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c. 1960s - 1970s

The high temple of London’s swinging ’60s fashion

See inside the store that was the place to be seen

10th September 1973: Jenny Cartwright, a shop assistant at the Biba boutique in Kensington, poses in the shop's household department. (Photo by Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Getty Images)

When Barbara Hulanicki opened the doors of her London Biba boutique in September 1964, she stocked just one dress in one size. But within an hour, the piles of dresses had sold out, and queues of women had formed inside the store awaiting the next delivery.

For the following decade, Biba epitomized the style of the Swinging 60s. The boutique was the store to be seen in, and the label the one to be seen wearing.

Emerging from Hulanicki’s mail-order business, and named after her younger sister’s nickname, the Biba store was also a pioneer in fast fashion. The outfit worn on a Friday night by Cathy McGowan while hosting the TV show Ready Steady Go on a Friday night would be available for sale the following morning in Biba.

Biba‘s house style was heavily influenced by Art Deco, and its boutique had a very distinctive style. Nothing was ever placed in the store windows, which were blacked out. Clothes were displayed not on hangars but on hat-stands—the store ordered 100’s each year.

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The boutique soon became a hangout for celebrities including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful and David Bowie—and an early employee was Anna Wintour, legendary editor of Vogue.

A second store opened in 1965, and a third in 1969, and then in 1973 came ‘Big Biba,’ a seven story department store. But, despite seeing a million customers a week, the brand had overreached itself, and the stores closed in 1975. 

Despite sporadic reboots to greater or lesser success, Biba remains enigmatically tied to its time.

1967
George Freston/Getty Images
1966
Stephan C. Archetti/Keystone Features/Getty Images
1965
Roy Milligan/Evening Standard/Getty Images
1973
Jenny Cartwright, a shop assistant at the Biba boutique in Kensington, poses in the shop’s household department.
Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Getty Images
1971
English model Twiggy sits alone in the Rainbow Room of Biba’s Kensington store, 1971.
Justin de Villeneuve/Getty Images
1965
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
1966
Michael Putland/Getty Images
1965
Roy Milligan/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
1965
Stanley Bielecki/ASP/Getty Images
1965
Stanley Bielecki/ASP/Getty Images
1965
Stanley Bielecki/ASP/Getty Images
1965
Harry Prosser/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
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