Biba's American Debut
There are currently three copies of From A to Biba by Barbara Hulanicki in the Sweet Jane household, two purple paperbacks and one beautiful hardback edition, because I can never resist picking up another copy whenever I see one in a book shop. Each of them have been read cover to cover many times, but this past year or so, I've been thinking a lot about chapter seven...and page 120 in particular, which takes the reader up to the year 1970. At this point in time Barbara and her husband Fitz had begun to successfully launch the Biba Cosmetics range abroad, but they had yet to conquer the United States. As Barbara herself says "it's a very tough market to break into and you really have to wait for your opportunity"...and that opportunity eventually came knocking in the form of the influential Seventeen Magazine editor Rosemary McMurtney, who approached the couple while she was in London and had suggested that they should start to sell their clothes in America. She said that if they managed the distribution themselves, she would do a feature on them in the magazine―which had a circulation of several million copies per month. However, they didn't want to become just wholesalers as they felt it would be bad for their image, so instead they agreed that they would create a range of Biba designs exclusively for Seventeen, which would be available through the McCalls pattern catalogue along with some specially designed Biba fabrics by Tootal stocked at Macy's department store. Another reason why this chapter has intrigued me for such a long time is particularly due to the fact that Barbara also mentions that the clothes were photographed by Sarah Moon, in a marvellous 1920s round tower in the Au Printemps store in Paris. So, after a lot of searching online, I finally found a copy of the Seventeen magazine issue last December, and bought it for myself as a Christmas present...and here it is, 41 years later, almost to the very day that it was first published―Biba's american debut. Happy 2012 everyone, hope it's a great one!
Wide Eyed Biba doll, plays a softgirl game with flowery innocence. She's midi-pretty as you please in a button-upper with puff and cuff sleevery. Cotton broadcloth; about $2.40 a yard. Fabrics by Tootal for Biba. All fashions from McCall's pattern 2746. The baubles are real antiques.
Deco-rous mididress, above left, flips a shorter skirt and stars full-blown sleeves above deep six-button cuffs. McCall's pattern 2747. Flow gently, sweet blouson, right, on a tidy midi with a twenties glow; collar points to loopy buttons, super sleevery. McCall's pattern 2725 (choker included).
Tenderly, Two Ways, Biba serves up a blush of rosy print. The sheer pour of shirtwaist billows its sleeves, streams a bow-up collar and stops midi way. Giving cover, the crispest of short-sleeved vestcoats (solos as a dress too). Shirt-waist of cotton voile, about $4.50 a yard. Floppy fedora: McCall's pattern 2728.
London Luv's, far left, are a sweetheart-scoop jacket with pouf sleeves and peplum, and a softskirt caught up in midi mania. The dusted rose cotton satin is about $3.75 a yard. McCall's pattern 2725. Fitting and proper, right, this Biba slink-suit belts a semi-safari longtop and skims on a great midi mate; printed in powdery plum. McCall's pattern 2728.
Rosy bouquet, left, is a blooming maxi beauty! Tie-on capelet and choker are part and parcel of the pattern. Lissome Lilac, right, shows more sheer finery, this with Empire airs: soft bodice gatherings, dramatic neckline and ruffled, puffed sleeves. Both cotton voile; about $4 a yard. McCall's pattern 2747.
All Images scanned by Sweet Jane from the following publications: Book cover From A to Biba by Barbara Hulanicki. All fashion images from Seventeen Magazine, January 1971. All photographs by Sarah Moon.