Well it's happened! Lynnette Peck has done a fine job with her article and I'm thrilled to pieces that she included my contribution verbatim, not changing a word!
Another nickname 'The Collector' - I like that!
I was approached to add my insight to an article that was being written for Saga Magazine by Lynnette Peck. She asked me to respond to five questions :
1. Why do you think the original Biba is still of interest to people and the pieces so sought after
A. This is a tricky question to start with! I am still astonished at the number of my contemporaries who, when I mention Biba, have no idea what (let alone who) I am talking about. I think the resurgence of Barbara and her partnerships with George at Asda, House of Fraser and the wallpaper giants not to mention her high profile appearances with Twiggy, Kate Moss at various exhibitions and the launch of the Icon Store have embedded her into the consciousness of a new generation. Much is also known of her Miami connection, and refurbishments of mega-rock-star homes and Miami Beach hotels. For those of us who went through the collapse of Big Biba, the self-imposed exile of this icon of fashion, her widowhood and remained loyal to the ethos were pleased as punch when she re-established herself! I hope her newfound fame gives her some solace and that those new to Barbara do understand just how truly innovative and inspirational she was to those of us who really did live through the Biba experience
2. When did you start collecting Biba pieces and why?
A. 1969 was quite a year! I was introduced to Wimbledon Tennis and Biba by my friend and fellow student Caroline. I'd gone to visit her so we could exchange notes about our Art School aspirations - she was hoping to go to Bournville and I was set on going to Lancaster. Their family dog had just had puppies and whilst we played with them she had the tennis (in colour!) on the tv and talked about her elder sister who was in London and had just completed her Drama course. Julia had also discovered Biba while there and sent her little sister the first catalogue. In the catalogue was the precious opportunity to apply to go on the mailing list and receive future catalogues. It was quite different in those days, no instant internet sign up, so the catalogues were my first collectibles although I didn't think of them as such, just that they were mine!
3. What are the favourite pieces in your collection?
A. I suppose nostalgically the catalogues should be my favourites especially as my mother had kept them safe long after I had left home. But I also had shelves of jars that followed me to all the places I lived in, were (and are) always on show and as I never tire of them must be high on the favourites list. I adored all the clothing I bought and had tights in most shades of plum, pink and sludgy greens and browns. Such a novelty coloured tights that weren't as thick as sacking! The dark purple dress with sweetheart neckline, peplum and flared sleeves must count as a mega piece of favourite as it is now threadbare through wear and tear.
Big Biba Storage Jars (not mine) but these some of the ones I own - mine are showcased on the Exhibitions page
Since discovering ebay I have bought some items I would have liked to have had including the Soap Flakes box.
4. What piece do you not have from Biba and that you have always wanted to own?
A. Apart from the red and white spotted mushroom seating that was in the kiddy area I think I should have liked a full black and gold dinner service.
Purple-pink synthetic fabris divinely decadent dressing gown!
So why I have retrospectively added this image? I saw this on ebay recently and it jogged my memory, because even as I was writing my responses for the interview and feeling a little under pressure to meet the deadline - I couldn't for the life of me remember what my main 'desire-above-all-else to own' item was! And, I was too ashamed to admit that I couldn't remember! On one occasion when I went to Big Biba, new stock had arrived and there was this magnificent and divinely decadent dressing gown that I immediately coveted on sight but couldn't afford! As luck would have it, all the dressing gowns not in this colour combination had been reduced and were on sale side by side with the new stock. I bought the very pale green (not quite eau-de-nil) with yellow trim because it was the next best combination available, although I didn't like the yellow (I never have had empathy with that shade) but to own the dressing gown and how it felt on and when I moved was more than worth being slightly discomfited by the colour. I discovered it was synthetic the first time I washed it as it went all stiff and like cardboard, but at least it ironed out ok - but what I couldn't save it from was melting when I dripped some acetone down the front whilst cleaning my nails - luckily the damage can be hidden by wrapping the dressing gown around - there is sufficient volume (even today!)
Children enjoying snacks in the Big Biba kiddies eaterie.
Is it any wonder I wanted these stools?
5. What should new collectors of Biba look out for when sourcing pieces for their own collection?
A. There seems to be a lot of Biba memorabilia available as it comes out of attics and gets sold on eBay/ Etsy, but any new collector would probably be disappointed if they wanted to get a full set of anything. I would suggest they get one of the illustrated books available and have a good look at what was available and what they like the look of. Research the Internet to see what of their preferences is available and the price it commands. Then decide on a budget and stick to it - you never know they may just find exactly what they want!
It has to be said that I was more than a little disappointed that my pastiche of Wilson, Keppel and Betty did not make it to the Dispatch Reader's stories - maybe this one will have more luck - here it is as I wrote it :
Don’t they say that if ‘you remember the 60s you never lived them? Well I do remember a lot about the 60s but my Biba memories and experiences are firlmly set in the 70s.
Barbara Hulanicki (founder of Biba) is undergoing a sort of Renaissance especially amongst my contemporaries and their daughters! The reason for this is her current very high profile amongst an eclectic mix of famous models spanning the decades from ‘our’ Twigs, to Kate (Moss) and current supermodel Cara; the eternal rock elite for whom she creates interior paradises and Miami her home from home currently enjoying its own renaissance especially the sea front Art Deco Hotels!
I don’t think I’ve ever needed to revive Biba – she’s been with me every step of the way from when I left London in 1977 to the present day. Every room in our bungalow is influenced by Biba whether using current wallpapers and furnishings or the originals that have been lovingly preserved. The Laing Gallery in Newcastle pushed the boat out in the early 1990s and did a massive exercise in globally advertising for artefacts, clothing, accessories, wine bottles and baked bean tins etc. to create the first of many mega-successful exhibitions. I got to know about this from my ex-Art Teacher who had received a newspapaer cutting about it from her daughter who lives in Australia! I contributed several items to this exhibition and the evening dress I owned ended up in pole position in the exhibition catalogue and featured heavily in ‘The Clothes Show.’ As a contributor, I was invited to attend the opening in Newcastle and then all the other locations after the exhibition went on tour.
I can’t say specifically why Biba had such an influence in my life except that everything about it was to my personal taste, using colours that would not normally feature in a school or guide or any type of uniform. The range of colours that were available and the style of clothing, affordable mix and match trousers, skirts, jackets, blouses, Tees – you could deck yourself out in everything in one colour wave (plum was my favourite) and there were accessiories to match, from tights to hats – everything was covered. The reaL joy, though, whilst still living up here in the Midlands, was getting my hands on the catalogues which came through the post – clever things, long and thin, they fitted into the letter box without being crushed or bent! You may wonder why, by today’s standards that is so exciting! Here’s my quote from the interview which explains it – “1969 it was quite a year! I was introduced to Biba by my friend and fellow student Caroline.
I'd gone to visit her so we could exchange notes about our art school aspirations and we talked about her elder sister Julia who was in London and had just completed her drama course. Julia had discovered Biba while there and sent her little sister the first catalogue.
In the catalogue was the precious opportunity to apply to go on the mailing list and receive future catalogues.
It was quite different in those days - no instant internet sign up - so the catalogues were my first collectibles although I didn't think of them as such, just that they were mine!”
As with many recent coincidences in my life, I was able to help put with the Saga interview via the internet and Social Media. Recently a Biba page has been opened on Facebook and it is for those who are interested in the original. From there Lynette Peck, author of the Saga piece, asked for volunteers to answer her five commissioned questions – I didn’t realise I was the only one that would be quoted, but of course I’m pleased that I was! Another coincidence, I was at school with a Lynette in the 60s (she and her sister had been born in Australia) and it was the first time I had come across the name – so when this Lynette appealed for volunteers, how could I refuse? And of course, the school was the one my Art teacher taught in and who so many years later would send me the newspaper cutting!
Page refreshed : 24th March 2017