In the late Sixties, while we in America wore flowers in our hair and frayed and bleached our Levis to look like gypsy glad rags, our counterparts in England had headed in an entirely opposite direction. While we went back to the earth in our natural fibers and our unkempt countrified look, they flashed back on the opulence and extravagance of better times.
Their Sixties era was different from ours, you see. They’d grown up with food rationing, and those who survived Hitler’s Blitzkrieg attacks lived with bombed out neighborhoods, streets pockmarked with bomb craters, and the trauma of war waged on their front step. All we American kids had to cope with was the gray flannel boredom of the Fifties. Even “duck and cover” hardly stacks up against having your home leveled while you're huddled with your mother and siblings in the cupboard beneath the stairs. It’s no wonder then that the Boomers in England looked to eras past when they finally were able to invent themselves and their post-war culture.
The Beatles had taken the look of German existential bohemianism with their bowl cut hairstyles, black turtlenecks, black leather pants, and flamenco boots. After that, it was the Mod look, with its clean geometric lines and Pop Art innocence. Sandwiched between these looks and Peter Max's and The Fool's rainbow silks and painted velvets of the late Sixties blossomed what was called the Dudu look.
The Dudu look was created by Barbara Hulanicki, a brilliant Polish immigrant artist and fashion designer who had started out with a mail order business through which she sold a few garments at prices that teens could afford. Her first creation, a simple gingham shift, sold so well that she opened a boutique called Biba in Kensington in 1964. Her next smash creation was a simple striped, jersey dress that sold out quicker than she could turn out new ones.
The Biba boutique was unique in many ways, not the least of which was its blacked out windows and Art Deco décor. The furnishings were black and gold with cut glass counters and, instead of garments hung on racks, they were draped on coat and hat racks. The shop moved to a couple of other locations, but my purpose is not to lay down its history. What I want to talk about is The Look.
She also created a cosmetics line of corresponding colors and even had drawn instructions on how to achieve the Dudu look, creating smoky, smudged eye colors rather than the harshness and garishness of the earlier Mod look.
Designer Ossie Clark described model Pattie Boyd as the girl with the “glass ankles” that looked as if they could shatter at any moment.
“Biba girls are fresh little foals with long legs, bright faces, and round dolly eyes.” - Barbara Hulanicki
Big Biba, the boutique’s final location at Tom & Derry’s department store, became more than a place to buy exquisite clothes, it became a hangout for London’s young celebrities such as The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithful, David Bowie, Twiggy, and Pattie Boyd.
Unfortunately, the Biba label failed to keep up with the times and, in 1975, it closed its doors. Efforts to revive the fashion trend in the Nineties failed, but it seems to be making a comeback, although it's no longer designed by Hulanicki. Still, the garments and accessories are really beautiful and remain true to the original.