Biba in Brighton

My sadness in missing the opening of the Biba exhibition at Brighton Museum back in September was slightly assuaged by an email from the lovely Jo Ann Fortune of Visit Brighton, informing me that I had won two tickets to go and see it. I never win anything, so naturally I was shocked and delighted. I was determined I would not go until I was walking properly, so Mr Brownwindsor and I finally made it there a couple of weeks ago, on a frosty Sunday afternoon.

Needless to say, it was a delight. I had thought, as someone who owns and sells a lot of Biba, that I would be confronted with a whole host of pieces I have already had the pleasure of handling or wearing. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the vast majority were either entirely new to me, or pieces I have lusted over from afar for years. That is a credit to the design prolificacy of Barbara Hulanicki, and to Angie Smith and Murray Blewett, whose impressive Biba collections form the bulk of the exhibition. Further to my blog on the subject a while ago, there is also a rare surviving piece from that first foray into mail order – the outfit which launched the entire label. Sadly it is only the headscarf, but incredibly tantalising to see up close.

There were plenty of pieces loaned by members of the public as well, with fascinating stories of wages being splurged in the name of Biba, descriptions of the interiors, and of the most outrageously wonderful wedding outfits. Seriously, how have we moved so far back away from the modernity of wearing a cropped satin top and flares ensemble for a civil ceremony? These women were fighting against the roles their mothers had felt obliged to assume; fighting against convention, against sexism and the virginal white wedding which has inexplicably dominated since the 19th century. I loved that these women simply picked a phenomenal Biba outfit and couldn’t give two hoots about whether anyone thought they were ‘one of them’.

Further cabinets and displays covered Barbara’s early life, her time in Brighton (of course, and we slightly geekily went to find her former residence in Grand Avenue after seeing the address printed in a newspaper clipping!), the genesis of Biba and the various aspects of the Big Biba lifestyle which were catered to by the time they moved into the Derry and Toms building in 1973. Yes, there are soapflakes.

I feel more could have been done to evoke the Big Biba spirit, particularly in the main display room. Certain nods were made, such as the hatstands, but it was minimal and far too tasteful. Although credit where credit is due: whoever chose the playlist should be greatly congratulated, hugged and applauded for their taste and understanding of the Biba vibe.

(Although the man who kept singing and tapping his foot along loudly is definitely not part of the Biba vibe and garnered some filthy looks from me and several others…)

The final room, which touched – a little too lightly – on Barbara’s other talents for illustration and interior design, also featured a row of pieces from her (and I may make myself unpopular here…) half-hearted George at Asda and Topshop ranges, with another piece from the hateful Kate Moss for Topshop collection (inspired by a wrecked Biba jumper which looks suspiciously Eighties to me). I felt that this final display was a poor finale to what was otherwise a lovely, small-but-perfectly-formed, exhibition. Why would you want to leave with such a bad taste in your mouth? On the other hand, they make the longing for clothes of the quality of Biba even greater and show up the endless re-hashing of Seventies design for what it really is.

Biba and beyond is a wonderful celebration of one of the most creative periods in British fashion design we have ever known. It should also be a wake-up call for people to become more discerning in their sartorial choices. People compare Biba to Primark, but the levels of manufacture are not even remotely comparable. Who is designing these days? Who is actually taking inspirations and not just duplicating them wholesale, but in fact creating something entirely new and fresh? Barbara did, so can someone else.

Biba and Beyond is on until 14th April 2013, and is a wonderful feast for the eyes. It may also be bad for your bank balance, since you will want to own more and more Biba. Trust me, it’s addictive.

Through the [extremely peculiar] looking glass…

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Biba and Beyond: Barbara in Brighton

Biba models, c1973, photographed by Brian Duffy © Duffy Archives.

Excitement is building for the upcoming Biba and Beyond exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, which I have already blogged about here, helped by Visit Brighton‘s fascinating short documentary video about Barbara Hulanicki.

The exhibition will be celebrating the Biba look and lifestyle, so much admired and coveted forty-odd years later, but also looking at Barbara’s career beyond her most famous creation. I’m certainly looking forward to more coverage of her illustration and interior design work.

Left:- Barbara Hulanicki in 1969 © Neil Libbert. Right:- Photograph Tessa Hallmann © Royal Pavilion & Museums

If any of you are visiting specifically for the exhibition, don’t forget that you are welcome to pop in to my new studio to say hello, browse the rail (yes, there’s Biba!) and have a cuppa. Just email me a bit in advance so I can make sure I’m there, armed with tea and biscuits…

Trouser Suit, c1971


Biba and Beyond: A question for Barbara

I was delighted to be asked to submit a question for Barbara Hulanicki, as part of Visit Brighton‘s series of promotional videos for the upcoming Biba exhibition at Brighton Museum in September. I decided to go out on a geeky limb and ask about the Biba ‘couture’ range which I blogged about in February of last year.

Thanks to Jo-ann Fortune at Visit Brighton and to Barbara herself. The exhibition opens on the 22nd of September and I am very much looking forward to seeing it, no doubt decked out in my Biba finery. I will, of course, be blogging about it once it has opened, so stay tuned!

Biba couture range (featured in the Observer Magazine, 19th January 1969)


Why I’ve been quiet…

Frocks! New rail! Excitement!

Or perhaps you’ve not noticed? Either way, my life has been a little busier lately (and a lot more complicated) because I have just taken on a studio/office space in Brighton. As you can tell, I haven’t yet decided which definition is more appropriate so it remains interchangeable. The plan is that I will move down to Hove properly in due course, but in the meantime – wouldn’t you know it? The perfect space made itself known and, though the timing wasn’t perfect, sometimes you just have to take things as they come to you.

We walked in, saw the amazing bay window and fireplace and bam! Knew instantly it was right.

I’m a sucker for a bay window…

It has been my dream for the past eight years to have a private workspace, separate from my home life and with a lockable door (while working from home has definite advantages, the constant need to clear everything away – or else have it in my face 24/7, gets rather tiresome in the long term) and this is the first time in my life I have been able to achieve it.

It is proving to be a slow process, the whole settling-in thing, made harder by the fact that I still have to spend a few days a week working in London, but it is nice to be able to sit and work in peace. And for Roxy to finally have a permanent home where people don’t take fright or make daft comments about her. Poor love.

Shoes!

The plan is also, eventually, for people to be able to come and visit and try things on in person. It is a frequent request, understandably, but I have always been uncomfortable with inviting customers into my all-too-messy home. So you will be able to book a time to come and visit, have a cup of tea and some non-twee cakes or biscuits, and try before you buy. Hurrah! It is still early days, but if you can allow for spartan surroundings (and are in the area) then you’re welcome to come and visit me…

I am also a sucker for a fireplace… Artistic hand placement (and photo) courtesy of Mr Brownwindsor.


Inspirational Images: Brighton Belles

 

Cosmopolitan, August 1974. Scanned by Miss Peelpants.


Snoopin’ on Bates and Rigg

Years ago, in my hardcore Diana Rigg-memorabilia-collecting phase, I noticed and coveted a copy of Woman’s Mirror from 1966 with La Rigg on the front cover. I’ve only seen it this one time, on eBay, and it went way out of my price range. And considering I paid £30 for the Sunday Times magazine which featured John Bates’s designs for Diana, it must have been very steep for me to have not won it.

I mentioned it to Mr Brownwindsor a few weeks back, for some reason I can’t recall. I say mentioned, it may have been more like a moan. Wahhhh, poor me, I want this magazine, blah blah. The only difference now was that I am considerably more interested in the John Bates article it contains, than the Rigg one!

A few days after this, he mentioned having seen some copies of Woman’s Mirror in Snooper’s Paradise in Brighton. Spooky! No sign of the coveted issue (what would be the chances?) but definitely worth having a look in case there might be other interesting articles. So we mooched along on the Bank Holiday Monday. Had a look at some other issues of Woman’s Mirror, Woman’s Realm, Woman, Women!, Womanly, Women’s Troubles….etc etc. Then M noticed there were some more magazines in a glass cabinet. I look up, and there it is. Diana Rigg, with cut-out dotted line. THE issue. All other issues had been £3, surely this would be much more. But no. £3 it was.

I am a very happy lady, and I will be scanning/writing up the John Bates interview in due course.


Distracted by men. Again.

I went to scan a fabulous hotpant-themed fashion spread in the Daily Telegraph Magazine from 1971, and instead I found myself scanning in menswear adverts. Whoops….still, dreamy or what? I am particularly loving Mr Brighton, above. Hotpants tomorrow….