Thursday, 17 February 2011

Meeting Your Heroes

As today is technically a 'fashion' post day, I thought I may as well do a post on my biggest inspiration, Barbara Hulanicki, founder of BIBA.
I was lucky enough to meet Babs...I don't know if she'd mind me calling her that or not, but I feel that kindred spirits shouldn't be too formal with one another...anyway, I met her about a year and a half ago at the V&A premier of Beyond BIBA. To set the stage for the meeting and what it meant to me, I simply must relate the story that I related to her:
Being obsessed with London, fashion, and the 1960's since childhood, I had heard of BIBA and was familiar with the clothes. But being from the United States, I was quite unfamiliar with the actual branding or the store itself and had no idea that such a thing even existed. My second term at uni, I had a class called 'Design Research'. They might as well have called it 'Brand Creation' because not only did we have to design a collection, but we more importantly had to decide on a brand image, from the name to the setup of the stores to creating packaging.

It was in this class that 'DollyBird' was created. A mega-store with an art deco/silent film theme, it would be housed in an old art deco theatre. There would be a shop in the lobby (complete with a shop girl whose only job was to change out the records on a huge Victrola in the middle of the room), silent films would be shown in the theatre itself, the balcony would be a restaurant, and of course there would be a members only 'speakeasy' club in the basement. The garments I designed were in dark, deep, rich colours, the sketches all wore turbans, feathers abounded both real and in prints.

The final week of term, I had finished everything for that particular class and was in the library doing some last minute research for another class. I got bored of the subject I was researching and decided to find something else to read for a few minutes. I came across the book, The Biba Experience, which was in completely the wrong part of the library...I've since come to the conclusion that it was MEANT for me to find it there...and sat down to flip through it.

I was mortified. Here was my store, more or less. I was convinced that my teacher would surely fail me, as it would certainly appear to him that I had just stolen my ideas directly from Barbara! Lucky for me, he didn't and I actually got an A! But I was even luckier than that in that I had found BIBA...or at least a part I never knew about.

The more I read and researched the store, the more disappointed I became that I, and the rest of my generation, had been robbed of the opportunity to experience Big Biba. But I suppose it wouldn't be the same today anyway. I mean, after all, every incarnation of the brand since Barbara called it quits has been a flop...the latest House of Fraser line will no doubt fail as sure as the others. Sometimes someone comes along with the right idea for the right time. For BIBA, the time was the '60s/early '70s and the person was Barbara. But time marches on.
These days, she lives in Miami. She focuses her talents on illustration and interior design now, but when I met her in London, I still felt that I was in the presence of fashion design greatness. A legend. Even so, she is one of the friendliest and approachable people I've ever met.

In the question and answer period after the two showings I attended (the other at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill) she spoke candidly about her experiences in the fashion/retail world, mistakes she had made, disappointments she'd had, the joy that success brought. She was and is, just a regular girl with a passion for clothes....and who, by the way, admitted that she loves to shop at Primark!
After the V&A showing, I stood in line for what seemed like ages. Barbara patiently listening and talking with every person who had waited to meet her. When I finally made it to the front of the line in my best gold and black BIBA knock-off (hey, I was a poor university student after all!)I told her how I 'discovered' BIBA and she smiled and said it sounded like 'fate'. She wished me luck in the industry and signed my copy of From A To BIBA, which from that moment on became one of my most prized possessions.

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