This is the Biba look, the look that's turning on all of young London. To get it together, everyone's shopping at the smashing new Biba department store for an eclectic mix of mood clothes, pale-face cosmetics and unique home furnishings—and every Biba find is the brainchild of designer Barbara Hulanicki! Now you can be a Biba bird too, in fluttery fashions to make with McCall's patterns and soft fabrics—all created exclusively for Seventeen by Biba to celebrate her American debut!
Go on a super sew with the antiqued elegance of Biba gear translated in hushed colors-with-cream prints and slippery-glossy fabrics. London's luvs, far left, are a sweetheart-scoop jacket with pouf sleeves and peplum, and a softskirt caught up in midi mania. Fitting and proper, center, this Biba slink-suit belts a semi-safari longtop and skims on a great midi mate; printed in powdery plum. Duo too, reclining, takes the same top-part start and finishes in pants with their fair share of flare. All fabrics are by Tootal for Biba.
Now one of the most iconic and desirable brands of the 1960s and '70s, Biba was almost exclusively just a British brand. Other than briefly having a store in designer Barbara Hulanicki's hometown of Brighton, the only Biba shops were in London with sales elsewhere in the country coming through their mail-order catalogue. As the Biba look appeared in magazine and newspaper trend-pieces about the new happenings in London fashion, anyone outside of Britain was left with little to do other than salivate over the images and dream about someday visiting the Biba headquarter. For her first foray overseas to America Hulanicki took a rather unconventional route—instead of doing a line with a mass-market merchandiser (like Mary Quant did with Pilgrim) or recreating a store-within-a-store (as Thea Porter did at Bergdorf Goodman), in January 1971 Hulanicki joined with Seventeen magazine, McCall's patterns and Tootal's to make a line of home-sewing patterns and fabrics. Twenty-five department stores across the country featured Biba home-sewing boutiques with both the patterns and fabrics, while the patterns were available at all McCall's outlets. The editor of Seventeen, Rosemary McMurty, had long been a Biba admirer and instigated the collaboration—she personally worked closely with McCall's to translate four actual Biba styles into paper patterns.
Hulanicki personally designed the Biba home-sewing boutique at Macy's flagship in New York—bringing in matching shoes, parasols, tablecloths and specially designed wigs and mannequins for the window and in-store displays. When asked what she thought of home sewing, Hulanicki responded, "I think it's great. It's strange it's made such a comeback, but I suppose it's easier to experiment with length when you can do it yourself. It's probably also part of the trend toward individuality." The success of this collaboration led Biba to follow Porter's lead by opening an outpost inside Bergdorf Goodman several months later.
For those of us Biba fans who know how difficult it is to get our hands on a well-preserved Biba outfit (girls wore their dresses to death!), tracking down the patterns and sewing them up might be an easier endeavor!
Colour photographs by Sarah Moon for Seventeen, January 1971. Sketch by Robert Melendez for WWD, January 5, 1971.
Fluid little bodyclothes, borrowed from eras gone by, give more clues to the Biba excitement. (Note, too, the fragile Biba face, cheeks tweaked with color, eyes smoky-soft, hair on a curly cue). Tenderly, two ways, Biba serves up a blush of rosy print. The sheer pour of shirtwaist billows its sleeves, streams a bow-up collar and stops midi way. Giving cover, the crispest of short-sleeved vestcoats (solos as a dress too).
Wide-eyed Biba doll, plays a softgirl game with flowery innocence. She's midi-pretty as you please in a button-upper with puff-and-cuff sleevery.
Diaphanous slither-stuff to sew puts Biba babies in maxis and midis that party it or play it long just for fun. Rosy bouquet, left, is a blooming maxi beauty! Tie-on capelet and choker are part and parcel of the pattern. Lissome lilac, right, shows more sheer finery, this with Empire airs: soft bodice gatherings, dramatic neckline and ruffled, puffled sleeves.
Deco-rous mididress, left, flips a shorted skirt and stars full-blown sleeves above deep six-button cuffs. Flow gently, sweet blouson, right, on a tidy midi with a twenties glow: collar points to loopy buttons, super sleevery.