Newsflash: Puttin’ on the Glitz at the British Library

BL Spring

I’m excited to announce that I will be teaming up with the brilliant Chris Laverty of Clothes on Film for a night of fashion and film as part of the Spring Festival at the British Library.

I shall be exploring fashion on the big screen during the 1920s and 30s, from Joan Crawford and Ginger Rogers to the costume designers who became celebrities in their own right. If you’re lucky I might even venture pre-1920s, as who doesn’t love a bit of Gloria Swanson and Cecil B. DeMille? It’s worth it for the headdresses alone.

Chris, who has just been labelled a ‘digital game changer’ by none other than Vogue India, will be discussing the history of the ‘dandy gangster,’ with exclusive access to the costumes in award-winning HBO series Boardwalk Empire and the influence these colourful men still have on fashion today. SOUNDS PRETTY GOOD, RIGHT?!

The whole shebang will be followed by a party hosted by The Vintage Mafia and you can even enjoy a complimentary cocktail courtesy of The Eccles Centre for American Studies.

The ultimate 3 F’s – Fashion, Film and Free booze. What’s not to love?

Puttin’ on the Glitz: Fashion & Film in the Jazz Age is at the British Library on Friday 28th March from 18.30. BOOK NOW! And read more about the British Library’s Spring Festival, including talks by Hanif Kureishi and history storytelling workshops right here.

Picture 29web

IN OTHER NEWS… You may have caught me recently chatting to Claudia Winkleman about 17th century silk weavers on BBC2′s Great British Sewing Bee. If you missed it, you can catch it until April on iPlayer (UK only) from 45 minutes in.

1891123_625913324146055_1196605270_n

I also joined the lovely Gemma Cairney on her Radio 1 show to chat all things vintage style (such as TURBANS) and why I definitely wasn’t born in the wrong era.

Sticking with style analysis, I was on the live SHOWstudio panel for the Prada collection during Milan Fashion Week. Watch here to see us chat politics and ‘ugliness’ in fashion, as well as training as a mime (Miuccia not me, unfortch).

376_960n_post

On top of all that, I was recently interviewed about fashion theory by Bel Jacobs, and about all things historical at History Vault. And I shared my thoughts on the enduring appeal of Nautical Style for the Metro. And speaking of Nautical Style, I am still currently engrossed in writing a book that tracks the origins of our favourite nautical trends. And speaking of BOOKS, in exciting news my Fashion Miscellany has nearly sold out and is going to reprint!

The TImes

I’m pleased to say it made The Times ‘five best style titles for spring’, as well as The Observer’s Top 5 picks. There have also been lovely words from Clothes on FilmTilly and the ButtonsNaomi ThompsonThe Twin Magazine blog by the girls at Pamflet and The Invisible Woman at the Guardian.

Fashion Miscellany is still available via the GuardianAmazon, and all good book shops. GET ONE WHILE STOCKS LAST!

Posted in Newsflash | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Newsflash: Book Out in February! And Upcoming Events

miscellany blogWhilst I’m still researching all things nautical for the current book I’m working on, I’m excited to say that a small book I put together earlier this year is being launched to coincide with London Fashion Week in February 2014. The Fashion Miscellany is a treasury of tips, trivia and stories about the world of style that casts a quizzical eye over fashion’s oddities, revealing the histories of various garments and techniques as well as lists of top fashion films and the digital fashion revolution. And best of all, it’s available for pre-order HERE!

va-logo1In events coming up, I’m speaking at Raising the Curtain: The History of British Music Hall Study Day at the V&A on Saturday 7th December. The day coincides with the V&A’s current exhibition, Music Halls: Sickert and the Three Graces and covers areas from working women in the Halls from Professor Jacky Bratton, and a look at Music Hall and dance from the V&A’s dance curator Jane Pritchard. I’ll be taking a look at the history of breeches roles, male impersonator Vesta Tilley and Victorian fashion transgression.

More info and tickets here.

blog bfiFollowing that, on January 18th I’ll be speaking at a Gothic Style study day at the British Film Institute to coincide with their epic Gothic season of films and events. The programme will cover Gothic costume in cinema and its impact on subcultural style. I’ll be looking at ‘Haute Horror: Death and the Macabre in High Fashion’ from Rodarte, Rick Owens and Alexander McQueen on the catwalk to the Victorian mourning vogue.

More info and tickets here.

blog hatI was asked to take part in the Tate: Fashion Meets Art Google hangout on air alongside Miranda Sawyer, the V&A’s Oriole Cullen, blogger Disneyrollergirl and milliner extraordinaire Stephen Jones who fashioned me a hat out of my own shoe in an homage to Surrealist-inspired designer Elsa Schiaparelli. We touched on areas from Pop Art to Impressionism, and creativity vs commerce; you can watch the whole thing HERE:

blog UALI hosted a panel with some of the amazing women from the Fabulous Fashionistas documentary that was aired on Channel 4. The panel concluded the Mirror Mirror conference at London College of Fashion that looked at representations of age and ageing in the media; more about the conference here:

I was subsequently asked to chair another panel with the Fab Fashionista women along with director Sue Bourne at Sue Kreitzman‘s Epiphanies Exhibition screening. If you missed it or are looking for ultra-awesome Christmas gifts, DVDs of the documentary are available to buy HERE.

blog P&PIn other news, there’s a feature on me in the current issue of Pigeons & Peacocks, with an interview by Anastasia Miari of Guise magazine and picture by Catalin Plesa.

news blogAnd in more literal news, I was on the news again, discussing Debenhams’ decision to use size 16 mannequins in store and the need for greater diversity in fashion imagery. You can watch it here.

Finally my top tip for autumn is a visit to Somerset House for the Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! exhibition. Featuring family artifacts alongside pieces from Blow favourites Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy, the exhibition has been garnering rave reviews and an entire SHOWstudio project gets behind the scenes insight from some of the people involved. With set design by Shona Heath, catalogue shot by Nick Knight and curation in part by Saint Martins’ Alistair O’Neill, it’s a spectacular gesamtkunstwerk of a show that celebrates the sartorial flair of one of the UK’s most loved – and most troubled – fashion icons.

bloe blogPhilip Treacy hat; Isabella and Detmar Blow’s engagement announcement, 1989; Viktor and Rolf autumn 1998 with hat by Philip Tracy, all at Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!

And for more of the above you can follow me on Instagram at @AmberButchart.

Posted in Newsflash | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Newsflash: Sailor Chic & October Events

sailorAll the nice girls love a sailor

I have been rather quiet here of late, but I can assure you it’s with good reason as I have some very exciting news. I’ve been swashbuckling my way through our seafaring past because over the summer I was commissioned to write a book on the History of Nautical Style. I’ve been spending many happy hours looking at pictures of fishermen and sailors and reading books about pirates and Lord Nelson to trace the story of maritime clothing in fashionable dress.

The sartorial influence of sailors and the seaside has been a research interest of mine since it was the subject of my MA dissertation, so I’m delighted to be turning it into a book.

It’s not due for publication until Spring 2015, but to whet your appetite here are some of the gems I’ve been unearthing:

nautical

However, I’m not a complete hermit as I’m involved in a couple of events this month. The first is this Saturday 12th October: the London Day of the Dead, part of the Hendrick’s Carnival of Knowledge.

I’m giving a talk called ‘Dresses to Die For’ on the Victorian cult of mourning – funereal fashion at its finest. I’ll be covering mourning warehouses (Maisons de Deuil), etiquette and jewellery with a brief history of black in fashion.

The day’s programme is jam-packed with activities ranging from the morbid to the macabre, from the Highgate Vampire to holographic graveyards. The Museum of London’s curator of osteology will be uncovering some of London’s skeletal remains, and you can meet an undertaker and take part in workshops on making Death Masks and creating your Last Will and Testament.

Hendrick’s Carnival of Knowledge runs from 11th-13th October. For the full programme see here, and for the London Day of the Dead listings at 33 Fitzroy Square check Antique Beat.

1878Picture c. 1878, The Burns Archive

UPDATE: On Friday 25th October I will be hosting an ‘In Conversation’ at the V&A with Professor Wendy Dagworthy, as part of their Back to the 80s: Club to Catwalk Friday Late. Join us from 7.15pm in the Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre to hear about Wendy’s career as a designer, one of the founders of London Fashion Week and subsequently as one of London’s most inspirational fashion professors. FREE but arrive early!

va-logo1

On 30th October I’m delighted to be involved with a University of the Arts conference entitled Mirror Mirror: Representations and Reflections on Age and Ageing.

I’m chairing a panel of inspirational older women comprised of Bridget, Daphne, Jean and Sue who recently featured in the acclaimed documentary Fabulous Fashionistas – if you haven’t seen it yet you’re missing out!

The conference will also feature Ari Seth Cohen of the excellent Advanced Style blog, and other speakers include Professor Julia Twigg discussing representations of age in the media, and Professor Roberta Mock who will be giving a paper on the ways in which comedians such as Joan Rivers and Roseanne Barr subvert our expectations of older women.

29th & 30th October. Get your tickets here.

FFBridget, Jean and Sue of Fabulous Fashionistas

Finally, last week I was on Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour again, this time discussing shoe history and lamenting my stunted stature with Jane Garvey. You can listen again here from about 37 minutes in.

28.102.11_CP4
Italian chopine, late 16th century, found at the Met Museum

And just before that I was interviewed for a London Fashion Week special on Radio 4′s You and Yours. You can listen here from about 35 minutes. I also featured on the SHOWstudio panel for the super fun Moschino 30th anniversary show, along with some other colourful ladies such as Fred Butler, Kim Howells and Anna Trevelyan. You can watch it here – *SPOILER ALERT* Gloria Gaynor also features!

ss yy

Posted in Newsflash | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Track the Trend: Futurism in Fashion

This piece originally appeared as ‘Fashioning the Future’ in House magazine

future 1“The Man and Woman of Tomorrow” model futuristic fashions in 1951, found at VintageGal; House magazine; John Kloss designs found at Blue Velvet Vintage

Fashion is an industry built on obsolescence. As such an obsession with the future comes as no surprise; with a self-set mission to forge the styles of tomorrow, designers plunder the past in search of the Next Big Thing, scouring archives to create the fashions of the future. Somewhat ironically, fashion that claims to be futuristic in vision is often derivative – a profusion of styles from the last century have come to stand for the ‘future’ even while referencing the past. Concurrently, ideas of the future are often used to shape the present and can speak volumes about contemporary hopes, dreams and fears. So what does it mean that the spring 2013 catwalks were flooded with Sci-Fi looks and Space Age styling? It’s time to go back to the future.

Early last century the phenomenon was kick-started by fashion’s flirtation with the Futurism movement. With the desire to break from the past and embrace industrial, urban life it was no surprise that sartorial styles soon came under scrutiny. Manifestos on both men’s and women’s clothing followed, setting out to banish ‘funereal’ black from the style palette and to create clothing that was functional and colourful. Later tainted by its ties with Fascism, the Futurist movement has since fallen out of favour yet through its championing of utilitarian, polychrome principles it successfully foreshadowed the rise of sportswear throughout the remainder of the 20th century.

future 2Futurist jumpsuit found at Leila Hartley; Giacomo Balla’s suit found here; Balla suit design found here

The future was decidedly dystopian in Fritz Lang’s Expressionist classic Metropolis (1927), yet it has had a resounding influence on the world of design, from Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci to Donatella Versace and the architectural prints of Holly Fulton. Hints of this angular, Gothic Modernist vision have also been found in the work of Tom Ford and Max Mara. Just as Orwell’s 1984 threw a spotlight on concerns about the rise of extreme politics and Totalitarianism in the 1930s, Metropolis acted as a mirror to worries about the industrialisation of society. Echoes of Marxism are heard in the plight of the workers while the robotic enemy embodies fears of the machine age. The film appears to uphold many of the Grand Narratives of Modernism while simultaneously drawing on dark tales of playing God, evoking Frankenstein in the frenetic, wild-eyed scientist Rotwang. But for all its radical posturing and fetishising of Modernist architecture, Lang’s tale is ultimately ambiguous in its message of restoring the status quo and assuaging the workers’ revolt. This leaves a clean slate for current couturiers to project their own meanings onto a world that in the post-Industrial 21st century has become an iconic referent of the power and beauty of Modernist design.

metropolisMetropolis shots, from a piece I wrote for Silent London
future 4Givenchy couture, Spring 2012; Versace couture Spring 2012; Holly Fulton S/S 2010

A world war passed, Fascism was defeated and Communism was Public Enemy Number One when Soviet Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. Throughout the ensuing decade Parisian couturiers such as André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin used innovative fabrics such as plastic, metal and PVC to play out Cold War concerns and intergalactic dreams on the bodies of their customers. This forged a vision of the future that has become an enduring image of the past; these Space Age fashions quickly became emblematic of their time and will forever be associated with the Space Race of the Atomic Age. The style reached a pinnacle with Jane Fonda’s space babe Barbarella, featuring costumes designed in part by Paco Rabanne.

future 5boots-jane-fonda-barbarella-2Courrèges found at Pinterest; Pierre Cardin found here; Jane Fonda as Barbarella found here

A decidedly 60s version of Space Age chic was evident at David Koma’s summer collection, whose drop-waists and patent leather appliqué had the effect of creating a futuristic take on the traditional tennis dress. Junya Watanabe (almost literally) carried the crown of André Courrèges, the grandfather of Sci-Fi fashions whose Space Age collection heralded the obsession with the cosmic that would dominate much of the 60s. Watanabe’s hats were reminiscent of Courrèges’ helmets but updated with spikes – where Courrèges’ were smooth and cream, like the surface of a perfect moon, Watanabe’s were spiked and molded into mohawk-like shapes, perfectly signifying our post-punk, recessionary angst. At Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs claimed his beehive-haired, monochromatic collection was not intended to reference the 60s. But combined with graphic prints reminiscent of Op Art it was difficult not to see the connection. A visual synchronicity exists between works by Bridget Riley and Sci-Fi styles; it comes as no surprise that the term Op Art appeared in print for the first time in 1964 – the same year as Courrèges’ Space Age collection.

future 3All Spring/Summer 2013: David Koma; Watanabe; Louis Vuitton

In the landscape of 21st century fashion when discussions of plagiarism dominate much design, true futuristic fashion as ever lies with technology. With the rise of digital currently taking the fashion world by storm (from blogging to live streaming of shows and creating brand dialogues through social media), it’s no surprise that catwalks are currently tech-obsessed, from fabric innovations to Space Age styling. And this in itself is nothing new; technology has always been a driving force behind the fashion cycle, from advances in print techniques to imitate Spitalfields silks in the 18th century to the use of aniline dyes in the 19th century, and the success of synthetic fabrics such as nylon and rayon in the 20th. Topshop Unique joined the likes of Burberry to live-stream their catwalk show this season, upping the stakes with items available to pre-order to arrive 3 months before they hit the stores. With requisite trend boxes ticked – from  asymmetry to Rudi Gernreich-esque sheer cut-outs and panels – they also succeeded in opening up the debate by asking for real-time feedback on Twitter. With the revered arena of the catwalk show suddenly open to all, questions arise about the air of exclusivity endemic in the fashion system and the hallowed place of the runway reviewer; these are questions that will reverberate around the very future of fashion itself.

Posted in Track the Trend | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Newsflash: Theatre of Fashion at the V&A – Bowie Weekender

va-logo1

*TICKETS NOW LIMITED*

The theatre is a wonderful place, a house of strange enchantment, a temple of illusion    – Noel Coward

bowie vogue

I’m pleased to announce the next date of the Theatre of Fashion In Conversation series at the V&A will be Sunday April 28th at 3pm as part of the V&A’s Bowie Weekender. *Please note the new location: Seminar Room 1, V&A Sackler Centre*

David Bowie has been a perennial influence on the worlds of fashion and performance. I will be talking to former arts journalist and specialist in Japanese culture, Helene Thian, who completed her Masters degree at London College of Fashion with a thesis on Japonism in fashion in the 1960s and 1970s, focusing on the Japan-inspired collaboration between Lindsay Kemp and David Bowie and later costuming by designer Kansai Yamamoto for Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.

A former speaker at the Costume Society and the first David Bowie Symposium in Ireland last year, Helene’s research was used by the V&A to inform aspects of the ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition. The discussion will focus on her research, looking at the designs of Kansai Yamamoto and the theatre of Lindsay Kemp, especially the influence of Kabuki theatre and Japanese costume and how these were articulated in Bowie’s performances, affecting and reflecting gender binaries, the relationship between East and West, and Japonism in fashion as a whole.

If you’re unable to attend you can still get involved, as the event will be broadcast as a video and podcast on TheatreVOICE - the leading online audio resource for British theatre.

I hope you can make it along!

Theatre of Fashion In Conversation… with Helene Thian: Bowie Weekender
Sunday 28th April, 3pm, FREE but you must reserve a space: please email amber@theatreoffashion.co.uk TICKETS now limited
Seminar Room 1, V&A Sackler Centre
, V&A, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

BowieKansai Yamamoto designs for David Bowie
Posted in Newsflash | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Theatre of Fashion: London Fashion Week AW13

I kicked off London Fashion Week this season with my feet still firmly – if metaphorically – in New York with a SHOWstudio live panel discussion on catwalk theatre at Marc Jacobs.

showstudio 1See the Marc Jacobs SHOWstudio discussion HERE

I spent the next few days whizzing between Somerset House, Tate Tanks and Freemasons’ Hall reviewing shows for Fashion156. Click through below for full reports! All pictures from Fashion156.

AshishWorkwear gets the Ashish glitter treatment with high-vis and plaid rendered in his trademark sequins

ekaterinaKnitwear designer Ekaterina Kukhareva gave us technicolor housewives on acid inspired by Ottoman crockery

edelineA celebration of female rulers in a Tudor-infused presentation at a 16th century heraldic hall from Edeline Lee

simulationCan politics and fashion mix? The dubious use of protest movements as design inspiration had me unsure at Heohwan Simulation

Among others I also reviewed the tarot and witchery at KTZ, the grown up ’70s glamour at Felder Felder, and the punk ethos at Maarten Van Der Horst.

This Sunday from 1pm I’ll be back in Knightsbridge with the SHOWstudio live team reviewing the Dolce & Gabbana show, so be sure to tune in if you love a bit of Italian glam.

Posted in Theatre of Fashion | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lost in the Closet: Biba

biba girlHistory, in short, is not just about events, or structures, or patterns of behaviour, but also about how these are experienced and remembered in the imagination.

- Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past: Oral History

Biba occupies a legendary place in the history of fashion, streetwear and retail. In just over a decade, Barbara Hulanicki and Stephen Fitz-Simon succeeded in embedding their shop firmly within the hearts and memories of a generation of consumers. Arguably the inventors of the ‘designer lifestyle,’ the shop has become synonymous with the epitome of cool, subversive fashion in the late 60s. Big Biba, opened in 1973 under the moniker ‘the most beautiful store in the world,’ really was just that. Reviving the 1930s on the bodies of its shoppers at around the same time that Cabaret was reviving it in movie theatres, it epitomised an affordable elegance and a timeless chic with a hefty dose of kitsch thrown in for good measure. Art Deco fantasies were enacted among giant mushrooms, Egyptian-style changing rooms and lashings of leopard print. And if that wasn’t enough there were always the flamingos on the roof. I have been obsessed with Biba for as long as I can remember, mainly due to a green dress owned by my mother, and spurred on by reading Barbara Hulanicki’s autobiography as a teenager.

biba dress greenMy mother’s Biba dress
biba dress labelMy other Biba ensemble (it comes with wide-leg trousers) from one of Liz Tregenza‘s eBay sales, formerly belonged to Naomi Thompson. Hulanicki said it was one of her favourite tops… Biba label on my mother’s dress

The dress lingered in the background of my childhood as a reminder of my mother’s exotic life before I was born; its extravagance mimicked the contents of our dressing up box, yet this was far too precious to be considered a plaything. The heaviness of the soft towelling complimented the rich emerald green colour, and the luxurious medieval sleeves and gathered shoulders exemplify the historical decadence that Hulanicki’s designs were famed for in the late 60s and early 70s. The dress has a varied history of being worn by many people, as evidenced by the alterations: taken up by shorter friends, stitched down the front by friends for whom modesty prevailed; every stitch marking a new wearer imprinting their story for future generations. The current exhibition on Barbara Hulanicki in Brighton showcases a number of Biba pieces, but it was the catalogue from an earlier exhibition - Biba: The Label, The Lifestyle, The Look in Newcastle in the mid 90s – that helped me to date my mum’s dress to 1972.

MumMy mother (c. 1961 and 1963); Sitting on a car bonnet in 1966/67

I’m not alone in my devotion to Biba. Many former customers – and those of us too young to have seen the stores – are enamoured with the brand as a lost snapshot of British retail magic. Consistent attempts to revive the brand in recent years have fallen on deaf ears – people inherently know that no one will truly be able to recreate the phenomenon – a sentiment also felt in the furore over the Ossie Clark relaunch. It’s interesting in this respect that the relaunch model which works in Paris doesn’t seem to work so well in London – possibly because we feel passionately that these brands were part of the democratising process of fashion and we don’t want to see them usurped by high end prices or low-end retail environments. The egalitarian nature of British street wear seems at odds with the Parisian model of fashion Houses continuing after their creator’s death or retirement; something that couture labels such as Hardy Amies seem to have less of a problem adjusting to.

biba badgeStyle sleuth: A Biba badge owned by my mother (and now by me), and the same badge featuring in a Nova fashion shoot, March 1971 (on the model’s hat)

Yet another failed revival from the ‘Swinging Sixties’ was Nova magazine, which relaunched in 2000 and subsequently folded the following year. Correlations between Biba and Nova are manifold. Aesthetic similarities exist in the use of shared photographers such as Sarah Moon and Helmut Newton (the Biba mail order catalogue, when launched, was designed to resemble a fashion spread from Nova), and the short life span that each enjoyed also connects them: Nova only existed for ten years in its initial incarnation. But more than the facts of their existence, it is the way that these items are passionately remembered by customers and readers alike that forges an indelible bond between them.

nova 1Shoot in Nova, March 1972
nova 2Left and centre: Shoot in Nova from March 1972; right: shoot in Nova featuring Biba turban and dress (on the left), February 1972

Biba has come to symbolise the meritocracy that the sixties allegedly gave birth to, with clientele including not only the working class ‘Biba girl,’ but also celebrities such as pop stars and actresses and even young aristocrats. Debate rages over whether the clothing was as affordable as we are led to believe (contemporary reports in trade magazines Drapers’ Record and Men’s Wear both dispute this), but when Biba launched their mail order catalogues in 1968 the system was truly egalitarian in its extension of urban street fashion to regional and suburban areas.

seamlessI was recently lucky enough to meet Barbara Hulanicki herself at the launch of her new book. I was somewhat starstruck, as you can see from my ‘rabbit in headlights’ expression

My clothes have soul, emotion goes into them in the design, and they are picked for emotional reasons. This is their impact.

-       Hulanicki, in British Clothing Manufacturer, December 1969

Personal testimonies are a big part of Biba exhibitions, featuring at the current show in Brighton and Biba: The Label, The Lifestyle, The Look in 1993 (the fact that these were both successful outside of London highlights the success of the mail order business). The predisposition towards emotional hyperbole is reflected in Hulanicki’s autobiography, dedicated to ‘All Optimists, Fatalists and Dreamers,’ with a tendency to anthropomorphise the clothing, using a lexicon of compassion that has resonated with Biba consumers throughout the decades.

A machine cannot imitate the magic a human being can inject into a dress. You can make a sample in the workroom that is simple and has soul. When it comes back to you from a manufacturer it may seem identical but lack any feeling. I would pat and talk to a rail of dresses to put some life into them. It was amazing what a difference this made.

- Barbara Hulanicki in her autobiography, From A to Biba (1983)

Biba 3Biba and Beyond exhibition in Brighton

While Hulanicki situates the financial success of Biba purely within the sphere of sentiment, it can’t be denied that the Biba stores developed sophisticated technological and promotional strategies that were more likely the root of its success, along with the simple recipe of having a great product. It was heralded in trade journals as a retail phenomenon in terms of store interior, selling techniques (or lack of), and merchandising. In 1974 Drapers’ Record ran a feature on the advanced technology (“the first of its kind in Britain”) that the store used to achieve “rapid analysis of fashion trends.” And the proliferation of celebrities such as Cathy McGown wearing the clothes has been hailed as an early example of product placement. That Biba is perpetually cited as the first ‘designer lifestyle brand’ also demonstrates an understanding of marketing and brand awareness that was pretty ahead of its time.

The infamous Biba baked beans; the Biba floor at Big Biba. Both from Welcome to Big Biba by Steven Thomas and Alwyn Turner. I recently interviewed Alwyn Turner at the V&A, you can listen to the full conversation here at theatreVOICE

Biba is a poignant example of the place that fashion and clothing can inhabit within emotional memory. For many people their Biba items are stashed away in a personal treasure trove, beloved heirlooms waiting to be passed to future generations. When Big Biba closed its doors in 1975 the boom of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ had morphed into a period of high inflation with industrial strikes, the three day week and increased consumer prices following the onset of decimalisation. Encapsulating such a fleeting moment, Biba has become a very personal and significant recollection for many women, a crucial reference point to their teenage and young adult lives, to the extent that it is not unknown for people to name their pets, and even children, after the store, as Hulanicki recounts in her autobiography. Clothing – perhaps more than any other form of material culture – is central to the lived experience of most people due to its proximity to the body. This is nowhere more evident than in the memories of successive generations of Biba fans, myself included, as passed down through my mother’s dress.

Biba 1Biba jacket; visiting Biba and Beyond in Brighton with Kerry of Yours Truly and Kelly-Marie of A Harem of Peacocks
Biba 2Biba and Beyond exhibition in Brighton

Biba and Beyond is on at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery until April 14th.

Posted in Lost in the Closet, Theatre of Fashion | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments