Grazia Daily meets Barbara Hulanicki

08 October 2010

An outfit from her range for George

Surely everyone has heard of Barbara Hulanicki, or if not, they definitley know the brand she created - Biba. The fashion legend and star of books and even her own documentary, is credited as having ‘invented the High Street’. She started Biba as a teeny mail order business, which became so successful it expanded to five-storey premises with queues of customers on the outside and rock stars like Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Marianne Faithful on the inside.

Since the business closed, successive corporate attempts to revive Biba have failed to generate the hype and buzz of the original, although it's recently been re-launched by House of Fraser with Daisy Lowe as the 'face', so fingers crossed. Meanwhile, Hulanicki set off with her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon on a design career spanning several continents and a squillion different disciplines - among them photography, makeup, childrenswear, wallpaper, hotels, the list goes on. She's also been a stylist, a costume designer, and put her name to handbags as well as... ‘Paint! Don’t forget I’ve created paint too’


Now she is working on yet another womenswear collection for George at Asda. It came about when brand director Fiona Lambert went to a Q&A session with Barbara for the documentary made about her life – Beyond Biba. 'When she spoke about how she had made Biba accessible to everyone – so much of what she was saying is exactly what we do at George,' Fiona told Grazia daily. In the current range, the price points for George are so low that they match the prices of the original Biba bits and pieces in the Sixties! Barbara concedes that she herself loves a bargain. 'I do definitely hunt around. I’m not into vintage myself, but I love to go into high street shops or cheap little shops and find something wonderful that then I know no-one else will have. It’s not that I don’t like the look [of vintage]. On other people it looks great - I personally can’t do it because of all the weird energy that comes off them, from their previous owners,’ she adds with a croaky laugh. ‘Perhaps I’m a bit psychic.' In reality though, you can’t imagine her swathed in the swirly patterns and maxi dresses that she made her name designing for Biba. Sharp of bob and permanently half hidden behind giant black sunglasses, she’s a fashion forward dresser in her sculptural Rick Owens jacket and all-black uniform.


She disagrees that the prices at George are so low as to be unethical, having spent much of the summer out in Turkey where the clothes are manufactured. 'Barbara is very hands-on' says Fiona. 'Yes I’m a control freak,' corrects Hulanicki. 'But the factories are incredible. So futuristic. It’s definitely not a case of people sitting in dark sheds or anything like that'

Grazia’s Style Hunter, Hannah Almassi, had told me about meeting Biba obsessives who dress top-to-toe in the brand every day.Barbara smiles broadly when we tell her this. ‘I’d LOVE to meet them,’ she says looking excited. ‘I’ve not come across anyone like that, although when people recognize me they always tell me about their favourite Biba piece – their boots or their dress and some story about what happened while they were wearing it.’ 


Original Biba dresses

Now based in Palm Springs, Barbara has covered a lot of ground over the years, including an extended period in Brazil, both Rio and Sau Paulo. ‘The language was the tricky part. For me anyway, I found it hard to learn new languages and I remember being at one party, trying to speak Portuguese and someone a bit snobby pointed out that I spoke with an accent 'like a Paulista seamstress' because I’d picked it up off my workers!’

With her lifestyle of gallivanting between continents and working with fabulous characters, you might think that Ms Hulanicki would grow weary of it all - if you’d led the fashion revolution of the 1970’s, you might believe that you’d seen it all. Not Barbara. She still enthuses about London’s street style, and how there’s nowhere quite it for style spotting. ‘My favourite time, is early in the morning. Round Oxford Circus, I think that is when you see the most stylish girls’

That is obviously how she has survived so long in such a young person’s business – she just loves it and her constant chopping and changing and taking on new projects hasn’t allowed her the chance to get bored. 

Barbara's range for George at Asda launches on 14th November and prices ranges from just £8 to £25.

- Naomi Attwood


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