Discover the Untold Story of Big Biba: A Fashion Icon’s Rise and Fall!


Interior designer Steven Thomas expressed his disappointment with the uninspiring state of the British retail landscape in 2024, describing it as “incredibly dull.” With his experience shaping the aesthetic of the iconic 1970s London fashion emporium, Big Biba, Thomas is well-versed in creating excitement.

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Big Biba, a visionary 20,000 square foot establishment created by fashion illustrator Barbara Hulanicki and her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon, was a pinnacle of . Launched in September 1973 as the final installment of the renowned brand, this seven-floor Art Deco marvel on Kensington High Street boasted a plethora of attractions.

From a soup stand inspired by Andy Warhol to a rooftop garden inhabited by real flamingos and penguins, and the renowned celebrity haunt known as the “Rainbow Room,” Big Biba was a sensation.

“The Rainbow Room became an instant hit with the glitterati; it was the place to see and be seen,” reminisced Thomas in an interview with CNN. Originally conceived by architect Marcel Hennequet in 1933, the Rainbow Room, named for its vibrant ceiling, became a favored dining spot for luminaries like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and Bryan Ferry.

Thomas recounted anecdotes of the unofficial booker, Fitz-Simon's resourceful son, managed to attract acts like the Dolls. However, their visit resulted in a bit of chaos, as they famously caused a commotion by shoplifting women's clothes during their performance.

These captivating tales are now chronicled in Thomas's recent publication, “Welcome to Big Biba,” released in honor of the brand's 60th anniversary. In the foreword, Hulanicki reflects on her legacy, hailing Big Biba as a of creative freedom, quipping, “You can do it all as long as you learn to wear a suit. Of course, your secret will be that the suit is lined in gold lamé.”

The Beginnings of Fashion Democracy The Biba saga commenced in May 1964 with the inception of “Biba's Postal Boutique,” a mail-order venture by Hulanicki and Fitz-Simon. This innovative concept, as described by singer Annie Lennox, offered respite to those in provincial areas seeking to escape the mundane.

Inspired by vintage styles with a modern twist, Biba's offerings resonated with young female clientele. Martin Pel, author of “The Biba Years 1963-1975,” hailed Biba as a pioneer in making fashion accessible to all, distinguishing it from contemporaries like Mary Quant, whose designs were often out of reach for many.

By September 1964, Biba expanded into its first physical store, followed by subsequent relocations to accommodate its growing popularity. Notably, the Kensington Church Street location, where Anna Wintour briefly worked, garnered acclaim as London's most exotic shop, according to Vanity Fair.

Thomas, who had previously collaborated with Hulanicki and Fitz-Simon on earlier Biba ventures, embarked on the ambitious task of designing the monumental Big Biba. Despite initial doubts about their ability to handle such a project, Thomas and his creative partner, Tim Whitmore, were entrusted with the entire endeavor, a feat he described as “an extraordinary act of bravery.”

Furnishing Big Biba's expansive seven floors posed both challenges and opportunities. Working closely with Hulanicki, Thomas ensured each floor reflected her vision, from a whimsical kids' section inspired by Disney to a sophisticated menswear department complete with discreet “mistress” sections.

The store's distinctive black and gold motif, adorned with mirrors, ostrich feathers, and leopard print accents, captivated shoppers, creating an immersive retail experience. Thomas fondly remembered the vibrant atmosphere cultivated by the dedicated staff, likening the store to a club where patrons felt a sense of belonging.

Big Biba's triumphant debut in 1974, marked by a lavish rooftop garden party, solidified its status as a cultural phenomenon. Drawing visitors from far and wide, the store became a must-see attraction, rivaling even Buckingham Palace in popularity.

Despite its meteoric rise, Biba's success was short-lived. Financial woes and changing ownership led to its eventual closure in 1975, marking the end of an era. However, its legacy endures, with Biba's affordable yet high-quality designs continuing to inspire fashion enthusiasts to this day, serving as a testament to the enduring allure of accessible style.

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