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My design London: Barbara Hulanicki, founder of Biba

My design London: Barbara Hulanicki, founder of Biba

Barbara Hulanicki is a multi-talented designer, fashion illustrator and founder of the iconic department store and label Biba. Here she reveals some of her favourite design spots in London
Barbara Hulanicki
Barbara Hulanicki founded the Biba label in Sixties London
Warsaw-born Barbara Hulanicki is a multi-talented designer and fashion illustrator who founded Biba, the iconic department store and label that started a retail revolution in the Sixties and Seventies. At its height, the Biba lifestyle, from suede boots to sepia lipstick, was gloriously displayed in a five-storey art deco department store in Kensington.

After walking away from Biba in the mid-Seventies, Hulanicki established herself as an award-winning interior designer in America and is renowned for regenerating Miami Beach with her exciting hotel transformations. In the UK she recently designed fashion collections for Topshop and George at Asda, and last year was awarded an OBE for services to fashion.

Where I live
I've been based in Miami for 20 years. My friend Ronnie Wood asked me to work on a new club on the beach he was opening and it took six months to complete, then more work followed and two years later we were still there, and two years became 10, then 20. It's always summer in Miami and when you first live there you think you have to go on the beach. Then, after two years the novelty wears off. When my husband Fitz and I used to visit in the Sixties the whole art deco area was very decayed though beautiful, and the thrift shops were amazing. Now it's very different: it has the same spirit as London, very rock'n'roll.

My apartment is part of the old lobby of a Thirties hotel with original terrazzo floors and interesting arched windows. I've painted it cool grey. The furniture is mostly metal, coupled with lots of colourful vintage finds, as well as Afghan and Turkmenistan hand-crafted pillows and throws.

Where I stay in London
I stay in a friend's very spacious attic with great views. It's just off the Portobello Road, which has always been my beat. On Friday mornings and Saturdays I go to the market. Currently I'm looking for vintage prints because I buy a lot of fabrics that I adapt. Portobello Road is still good for rummaging and I'm there before anybody gets up to get the best stuff.

Best London shops
The Lacquer Chest, in Kensington Church Street, was my haunt when Biba was just around the corner. It had wonderful inexpensive antiques and props to hire. I still love it.

Because I do consultancy in America I have to keep an eye on everybody. So I go to Topshop to see the best of fast fashion. And Dover Street Market is terrific — with a little café at the top, the Rose Bakery. I especially love all the dark stuff that Rei Kawakubo does for Comme des Garçons. I bought a distressed jacket there but if I wear it in Miami they think I've fallen on hard times. They don't get it.

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My career highlight
...was when we bought the old department store Derry & Toms. We heard it was going to be demolished so my husband Fitz and I said: "Let's go up on the roof garden." I just fell in love with it all. I said: "Fitz, we've got to save this building." And he said: "Okay, I'll get it for you," and he did. I still love the roof garden. Freddie Mercury said: "Get it preserved, because once it's listed they'll never be able to touch it," and he was right. [The garden is currently for sale with a price tag of £200 million.]

Favourite London landmark
The Marwari horse head bronze at Marble Arch, designed by Nic Fiddian-Green, is a very powerful image. I'm always captivated by it when I'm passing in a cab or just walking by.

Latest design project
Graham and Brown
Barbara has designed a new collection of wallpapers for Graham & Brown
I've just finished designing fireplaces for Chesney's, and a new collection of wallpapers for Graham & Brown is in the works. Next year I'll be doing up a hotel on Harbour Island, Bahamas.

My advice to young designers
Get as much experience as you can. Work for people you respect — that's invaluable. My philosophy is always to be open to new ideas; don't get tied down to anything. I moved on from frocks. I take on whatever anyone asks me. I'll just try it.

My inspiration
Movie stars have always been my inspiration. With Biba, there was no blueprint; my only inspiration was the early Hollywood movies. When you look at those sets, those costumes, they've all been done under one roof, and there's a lot of energy gone into getting the clothes, the make-up, the sets just right. It's still fabulous.

A major new fashion exhibition at Brighton Museum, Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki, celebrates all things Biba and shows the life and career of the woman behind the label. Until April 14; adults £6, children free; open Tues to Sun, 10am-5pm. Visit brighton-hove-museums.rpml.org.uk.
 
 

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