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Biba & Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki

19 September 2012 One Comment

“When I got married in 1971 I told my future husband that he could choose what he wanted me to get married in…and he chose this Biba outfit”, says one of the many Biba fans whose photographs offer insight into what the cult brand meant people in the 1960s and ‘70s. In this case the items under discussion are a tie-front crop top, flared pyjama trousers and a bell-sleeved cover-up, all in dip-dyed reds and purples. “It was quite daring as a wedding outfit in those days – my grandmother said I looked like “one of those”. I didn’t care – we expected to shock the older generation in those days.”

Biba & Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki exhibition

This is just one of many wedding stories featured in the Biba & Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki exhibition, with one of the curators explaining that so many came to light over the two years it has taken to pull the collection together that they just couldn’t include them all.

Biba & Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki exhibition

These deeply personal tales act as justification enough – were it needed – for the exciting exhibition, which has taken over three rooms at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. But telling the fashion legend’s story right from the very beginning –a childhood in Palestine, a father murdered and an Aunt who paid for the young Barbara to attend Brighton Art College in the 1950s – helps to further frame an extraordinary life which was to have an undeniable impact on youth culture.

Biba & Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki exhibition.

At just 18 Barbara won an Evening Standard design competition which lead her to become one of Britain’s best known fashion illustrators before setting up her own fashion business in her early twenties. A newspaper cutting from the time lists Barbara among three other women who “prove that beauty and business ideas can go together” and this showcase of her empire – from illustration, through clothes, make-up and Biba baked beans to interior design work – illuminates her status as not just a fashion but a feminist icon.

Biba & Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki exhibition

Photographs of Biba worn by women young and old, film extracts of Barbara giving her own account with trademark exuberance and a magnificent display of out-there outfits offer enough to keep fashion fans happy for hours – making the entrance fee of £6 great value for money. And walking around the exhibition you’re bound to hear yet more stories of Biba outfits and the London store experience as those who were there share fond memories.

Biba & Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki exhibition

“The only piece we weren’t able to source was the pink gingham dress – an early Biba mail order design”, curator Martin Pel says. “They didn’t have labels in so they’ve been lost over the years – but we do have one of the matching headscarves and photos of the dress as worn by young women at the time.”

Biba & Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki exhibition. Brighton Biba.

With that the only disappointment in a project which has brought together hundreds of artifacts from passionate collectors, seen the museum staff scour eBay for photographs and Barbara herself dust off her own collection, to label it a success feels like understatement.

For more information on the exhibition, which runs from 22 September 2012 to 14 April 2013, visit the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery website. See more photos from the exhibition on the Vintage Brighton Facebook page and watch a documentary showing Barbara’s return to Brighton below:

Barbara Hulanicki – back to Brighton from VisitBrighton on Vimeo.

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One Comment »

  • Perdita said:

    I can’t wait to see this! 🙂

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