Hulanicki, Barbara

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British designer

Born: Warsaw, Poland, 8 December 1936; raised in Palestine, immigrated to England in 1948. Education: Studied fashion and fashion illustration at Brighton College, 1954-56; winner in the Evening Standard Design Competition, beachwear division, 1955. Family: Married Stephen Fitz-Simon, 1961 (deceased); children: Witwold. Career: Illustrator for Helen Jardine Artists, London, circa 1956-59; freelance fashion illustrator, 1961-64; opened Biba's Postal Boutique, 1963; established first Biba emporium, Abingdon Road, London, 1964; moved and expanded to Church Street, London, 1965; opened branch location in Brighton, 1966; launched mail order catalogue, 1968; moved Biba to High Street, Kensington, London, 1969; introduced line of Biba cosmetics, 1969; cosmetics distributed nationally through Dorothy Perkins shops, 1969; introduced line of footwear, 1969; majority stake in company sold to consortium of investors, 1969; Biba boutique established at Bergdorf Goodman, New York, 1970; purchased Derry and Toms Department Store for "Big Biba," 1972; control of firm passed to British Land, 1972; Big Biba opened, 1973 (closed, 1975); firm declared bankruptcy, 1976; designed in Brazil, 1976-80; relocated to Miami Beach, Florida, 1987; designer of hotel and club interiors, videos, ready-to-wear children's clothes, theatre costumes, from 1988. Exhibitions: Retrospective, Newarke Houses Museum, Leicester, England, 1993. Awards: Bath Museum of Costume Dress of the Year award, 1972; Miami Design Preservation League award, for her redesign of the Marlin Hotel, Miami, Florida. Address: 1300 Collins Avenue, Suite 205, Miami Beach, FL 35139, USA.




From A to Biba, London, 1983. Disgrace, London, 1990.


"The Dedicated Modeller of Fashion," in the Times (London), 15August 1983.

"When Big Becomes Beautiful," in the Times (London), 16 August 1983.

"The Shattering of a Dream," in the Times (London), 17 August 1983.



Bernard, Barbara, Fashion in the Sixties, London, 1978.

Harris, Jennifer, Sarah Hyde, and Greg Smith, 1966 and All That: Design and the Consumer in Britain, 1960-1969, London, 1986.

Whiteley, Nigel, Pop Design: Modernism to Mod, London, 1987.

Loebenthal, Joel, Radical Rags: Fashions of the Sixties, New York, 1990.


"Twiggy in Bibaland," in Vogue (London), December 1973.

"Biba: What Went Wrong?" in Drapers Record (London), 30 August 1975.

"Biba," in the Times (London), 1 April 1976.

"Biba is Back: A 'Paradise' in London," in Drapers Record (London), 2 December 1978.

"Bye-Bye BibaHello Hulanicki," in Women's Journal (London), March 1981.

Brampton, Sally, "Bringing Up Baby," in the Observer (London), 4September 1983.

Neustatter, Angela, "Biba and Son," in the Sunday Times Magazine (London), 18 May 1986.

Samuel, Kathryn, "Biba Goes Back to the Drawing Board," in the Daily Telegraph (London), 19 June 1986.

Neustatter, Angela, "Life No. 3 for the Biba Girl," in the Daily Telegraph (London), 21 January 1987.

Cuccio, Angela, "Mini Rock Rolls," in WWD, 10 October 1988.

Brampton, Sally, "Barbara Hulanicki and Disgrace," in the Correspondent Magazine (London), 25 March 1990.

McRobbie, Angela, "Disgrace," [book review] in the New Statesman and Society, 30 March 1990.

Fallon, James, "Barbara Hulanicki, Biba and Beyond," in WWD, 14May 1990.

Gandee, Charles, "Barbara Hulanicki is Hot for Miami," in House & Garden, June 1992.

Webb, Michael, "Island Fantasy," in Hospitality Design, July/August 1992.

Wilson, Kennedy, "Gone But Not Forgotten: A Success Story of the Swinging Sixties," in the Herald (Glasgow), 5 January 1993.

Tredre, Roger, "Heaven Was a Place Called Biba," in the Independent (London), 12 February 1993.

Godley, Georgina, "The Importance of Biba," in Blueprint (London), No. 96, April 1993.

Young, Lucie, "At Home with Barbara Hulanicki: Color So Bright You Need Shades," in the New York Times, 31 December 1998.


In the decade from 1964 to 1974, Barbara Hulanicki's design and entrepreneurial skills contributed to the development of an entirely new ethos in British fashion that responded to ideas generated by the rising youth culture of the period. Hulanicki and her husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon, created a series of fashion businesses, under the name of Biba, perfectly suited to the spirit of change and adventure characterizing the Mod movement originating in London during the early 1960s. Unlike the English establishment rag trade, Hulanicki understood that fashion ideas would, henceforth, originate in the streets of British cities, rather than in couture houses across the Channel. She styled her shop as a meeting spot and a place of entertainment for those interested in a lifestyle represented by the clothes and other goods designed by Hulanicki.

Following a year at art school, Hulanicki set up Biba's Postal Boutique in the early 1960s, with herself as designer and Fitz-Simon as business manager. The success of their business was ensured when an early design for a simple smock dress was worn by Cathy McGowan, "Queen of the Mods," on the popular television program Ready, Steady, Go. The first Biba shop was opened in 1964 in a small, old-fashioned chemist's shop on a corner of Abingdon Road, Kensington, London. Hulanicki concentrated on generating a unique atmosphere through décor, music, and the glamor of the young shop assistantsall of which turned her shop into an instant "scene," a gathering place for a hip, young clientéle who knew where to go for the latest ideas in clothing, without even the benefit of a sign over the shop-front.

Hulanicki's early clothes were short, simple dresses, the "Biba smock," which became the uniform for an era. Her little girl look was given a major boost when Julie Christie selected her wardrobe for the film Darling from the Biba shop. Other early customers included Sonny and Cher, Twiggy, and Mick Jagger. The typical Biba dolly girl would have a slim, boyish figure, huge eyes and a childlike pout, updating the Audrey Hepburn gamine look of the 1950s. She would wear a simple mini dress selected from a wide range of muted colorsblueberry, rust, plumwhich Hulanicki called Auntie colors, as they had previously been associated with the wardrobes of old ladies. At this time, she also introduced the first fashion t-shirts, distinguished from their ordinary equivalent by the range of Auntie colors in which they were dyed. The t-shirts initiated the unisex appeal of Biba goods.

In 1966 the shop moved to larger premises in Kensington Church Street. The new boutique sported a black and gold art nouveau logo and was decorated in an eclectic mix of late 19th-century decadent motifs, Victoriana, and art deco. Hulanicki expanded her range of clothing to include fashion accessories, including bangles and feather boas displayed on old-fashioned bentwood hatstands, cosmetics, menswear, and household accessories. The Church Street Biba became an internationally known symbol of swinging London in the mid-1960s.

In the early 1970s, the Biba style developed in the direction of retro glamor and glitter. Hulanicki introduced a line of children's clothing that followed the styles and colors of the adult ranges. She featured items such as straw hats with veils and artificial flowers, velvet, and lace, all enhanced by a new element of innocent eroticism and unchildlike glamor. Her cosmetics had, by the late 1960s, become big business, the range of colors corresponding to the Auntie colors of her clothing and including bizarre hues such as blue, green, purple, and black lipstick, eye shadow and powder.

Rapidly increasing sales forced Biba to move again, in 1969, to a larger shop in Kensington High Street, where art nouveau and art deco fused into a single style that became Biba's own. During the early 1970s, Hulanicki and Fitz-Simon expanded their operations to the U.S. through New York's Bergdorf Goodman, which set up a Biba boutique in its flagship store. The final phase of expansion came in 1973, when Hulanicki opened the Biba department store in the former Derry and Toms premises in Kensington High Street, London. This enormous art deco building housed a huge enterprise that provided a complete setting, including an all-day restaurant and nightly entertainment in the glamorous Rainbow Room, exotic roof gardens, and a kasbah for the elegant and exotic retro style clothes, all designed by Hulanicki.

The Biba store was, for a short time, a mecca for fashionable young Londoners looking for a setting in which to parade the elegant and eclectic clothing of the period. Management difficulties forced Hulanicki to leave Biba in the mid-1970s. She eventually moved to Brazil and thence to Florida, where she began to design under the Hulanicki name. Her groundbreaking designs in the 1960s and 1970s were showcased in an exhibition entitled "Biba, the Label, the Lifestyle, the Look," which opened in 1993 at the Laing Gallery in Newcastle and later traveled to the Aberdeen Art Gallery.

In the 1990s, Hulanicki turned to interior design, using bold colors to revitalize hotels in Miami's South Beach and the Caribbean. She drew both praise and criticism for her wild combinations that splashed together dozens of hues in buildings, including the Pink Sands Hotel and Compass Point in the Bahamas and the Leslie in Miami. She won an award from the Miami Design Preservation League for her redesign of the Marlin Hotel. Later, the same group blasted her color choices for other projects. "Barbara was at the forefront of changing the local colors from pastel to bright," Michael D. Kinerk, chairman of the Miami Design Preservation League, told Lucie Young of the New York Times. "It is the position of the league that the Art Deco district's colors should now swing back to more historically appropriate ones."

Young quoted Miami photographer Steven Brooke as observing that "the colors [Hulanicki] uses might be legal but they are egregiously ugly." Hulanicki took the criticisms in stride, noting that similar critiques had been leveled at her early fashions, which in the end revolutionized fashion. "It's about energy," she told Young. "It has the same effect on babies and adults: it makes our minds tick."

Gregory Votolato;

updated by Lisa Groshong