The Edit

Barbara Hulanicki, fashion revolutionary

Belong to the legend
When Biba exploded onto the London scene in the Swinging Sixties, young women finally had the colourful, daring clothes they’d been craving. In the first of our Belong to the Legend series, which captures 12 inspiring stories of 12 legendary people, discover how Biba’s visionary founder Barbara Hulanicki changed the course of fashion.

As Britain finally emerged from the gloom of war and rationing, Beatlemania was on the horizon and the UK was experiencing a ‘youthquake’ that would influence every cultural touchpoint, from art and music to fashion, for decades to come. One talented young woman grasped this golden opportunity to start a style revolution.

Pioneering vision

Barbara founded the pioneering fashion brand Biba in 1964, little knowing it would grow to epitomise the free-spirited mood of the times. Her only ambition was to give young women what they wanted: fun, fabulous clothing their mothers wouldn’t wear.


When Polish-born Barbara and her mother arrived in Britain in 1948 there was a vast divide between the cautious older generation and a hedonistic younger one, thrilled by the possibilities opening up before them. For Barbara, the pessimism of her older relatives inspired her to rebel.

I knew what people wanted, because I wanted it too.

Barbara Hulanicki

A force for change

After graduating from design college Barbara worked as a fashion illustrator, regularly travelling to Paris to draw the collections for British newspapers and magazines. She found the parade of calf-length skirts and fitted jackets in stiff fabrics and muted colours very dull, claiming there was nothing for young people.


Encouraged by her new husband, businessman Stephen Fitz-Simon, Barbara began designing her own clothes to sell via mail order. The couple opened a small boutique in London’s Kensington, called Biba. The Biba look was luxe but fun, with mini-skirts, velvet trouser suits and rich, saturated colour all signatures, yet prices were affordable. It was an instant hit among young women with big fashion appetites and not much money. 


As word spread, queues formed down the street and anxious mothers peered through the windows. Biba moved to larger and larger premises, before eventually settling in a multi-storey Art Deco department store on Kensington High Street.

Fashion revolutionary

With its low-level lighting, plush furnishings, late opening hours and loud music, ‘Big Biba’ as it became known, was more like a nightclub; a cool, slightly chaotic emporium that attracted the biggest names in music, movies and art.


It was the kind of place where something amazing was always happening. The energy in the place brought people in. David Bowie, Mick Jagger or John Lennon might be found lounging on the sofas, while Marianne Faithfull, Yoko Ono, Cher or Twiggy were in the changing rooms. Not that there was VIP treatment for any of them because Biba prided itself on being completely democratic.

It didn’t matter how rich you were, how poor you were, how beautiful you were, because you would become beautiful when you wore our clothes.

Barbara Hulanicki

A lasting legacy

Sixty years later, Biba remains an enduring fashion influence, and Barbara herself an icon for what’s possible when you’re emboldened by obstacles and run towards challenges. She didn’t just give young women clothes that reflected their newfound freedoms – she dismantled fashion’s hierarchies and in doing so changed it forever. 


When asked to share her secret she says, “What you've got to be is very agile; if something works, follow it up immediately.” Close to 90 and still creating, it’s clearly a mantra that continues to serve this revolutionary style legend well. 

Barbara Hulanicki’s game-changing story is the first in our Belong to the Legend series. Look out for more unique stories coming soon.