Gayle Atkins’ Review of the Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki Exhibition at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
In my home city of Brighton it was exciting to visit the Biba and Beyond exhibition at The Royal Pavilion Art Gallery. Uba-cool fashion legend Barbara Hulanicki, a Brighton raised fashion designer, was – partly – responsible for the ‘Twiggy look’ so popular with young women in the 60’s and 70’s (Did I mention all this was in Brighton?). The doe-eyed, almost childlike-skinny look was known as Biba Dollies. Co-curated by Barbara Hulanicki herself, the exhibition houses fashion illustrations, architectural drawings and a gallery of donated outfits, many of which could very easily be translated into a modern-day wearable look.
Hulanicki’s origins as an illustrator were evident. It was fantastic to see the original of an iconic illustration of Audrey Hepburn produced while Hulanicki was studying at Brighton’s Art College. Also very cute were the illustrations she made for home dress making patterns in the 1960s. Quick felt pen sketches created for catwalk running sheets gave an insightful look with behind the scenes styling annotations.
Biba first started as a postal boutique in the early 60s. Its success led to the opening of a series of shops, all dimly lit and almost dangerously moody, risqué dresses on hat stands, loud music, glitzy accessories and glamorous make-up boxes of bright reds, yellows, plums and rich browns. Hulanicki’s designs pushed the boundaries. The make-up stocked in the Biba stores went on to inspire the punk era with its black lipstick and bright eye shadows. Women felt like they were part of a secret club, and they could recognise at an instant other women wearing a Biba design. The affordability of Biba designs are sometimes mentioned to explain their incredible success, this may have help but looking back in time it is difficult to dissociate the Biba look from its time. Biba and Barbara Hulanicki were key agents of the 60s youth revolution.
A video playing Barbara herself, in a painfully stylish leather jacket and huge black shades, talks about her life, from her marriage to her move at a later stage of her career into interior design work. Ronnie Wood commissioned Hulanicki to build his bar, Woody’s on the Beach in Miami. Hulanicki now designs hotels in Jamaica and the Bahamas. She also speaks of her continued excitement with fashion; she is still a dedicated follower of fashion. More recently, she came back to fashion, designing capsules for Topshop and George at Asda.
A wonderfully insightful look at both a fantastic career endless longevity and an incredible life.
The exhibition runs from 22nd September until April 14th 2013. If possible I would absolutely recommend paying this exhibition a visit.
Written by Gayle Atkins
Gayle is a fashion designer; holding an MA, she is also a lecturer who has written BA (Hons.) Level fashion design and management courses.
Gayle’s career started at the Arcadia Group, monitoring Topshop’s process of cut and production, from initial design sketches to finished products. She then moved across the industry gaining a broad range of experiences from high street to high end, from production to communication. Gayle also launched her own range of leather accessories selling highly sustainable fashion to independent fashion boutiques in London and the south of France.
In July 2012, Gayle gained a Masters in Design from Central St Martins achieving a Distinction. This course allowed her to refine her expertise in cutting and manufacturing as she developed technical ‘smart’ garments that can be worn more than one way. Rekindling an old passion for sustainable fashion she developed no waste patterns and up-cycled products to celebrate a practical design and strong fashion.
Gayle ‘frock-sac’ collection developed during her MA is now available for retail at gayle-atkins.com. The concept proposed is that of ‘slow fashion’ staple garments that can be worn more than one way. Innovative and multifunctional they are produced in sympathetic materials with a sustainable agenda.
Currently employed at Northbrook College, part of Brighton University, Gayle lectures BA students and is responsible for organising industrial placements.
Gayle also runs a BA (Hons.) Fashion Design with Business course validated by Sussex University. In this role, she is engaged in the planning, design and leadership of teaching and research activity. Identifying the provision needed improvement and re-wrote the entire course in 2011.