Biba supplement

As I said in last week’s postscript I wasn’t sure whether I would have time to write a post this week, especially as the only one I had in draft and nearly finished was one of my quirky ones which I was really saving for December. Then I realised that as the Biba post had gone down so well regular readers might well appreciate some of the out takes. I always scan more than I need. So this week’s easily digested offering consists of more selections from Welcome to the New Biba and a couple of other items of interest. I’m just adding a few comments.


Another one of those dark-eyed Biba beauties in faux leopard skin, a perennial favourite. (Even if we didn’t say faux in those days).  The London Fashion Guide of 1975 had this to say about the big version of Biba:


“Louche”. That’s the word.

The picture below shows that Biba was in the same decade as Laura Ashley.



Biba frequently used original 20s/30s images in their promotional literature, like this one, pointing to the household section:




Welcome to the new Biba  presents the household section in this whole page image of the ultimate Biba furnished household inside a classic London mid-Victorian terrace:



Other departments –

The flower shop:


Sweaters, featuring an update of a 1950s pin-up image.



Accessories, and even a bit of habadashery:







And lingerie (imagine a uniformed lift attendant calling out the floors):



Which calls for some more languid laying around. The model is wearing an Edwardian style cotton nightdress, with plenty of the ubiquitous Biba make-up.




Upstairs in the Rainbow Room some even more elegant hanging around.




Biba had also branched out into mail order. This is another familiar image, an advert for Biba’s catalogue. I’m still looking out for a copy.


Finally a small surprise.

Among the ephemera in our collection I found an article from the Lady written by one of Biba’s earliest models,  another icon of the 1970s, the actress Madeline Smith. Always a pleasure to see her.



The writer Bevis Hillier described the new Biba in the Derry and Toms building as  “turning an art deco masterpiece  into a masterpiece of art deco pastiche…(it) will remain a classic monument to 1973”.  I can’t improve on that.


Credits from Welcome to the new Biba:

Store Design and Graphic design: Whitmore-Thomas Associates

Illustration: Kasia Charko

Text: David Smith

Photography: Ralph Gobits



As I’ve said I’ve been quite busy this week with The London History Festival. Excellent talks so far by Benet Brandreth, Peter Frankopan, Sarah Gristwood, Dan Snow, Hugh Sebag Montefiore and Michael Jones – only Juliet Barker and Philip Mansel to go. Thanks also to our interviewers – Paul Lay, Sophie Ambler and friend of the festival Roger Moorhouse. And not forgetting my co-director Richard Foreman and from Waterstones, indefatigable booksellers Michael and Lauren. Plus of course the staff and volunteers without whom it couldn’t happen – Isabel, Kim, Tim, Maggie, Veronica, Karen, Sue, Sandeep and Matthew. We’re going to do it all again next year.

So I hope you’ll forgive this relatively slight post. I’ll try and find something more substantial next time.


6 responses to “Biba supplement

  • ActonBooks

    The t-shirts weren’t half as well made as before, but… the sight of a mountainous spotlighted stack of colourful plastic waste bins with about 500 brooms across a dimly lit sales floor and the recorded sound of seagulls behind the fish counter in the basement. About as practical as Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose and doomed to fail from the get-go, but wow, while it lasted better than the V&A and a three ring circus.

  • Ted Burton

    Remember Biba very well, a revelation at the time and probably would be now. A magnet for people with style. Couldn’t keep my wife away, she loves the place as did I.

  • Ted Burton

    A beautiful store,used to get packed. A revelation at the time and would even be now.People with style couldn’t stay away. My wife loved the store as did I. Cost me a few bob over the shortish life of the store and why not,!!

  • William Neil

    Hi Dave,

    Many thanks for these images from the past.

    Nothing to do with BIba, but I was reading a book on the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 which lasted about 7 months. The films ‘Zulu’ and ‘Zulu Dawn’ cover two of the battles. The poor Zulus were defeated and their King Cetshawayo captured. Long story short – in 1882 he was invited to London to meet Q Victoria, and was a big hit with the public ( big, yes, 6 feet 7 inches & 25 stone). But here’s the thing, he stayed in a house in Kensington & Chelsea – 18 Melbury Road where there is a blue plaque to him. He returned to Zululand and in 1883 died there. Might there be anything in the library on this astonishing snippet?

    Best wishes William

  • Steven Thomas

    Lovely to read your & others views & opinions of Big Biba, but as half of the design team (Whitmore-Thomas Design Assocs) I do think that some credits for us, our illustrator, Kasia Charko, & the numerous photographers would go amiss. It doesn’t take much to copy the credits from the back page of the opening-day newspaper, from where you have nicked the majority of your illustrations for your blog. All without asking – all without credit.

    • Dave Walker

      Like a great deal of the material on the blog, the images in the post are scanned from an original item which the library has in its collection, in this case, a copy of the Welcome to the new Biba newspaper. I refer to finding two copies in our archives in the first post I did on Biba, the week before this one, and also mention the book by yourself and Alwyn W Turner. At your suggestion I have added a copy of the credits from the back page to both posts.

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