Sunday, 17 March 2013

Biba & Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki

P and I have been in Brighton for a few days. My OH has always been entirely open about his first love - Olivia Newton John. Given P's career and his usual taste in music (he has industrial deafness for a reason) ONJ is not musically credible but that's not why he's hopelessly devoted!
When I heard she would be touring in the UK I rushed to buy tickets and managed to get front row seats at The Brighton Centre. Keeping it quiet from October until Christmas was tricky but he was thrilled, and this has provided endless opportunities for friends and family to take the mickey - he cares not!
We had a fab time but it was cold so we tried to mix up the mooching outside in the weather with 'lets pop in here - it's warm', this mostly involved tea and cake. As an aside I think we're now officially old as 'tea' is no longer sufficient, we're both after 'a nice cup of tea' - honestly I sound like my Nainy!

Well being selfless pays off - how wonderful.

It was fine to take photos, without a flash, which was a bonus
I now have a dream where I stumble across a stash of Biba dressmaking patterns in a charity shop!
There were posters up for a Biba exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery so we went along. It's running until the 14th of April, if you get a chance to go. The Museum has free entry, the exhibition was £6 for adults. I really enjoyed it and P was very good and said it was 'interesting' but he does indulge me!
Because life is complicated in ways I won't bore you with I have an interest I didn't always understand or acknowledge that links Brighton, the 1970s, fashion and dressmaking. This exhibition was an especially interesting experience for me because of that.
Barbara's history is fascinating and her approach to design, not just fashion but lifestyle too, was innovative.

It's close but I think this was my favourite garment
The story behind the design
And the wallpaper - beautiful
Barbara brought fashionable clothes within reach of everyone and I loved that the clothes in the exhibit were donated and had notes from the owner about where they wore them and what they loved about them - a real living history.

Gorgeous outfit, and so simple
The outfit in the middle was worn as a wedding dress but the owner had to make a lining for it as it was totally see-through

The outfit on the right was worn with pride to a dinner dance - some time later the owner saw it in the catalogue described as a negligee set - she'd gone out in her PJs! Brilliant

Barbara still designs clothes today, after a long gap working on styling buildings/hotels, for Top Shop and George at Asda.

A skater dress designed for Top Shop

If you get the chance I would definitely recommend a visit. And the Exhibition is right next to the museum cafe so you could always get a 'nice' cup of tea ;)


  1. Wow, that looks fantastic! I love that black top and white trousers, so simple and stylish, and the dressmaking patterns would be amazing to stumble upon.

    I'm desperately trying to work out if I can fit in a trip down before the exhibition finishes. We actually have a weekend away in Rye (not too far from Brighton) the weekend AFTER the exhibition ends.

    1. I loved that outfit too, there was a lot that was timeless actually, and some that was screaming 70s but even then the fabrics were great.

      I love Rye, one of my favourite places, we've been known to drive there just for fish and chips! Have a super time, it's a shame the timing doesn't work out but Brighton's a bit of a trek for you isn't it? X

    2. Brighton's a couple of hours by car or train from me. Do you think the exhibition is worth making a special trip?

    3. Oh crikey, the responsibility! What if I say 'yes' and you're only in there 30 mins and come out cursing me for a wasted day? Or, how about it could have been your bestest trip ever and you miss it on my recommendation? The pressure!

      OK (am getting a grip!) - on balance (cue 'edge of your seat' music) ... No. Not if that's the only reason for your trip. Just because your journey would take longer than the time in the exhibition. However, if you could make a day of it, you know, visiting Ditto fabrics (tiny shop BTW), eating cake etc then, hoping to bump into So Zo and get her autograph etc then ... Yes.

      Am I helping? x

  2. Is it just me, or do those illustrations have a creepy doll-like quality?

    1. You are spot on, although they're not creepy up close. Barbara had a real style in mind and there was a whole section of the exhibition that showed how the make up was done to get that effect :)

  3. Ever since I read this post I have the urge to sew some white pants (maybe Thurlow ones) and a black drapey top :-) I even have the materials and patterns and everything ... hmm, back to the dress

  4. I totally agree, very simple outfit but totally gorgeous, I love the shape of the blouse sleeves. You'll just have to add it to your list! :)


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