On this day in history : 10th September 1973 – London fashion store Biba opens its iconic department store in West London’s Kensington High Street….

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Biba had been started by Polish-born Barbara Hulanicki, aided by her husband Stephen Kitz-Simon, primarily as a mail order business…. Their first shop opened on Abingdon Road, Kensington in September 1954…. It was nearly ten years later, in the May of 1964, that they ran a promotional advert in the Daily Mirror for a dress similar to one worn by Brigette Bardot…. Biba were inundated with orders….selling 4,000 overnight…. The business then began to snowball….

Barbara Hulanicki – Image credit : AVESSA – source : High Gloss 2018 : The Art of Fashion. Trendencias with Carlos Marrero CC BY 3.0

In 1971 Biba purchased the seven storey building that had been occupied by London department store Derry and Toms…. The store, famous for its roof garden, had originally opened in 1938…. Biba spent £1m refurbishing the Art Deco store – and with the backing of Dorothy Perkins and property development and investment firm The British Land Company – ‘Big Biba’ opened in September 1973…. Not only did the new department store sell Biba’s own collection of clothes and accessories but it also stocked household goods, cosmetics, sports equipment and children’s clothing…. It had a children’s toy department, a food hall and a restaurant….

The Art Deco interior had a touch of the Golden Age of Hollywood and quickly attracted a million visitors a week – bringing a welcome boost to the rest of Kensington High Street at a time when the UK was suffering a recession…. However, the problem was that most of Biba’s visitors were tourists – and not customers – there to see the sights but not to buy…. Within two years Biba itself had become a victim of the recession – the store closed its doors in 1975….

The former ‘Big Biba’ building circa 2006 – Image : Thomas Blomberg (assumed) CC BY-SA 2.5

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