Maureen Coleman looks at the iconic 60s brand worn by all dedicated followers of fashion which is being re-launched this week in Belfast
It was the boutique brand that defined a generation. As synonymous with the Sixties as mods and rockers, The Beatles, mini-skirts and the Pill, Biba was the one-stop-shop for the era’s dedicated followers of fashion.
Everyone from Julie Christie to Twiggy, Cathy McGowan to Brigitte Bardot hung out at the trendy London store, looking fabulous in their inexpensive Biba catsuits, blousons, mini-skirts and feather boas. Not surprisingly, the boutique was also a mecca for rockstars and movie heart-throbs, with Mick Jagger and Marcello Mastroianni often seen lolling around, eyeing up the doe-eyed girls. The brand, conceived by designer Barbara Hulanicki, paved the way for the modern British high street store.
Following its closure in 1976, Biba briefly re-launched in 2006, but failed to repeat its previous success.
Now the iconic global brand is re-launching again, arriving at the House of Fraser in Belfast this week.
The new Autumn/Winter collection will take inspiration from Biba’s original themes, but will also reflect today’s current trends.
Highlights from the new collection include the maxi dress — a true signature of Biba, but now with a modern twist. Other key dresses include a sleek, long-sleeve black velvet with fine cuff button detail, a throw-back to the heyday of the Sixties and Seventies.
The staple item of every Biba babe was a pair of denim jeans and the new collection offers five varieties, from the Grace skinny fit to the Ava slim flare.
Outerwear pieces range from full-length animal print coats to shorter jackets with military embellishment.
Biba’s signature colours of black and gold form the main colour palette, combined with inks, teals, greys and dusted lilacs. With her long, sleek hair and large, kohl-rimmed eyes, model Daisy Lowe is the perfect choice to represent the new face of Biba. But what is it about the brand that brings back so many fond memories?
Pat Jordan, owner of Jourdan boutique on the Lisburn Road in Belfast, was a Biba babe in the Sixities. She ran a boutique in Church Lane called La Babalu, which sold various Biba accessories, including floppy hats and feather boas.
Pat was a frequent visitor to the London Biba store and was friendly with Barbara Hulanicki.
She says: “At the time La Babalulu was one of about eight boutiques in Church Lane. We called it the Carnaby Street of Belfast.
“We sold a lot of Biba accessories, Terry de Havilland shoes and our own little crochet dresses, which were very typical of Sixties fashion.
“I used to go to London every month and always popped into Biba. I had a pair of Biba knee boots, which I was particularly fond of. I remember seeing lots of models and well-known faces, people like Sandy Shaw. It was the in-place to be.”
Pat said the Biba explosion coincided with a cultural revolution.
“Until the Sixties, young people dressed like their parents, just cut down versions of their mums and dads,” she says.
“But in the Sixties there was a complete revolution in music and fashion, more young people had disposable incomes and for the first time, mothers were trying to look like their daughters rather than the other way around.”
Another Biba devotee was journalist and broadcaster Mary Johnston, who was even offered a job as a sales assistant at the iconic store.
“It was such a compliment to be offered a job there because the girls were all so glamorous and cool, but I was over in London on holidays and wasn’t staying, so I had to turn it down,” she says.
With her eyes rimmed in rows of false eyelashes, pale lipstick and A-line dresses, Mary was the epitome of the Biba girl.
“I used to buy lots of stuff in La Babalu, it was the closest thing to Biba that we had in Belfast and the clothes were really unique,” she recalls.
“I also used to shop from the Biba catalogue and any time I flew over to London, I’d headed straight for the Biba store.
“I just loved the clothes there, the hot-pants and waistcoats, the fabulous feather boas, the mini culottes. I bought a beautiful black boucle coat, which I absolutely loved.
“It used to be so exciting to see Barbara Hulanicki floating around the shop and I saw models like Cathy McGowan, Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton there too. I look at my daughter Lucy, who’s 21, and a lot of the very trendy things she’s wearing now are not too unlike the clothes we wore back then.
“Biba was such an iconic brand and it really defined the Sixties. I think it’s great that it’s coming back.
The time is perfect for a relaunch of Biba.”
The Biba collection, exclusive to the House of Fraser, is available in Belfast from Thursday. The Biba lounge has been designed by NI interior designer Ian Thompson
Daisy Lowe picks her Biba favourites
Which are your favourite five pieces from the collection and why?
I love all the pieces as they are representative of the brand’s history and reputation — beautiful, simple and flattering cuts, and luxury materials that make a woman feel great.
My favourite five pieces, though, have to be the black velvet backless maxi dress, the fur leopard print down to the floor coat, the grey maxi dress with big sleeves and sequin detailing under the bust, the shorter leopard print coat and the puff shouldered tuxedo blazer.
What would you wear each of them with?
The two dresses work perfectly alone, the long leopard print coat looks great with denim shorts and a t-shirt or a mini-dress.
The short leopard print coat is great to wear with jeans or a dress and the blazer can be worn with anything to dress it up, jeans and a T-shirt or over a dress for night time.
Which would be your favourite for an uber-fab evening and where can you see yourself wearing it?
The black velvet maxi dress with a scoop back — it’s a really sexy, show-stopping number!
What are your tips for working a maxi-dress without feeling OTT?
Keep your jewels, heels and bag plain and simple – let the dress do the talking.
Do you own any pieces of original vintage Biba? If so, what are they like and where did you find them?
I've got quite a few pieces that and my mum (Pearl Lowe) and I have found at vintage fairs over the years.
We have a couple of amazing old Biba coats from the 70s and a beautiful button down long-sleeved black dress.
Do you have any early memories of original Biba — did your mum own any pieces?
Yeah she does. I just always remember it being the ultimate, amazingly cool brand with iconic style.
Who’s your 70s style icon? And why?
Jimi Hendrix! He oozes cool and disgracefully sexy and never needed to try. Psychadelia, purple velvet and playing a guitar with your mouth. Now that’s style!