor department store. Rock and film stars including Mick Jagger and David Bowie used to hang out in the store, which had promotional campaigns fronted by Twiggy. Anna Wintour, who would go on to become the editor of American Vogue, began her fashion career working for Biba as a 15-year-old.

The brand re-launched in 2010, channelling its heritage by showing model Daisy Lowe in a 60s-inspired shoot. Speaking at a signing event for her new book, Seamless, in an East London vintage store, Miss Hulanicki also singled out American women as the worst dressers, adding: ‘They’re terrible; they all wear the same thing.’

Jennifer Lopez wearing Biba Twiggy - Eternal Biba

Still popular: A Biba dress worn by Jennifer Lopez, left, in 2006. Right, Twiggy promotes Biba in 1972 - Images copyright as shown - Everett/Photoshoot and Getty Images

Pastures New - 2010

BARBARA HULANICKI'S split from Biba may have been difficult but she's putting it all behind her.

From Vogue: Ella Alexander 13 October 2010

"It was very painful when it all first happened," she admits. "I had to go away to get myself back together and of course I miss all the designers terribly. But I have a new life now. I like living in America because everyone looks to the future, they don't look back all the time."

Hulanicki, who recently dismissed the House of Fraser's Biba relaunch, is about to launch a new collection for George at Asda.

"The thing I didn't like about the new Biba relaunch was the prices - it is too expensive," she says. "With Asda it's the total opposite - it's like the old days in the Sixties. I love seeing people happily shopping without feeling guilty because they've spent too much. I want to do what I always have done - make clothes for young people living in bedsits. What was different about designing for Asda was creating pieces that go up to size 20. I had to do things in a different way - it was exciting."

Despite setting up the iconic Biba label in the Sixties, Hulanicki confesses that it wasn't all free love, peace and harmony.

"Actually me and all the designers of the time, like Zandra Rhodes and Mary Quant, all hated each other," she tells us. "We definitely didn't talk to each other, everyone was too busy making dresses. It was very basic and raw in those days. Parties were for musicians, not fashion designers."

How has the industry changed since she first began her career?

"What is different now is how designers have to come up with completely new ideas every time they show their collections," she says. "It must be terribly difficult. When Biba first opened we moved very fast and there was never enough to stock because our customers were always so hungry, but there was never this massive shift from autumn/winter to spring/summer that there is today. You would change the chiffon summer dresses to coats and jackets but your style would still be the same. It was a much simpler way of working."

From an article in Vogue by Ella Alexander dated 30th September 2010

BH PortraitBARBARA HULANICKI has dismissed the House of Fraser's newly relaunched Biba label. The designer, who originally founded Biba, lost control of her business in 1975 and is now planning on launching a line for Asda this November.

"I always find everyone who buys it [the Biba trademark] thinks of it as couture, but I think it is more like Woolworths - which is what it was always meant to be," says Hulanicki. "[The House of Fraser collection] is too expensive. The prices [at Asda] are just amazing. These will really be Biba prices. F*** you [House of Fraser]."

Does she think the new House of Fraser line reflects Biba's Sixties aesthetic?

"No," she reveals. "It looks like House of Fraser. No comment," she tells Drapers.

Hulanicki's new range for George at Asda will comprise 12 styles and will be the first of four collections.

Being Barbara - 2009

From an article in Vogue by Jessica Bumpus dated 27th October 2009

She's the woman behind the Sixties-Seventies phenomenon that was Biba and last night Barbara Hulanicki let us into her creative world at a screening of the new documentary film in which she stars, Beyond Biba.

"Barbara has always been an extraordinary influence in my life. I had no idea fashion existed in that way. She was one of the reasons I got into fashion. Somehow she made that fantasy functional," milliner Stephen Jones, who introduced the film to a fashion student-filled Cochrane Theatre at Central Saint Martins, explained.

Documenting Hulanicki's life from her childhood, her drawing, her husband Fitz, the Biba shops and her move into interior design, the film is as a result of its director Louis Price's own experience of Biba. "My mother used to work for Biba so I grew up with all this Biba imagery and read Barbara's autobiography A To Biba and thought it would make an amazing documentary," said Price, a former Central Saint Martins graduate himself.

Sidestepping fashion for illustration because "to get into fashion you had to spend ages picking up pins" and because she "wanted to get on with it", Hulanicki found herself working at The Times doing editorial illustration, which in turn took her to the shows, where she wasn't all that impressed. "I used to hate all of those clothes - they weren't for young people, they were for women who went to lunch all the time so I really wanted to design for young people." And Biba was born.

Barbara's Life and Comments

On the spirit of Biba:

Biba Boutique

"I was terribly into films and film sets so I thought of the sets first and then what clothes should be in there. With each shop, we did a different decade. I was brought up with Garbo films and all these dresses flowing around the body – Queen Christina and Esther Williams films. Colour was so important."

On the Biba name:

Early Biba Boutique

"Fitz [her late husband and co-founder of Biba] said you've got to come up with a name by tomorrow and I said what about Biba and he said it sounded good. I tried it out the following day on a Russian Prince" – whose unimpressed response was exactly what Hulanicki was after. That and "It's a nickname for one of my sisters."

On the Biba Vision


"It definitely grew and everything that went in there were the things we needed. When we had a baby, we did baby clothes, then we did homeware and then there was a food department. It was all from the heart. Today it's so different, you have to work out your market."

On 'Architecture versus Fashion'

Biba Shopper

Photograph courtesy of Rex Features

"It's very nice hopping from one thing to another." But if she had to choose? "Clothes, fashion, you get hooked on that."

No wonder Barbara chose fashion:

Derry and Tom 1920

I think I would have chosen fashion as well!

Back to Top

Page updated : 24th March 2017